After weeks of intense excitement on social media, the 2024 Barkley Marathons officially began at 5:17 a.m. on Wednesday, commemorated by the recognizable conch shell blowing by the race’s mysterious founder, Gary Cantrell, better known as Laz. Nestled in the untamed beauty of Frozen Head State Park close to Wartburg, Tennessee, this race has a rich history dating back to 1986. It was inspired by the incredible prison escape of James Earl Ray, who was convicted of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, from the now-closed Brushy Mountain penitentiary.

 

The lineup of participants in the Barkley Marathons remains a closely guarded secret until the race officially begins, adding an aura of intrigue to the already formidable challenge. Among the select few embarking on this journey are familiar contenders like John Kelly, a native of the Frozen Head region and a two-time finisher, as well as Harvey Lewis from Ohio, attempting his third Barkley. Also returning are notable figures such as Tomokazu Ihara from Japan, Damian Hall, Jasmin Paris, Jared Campbell, and FKT (Fastest Known Time) record holder Joe McConaughy. However, all eyes are on newcomer Ihor Verys from Chilliwack, B.C., making his inaugural appearance on the Barkley course, generating excitement among Canadian and Ukrainian supporters alike.

The Barkley Marathons adhere to a distinctive set of regulations, challenging runners to navigate five loops of a grueling 20+ mile course, spanning an estimated distance of approximately 120 miles or 192 kilometers, within a stringent time frame of 60 hours. Notably, GPS watches are prohibited, replaced by rudimentary timepieces synchronized to the race’s duration. Runners must traverse the perilous terrain to locate pages corresponding to their bib numbers concealed within 13 books strategically placed along the course, risking disqualification for any missing pages. With only natural water sources available and minimal aid from their support crew between loops, the race presents a mental and physical trial of unparalleled proportions.

 

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The 2023 edition of the Barkley Marathons witnessed a historic moment with three participants achieving the remarkable feat of crossing the finish line, a rarity in the event’s storied history. Among them were Aurélien Sanchez of France, Karel Sabbe of Belgium, and the seasoned John Kelly. Notably, all past finishers of the Barkley Marathons have been male, underscoring the daunting nature of this ultimate endurance challenge.

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Ihor Verys, aged 29, enters the Barkley fray following a remarkable performance at the Big’s Backyard Ultra World Championships in 2023, where he established the Canadian record with an extraordinary display of endurance. With victories at B.C.’s Fat Dog 120 and the Canadian Death Race, where he outpaced Lewis by a significant margin in 2023, Verys emerges as a rising star in the ultrarunning realm, poised to leave his mark on the Barkley Marathons in 2024.

 

As the participants embark on this grueling expedition through the untamed wilderness of Frozen Head State Park, spectators and enthusiasts eagerly await the unfolding trials and triumphs that define the essence of the Barkley Marathons in 2024.