John Kelly leads the way as record number of runners on final loop of Barkley Marathons

A record number of runners are still in the Barkey Marathons heading into the final loop with John Kelly leading the way. 

There has not been a single finisher of the race since 2017, which was when Kelly completed the race. Having four on the final loop is unheard of, and even had race director Laz Lake musing that it will mean even fewer people will apply next year as it will be perceived as being too easy. 

One of the main challenges the race offers is often the weather, which can be very cold, rainy and just plain awful for athletes. It has many commenting that this year's weather is the best in recent memory and likely the top factor in the record number of participants on the final loop.

In addition to Kelly, first-time competitior Aurélien Sanchez, Karel Sabbe, and Damian Hall are all on course.

There were also a record six runners who went out on loop four. 

Although Kelly lives in England, he is actually from Tennessee near the race location. He has long been a huge fan of the race, and even did his own private Barkley Marathons in 2020 during the pandemic when the race was cancelled. 

"The goal is for people to discover what their limit actually is, rather than just whether it's past some arbitrary bar set by the race. In that sense, the ones who don't get to achieve that goal are the ones who finish," he said, during a past interview with Get Out There.

The Barkley Marathons is an ultra-marathon held annually in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, USA. It was created by Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell in 1986 as a tribute to a prison escape that took place in the area. The race consists of five loops through the park, each around 20 miles in length, making a total distance of around 100 miles.

The race is notorious for its extreme difficulty, with runners having to navigate steep climbs, dense forests, and treacherous terrain. Only 40 runners are allowed to participate each year, and the entry process is intentionally opaque and challenging to deter all but the most committed athletes.


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