Spectacular: Three runners make history by finishing infamous Barkley Marathons

Three finishers at the Barkley Marathons 2023 (Picture: Twitter Territorio Trail Media)

For the past seven years there were no finishers in the grueling and infamous Barkley Marathons and for the past 35 years only 15, but as of last night three finishers can be added to that list: Frenchman Aurelien Sanchez, American John Kelly and Belgian Karel Sabbe. A total of four runners started the fifth and final loop, but of those, three athletes eventually crossed the finish line within the time limit.

Fastest finisher in the end was Sanchez, who crossed the finish line after 58:23:12, completing 160 kilometers. Nearly twenty minutes later, Kelly crossed the finish line in second place: 58:42:23. For Kelly, it is the second time he has finished the Barkley Marathons, making him the third athlete to accomplish that. Kelly is a former triathlete: as recently as 2017, he recorded the fastest run time (Age Group) at the World Championships on Kona. Finally, Sabbe finished in a time of 59:53:33: with that, the Belgian had only 6:27 minutes left to make the final cut-off, and so he succeeded.

The Barkley Marathons is considered one of the toughest ultraruns in the world and consists of five 32-kilometer loops – 160 kilometers in total – through inhospitable terrain and with a basically countless amount of altimeters. For each loop, participants have 12 hours to complete the lap; otherwise, they are eliminated from the race. The finish must therefore be reached within 60 hours. Runners navigate themselves. This year’s edition was marked by very good weather: it was cold, but sunny.