Sanchez, John Kelly and Karel Sabbe become the first finishers
since 2017. This is the first time in 11 years that there
have been three
With only an hour and 37 minutes to spare
before the final cutoff at 9:54 p.m. Thursday evening,
Aurélien Sanchez arrived back in camp at Frozen
Head, becoming the first finisher of the Barkley Marathons
since 2017, in his debut. Nineteen minutes later, John
Kelly also returned, scoring his second, much-anticipated
finish and becoming only the third runner with more than
one finish to his name. And with less than seven minutes
remaining on the clock, Karel Sabbe, the Belgian dentist,
arrived in camp to bring the total number of finishers
to an incredible three (and a sigh of relief to his crew).
This is only the fourth time in the history of the five-loop
version of the course (which started in 1995) that there
has been more than one finisher, and the first time there
have been three finishers since 2012. Sanchez and Sabbe
bring the total number of Barkley finishers to 17.
Four men started loop five
earlier Thursday; Damian Hall dropped out and returned
to camp sometime thereafter, having become lost on the
course and without gathering any book pages.
Fans’ hopes to finally
see a woman finish the race were dashed when the clock
ran out on Jasmin Paris’s fourth loop; she returned
to camp well after the 48-hour cutoff on Thursday.
Sanchez apparently was unable
to find one of his books, since, according to a tweet
by Keith Dunn, a day hiker had removed it, thinking the
race was over; the book was waiting for him upon his return
As the first finisher of
loop four, Kelly was allowed to choose which direction
he wanted to run loop five; he chose clockwise, which
is generally preferred because it is the first direction
runners travelled on Tuesday morning when the race began.
(If there is more than one runner on loop five, they must
run in different directions. Sanchez ran counterclockwise,
and Sabbe is running clockwise, but some distance behind
Loop 1 Loop 2 Loop 3 Loop 4 Loop 5
Sanchez 08:48 21:13:06
32:55:48 45:57:09 58:23:12
Kelly 08:17:57 20:07:02
32:04:01 45:50:23 58:42:23
Sabbe 08:22:15 20:48:21
32:46:31 46:36:57 59:53:33
From what we have gathered,
Sanchez, 32, is from France but now lives in the U.S.;
he has raced a few U.S. ultras, as well as last year’s
Diagonale des Fous 100-miler on Reunion Island. On his
Instagram page, he has a story about visiting Frozen Head
for the first time in May 2018 and finding a walnut shell
on a pillar by the yellow gate, which he has carried with
him in every race since then, as a kind of good luck charm.
(It appears to have been effective.)
Kelly famously finished the
Barkley in 2017, working through to loop four with Gary
Robbins, now of Chilliwack, B.C. They were the only runners
to attempt a fifth loop, and ran in opposite directions,
as per Barkley rules; Robbins took a wrong turn and failed
For Sabbe, this finish is
redemption for the 32-year-old ultra-trail runner, who
had to drop out last year on his fourth loop after he
was brought back to camp by the police for wandering around
in the middle of the night.
Marathons is an ultramarathon trail race held each year
in Frozen Head State Park in Morgan County, Tennessee.
The course, which varies from year to year, consists of
five loops of the 20 miles course for a total of 100 miles
(160 km). Some racers have claimed that it is longer.
If runners complete three laps (60 miles, 97 km) this
is known as the "fun run". Generally two of
the first four loops are run clockwise and the other two
counterclockwise. If multiple runners begin a fifth loop
then they are sent off in alternating directions. The
race is limited to a 60-hour period from the start of
the first loop, and takes place in March or early April
of each year. Few people ever finish the Barkley.