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Photos by Howie Stern.
It is no coincidence that the Barkley Marathons take place on April fools weekend. Widely considered the toughest 100-mile race in the world, the Barkley has a finishing rate of less than one percent, and goes many years without seeing a finisher at all. It is designed to test the limits of even the fastest, winningest runners.
The race takes place on a looped course in the thick, briar-filled woods of Frozen Head State Park, in rural Tennessee. Runners must complete the 20-mile loop five times in under 60 hours- 12 hours per loop- in order to earn a coveted finish. Three loops in under 40 hours is considered a “fun run.”
This year’s Barkley saw its 15th finisher, John Kelly, 32, of Washington, D.C. The only other runner to start loop five was Gary Robbins, 38, of North Vancouver, B.C. In one of the most dramatic scenes in the race’s history, Robbins came within screaming distance of a finish before becoming disoriented in the final miles and taking a wrong turn, ultimately cutting two miles off the course and earning a DNF.
Aside from the loop-five showdown, Barkley also saw four fun-run finishers and a host of valiant efforts in the early loops, including runs by prolific racer Mike Wardian, unsupported Colorado Trail FKT-holder Brandon Stapanowich, supported Arizona Trail FKT-holder Michael Veersteeg and current unsupported Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail record-holder Heather Anderson.