WARTBURG (WATE) – It is a race that is notorious for how many people have not completed.
More than 1,000 people have attempted to complete the Barkley Marathons, but on Monday, John Kelly, 32, became the 15th person to complete the race in Frozen Head State Park. Kelly, who grew up on the other side of the Chimney Tops and went to high school in Oak Ridge, finished the 100-mile ultra marathon in 59 hours and 30 minutes.
“It still hasn’t hit me what happened, I’ve only slept 30 minutes in the last three days,” said Kelly after completing the course.
The runner’s legs, shoes and face show just how difficult the course is.
“It is a challenge and I really want to find my limits and see how far I can push those, but beyond that, this is my home,” Kelly told WATE 6 On Your Side before he started the course. “These are the mountains that I grew up exploring and that really means a lot to me. I just love being out here, I love spending time out here and I love that the community has gotten a bit more involved in it as well.”
The ultra marathon is considered one of the toughest 100-mile races in the world. The race is limited to a 60-hour period and includes 54,200 feet of accumulated vertical climb.
The race course consists of five 20-mile loops that must be completed in under 12 hours each. To prove you completed each loop, you must find books at various points along the course and return a page from each book.
“It is just a lot of hills and a lot of running, so you have to focus on getting in a lot of climbing, because that is one of the big difficulties out here,” said Kelly.
This year was Kelly’s third attempt at the race. In 2016, he said he took a wrong turn and wasn’t able to complete the race. That year no one completed the entire course.
Temperatures were in the low 40s overnight and conditions were wet with the rain, according to WATE 6 Storm Team Meteorologist Matt Hinkin. However, runners ran through the shade for most of the course, where temperatures were much cooler.
Kelly walked into the finish line sporting a plastic bag he apparently found while running on the course. After finishing the race, Kendra Cherise said the first thing Kelly said was “Where’s Gary? Does he look ok?” followed by “I got cold in Rat Jaw, so I just picked up a few things laying around in the briers to keep me warm!”
Robbins finish just six seconds short of the time-limit. He completed the course and got all of the pages, but fog and snow on the course caused him to get confused. While he was supposed to be running the final lap in a counter-clockwise direction, he tagged the gate having come the opposite way. When he realized he came from the wrong direction, he fell to the ground defeated.
The Barkley is limited to 40 runners. Requirements and times to submit an entry application are a closely guarded secret, with no details advertised publicly. Potential entrants must complete an essay on “Why I should be allowed to run in the Barkley”, pay a $1.60 application fee, and complete other requirements subject to change. If accepted, an entrant receives a “letter of condolence.”