John Kelly, a native of Eastern Tennessee and current resident of Washington D.C., became the 15th finisher of the famed Barkley Marathons in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. Considered to be one of the world’s hardest ultramarathons, the Barkley Marathon has seen less than one percent of the more than 1,000 who have dared to attempt this grueling 100-mile race which features 54,000 feet of accumulated elevation gain. Only forty runners are allowed in the race, and they are informed of their entry with a condolence card.
The course is made up of five designated 20-mile loops. In order to move to the next loop, the runner must use a map given to racers the prior day to locate books hidden within the forested course, then tear out the page associated with their bib number to show to the founder of the race, Gary Cantrell (known as Lazarus Lake). To make things even harder, there is a cutoff time of 60 hours to complete the 100-mile race and a 12 hour cut off for each of the five 20 mile loops. Kelly, the winner and only finisher of the 2017 Barkley, finished teary eyed, legs covered in cuts from the bramble, and sporting a garbage bag he had found on the trail for warmth in the time of 59 hours 30 minutes. Close behind was Gary Robbins, who missed the cutoff by a mere 6 seconds. However, Robbins ran his last loop in the opposite direction that he was supposed to, so if he were to have broken that 60-hour mark, he would have been disqualified anyway.