Forty runners started. One finished. No wonder they call it “the race that eats its young.”
The name of this grueling event is the Barkley Marathons, and each year since it was founded in the mid-1980s, it’s attracted the hardest of hardcore runners to Morgan County, TN.
The Barkley course leads participants on a 100-mile journey up and down the steep and treacherous inclines of Frozen Head State Park, and this year’s winner, Jared Campbell, crossed the finish line in 57:50:20—some two hours ahead of the 60-hour limit.
When he broke the tape on Monday, March 31, Campbell became only the second two-time finisher in Barkley Marathons history. He first ran the race in 2012, and by going the distance that first year, he became one of only 15 people to have finished the intensely punishing event even once.
While Campbell described the race to local NBC affiliate WBIR as “silly,” he obviously takes it rather seriously. Back home in Utah, he trains at Grandeur Park, sometimes climbing 3,400-foot inclines 12 times a day.
“You have to just make up your mind before that you’re just going to go at all costs,” he said of the Barkley Marathons, according to WBIR.
One of those costs: not getting much sleep. From Saturday to Monday, Campbell only grabbed about an hour. Luckily, he’s the father of a three-month-old, so he’s used to the lack of shut-eye.
More arduous are the tangles of thick brush and lack of proper trails that folks encounter as they try their darnedest to make it through five 20-mile loops.
“At one point, I literally fell head over heels 25 feet,” Campbell said. “I didn't break anything. I couldn't believe it.”
By the 60-mile mark, every competitor but Campbell had dropped out. Among those who threw in the towel was Arizona alpine runner Jamil Coury, who managed a respectable three loops.
“I have a ‘no quit’ attitude when I do events,” Coury said. “But I was trying to come up with every excuse in the book to stop. I knew it would be difficult, but you have no idea until you actually try it.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg