The college basketball national championship may have captivated the sports world yesterday, but the day’s most incredible sports story came from the 100-mile Barkley Marathons in Tennessee, where after enduring 60 straight hours of racing over brutal terrain and through nasty weather, Gary Robbins missed becoming just the 16th finisher in race history by a mere six seconds.
The Barkley Marathons sets the standard for difficult, near-impossible endurance races the way Hagler-Hearns set the standard for exciting, action-packed fights. Held annually at Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park, the Barkley is made up of five 20-mile laps over an unmarked course with grueling terrain, including a total of more than 54,000 feet of elevation gain. Participants are given 60 hours to complete the course. Most never come close. Since the race began in 1986, only 15 people have ever completed it.
If you don’t know much about the Barkley Marathons, you should fix that. It’s arguably the most unique, challenging endurance race around. A documentary about the race came out in 2015 called “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.” Check out the trailer below.
A few years earlier, another short documentary about Barkley made the rounds on the internet. You can check out the full film below.
When you understand how difficult the Barkley is – how racers have to navigate the difficult course, how the underbrush leaves their legs scraped and bloody, how the terrain leaves even elite racers beaten down – then you can appreciate what happened in Tennessee yesterday.
After coming up short at Barkley last year, Gary Robbins returned this weekend to give it another go. With cold, rainy, foggy weather making conditions at this year’s Barkley especially brutal, Robbins put on an inspiring performance for the ages, persevering over the infamous course for 60 hours, completing the 100 miles, but missing the cutoff by a microscopic six seconds. Reports are that Robbins got lost during the final lap, covering about three additional miles.
In a beautiful moment of class and sportsmanship, Robbins thanked Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell – the creator and director of Barkley who told Robbins he was six seconds too late – for putting on another great event. Cantrell pulled Robbins in for a hug.
Robbins may have completed the Barkley course, but he won’t go down as a finisher. To accomplish that, he’ll have to do some soul-searching and see if he wants to take on the Barkley again.
Lost in all the attention given to Robbins’ experience is that fact that someone did finish the Barkley yesterday. John Kelly put on an amazing performance of his own. He gutted out the last lap, finishing the race less than half an hour before the cutoff.