British Columbia

No Barkley Marathons in 2019 for North Vancouver's Gary Robbins

The ultramarathoner says he still plans to make a fourth attempt to finish one of the world's toughest and oddest races, but not this year due to injury.

Ultramarathoner has stress fracture but plans 4th attempt at gruelling 160K race

Gary Robbins listening to race instructions before the start of the Barkley Marathons in 2016. (Keith Knipling)

The B.C. man known for the most dramatic non-finish at one of the world's toughest and most unusual running races will not be back for another attempt in 2019.

North Vancouver's Gary Robbins, 42, has tried three times in a row to finish the notoriously difficult Barkley Marathons in Tennessee. But he has never finished.

Robbins won't attempt a fourth try this year because he is recovering from a fracture in a bone around his pelvis.

'Unable to run at all'

"At this moment I have a sacral stress fracture and am unable to run at all for many months," he said in an email to CBC News.

The Barkley Marathons is a 160-kilometre race through the wilds around Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tenn. The race typically occurs in late March or early April. It consists of five, 32-kilometre loops, which must be completed in 60 hours.

Only 15 people have finished the race since 1986.

Robbins, with his bushy red beard, has been a fixture at the intriguing race for the past three years. He missed a finish in 2017 when he seemingly completed the five loops but was six seconds over the 60-hour time limit and had also gone off course, meaning his run was shorter than it should have been and did not count.

In 2018, he only finished three loops in difficult conditions.

"I am proud of my three attempts at the Barkley, knowing that I've left it all out there year after year ... it's been a bit of an endless pursuit thus far," he wrote in an Instagram post after his 2018 attempt.

John Kelly, who finished the race in 2017, ran with Robbins for most of that race and then was part of his support crew in 2018.

"A great deal of anticipation goes into how he's going to finish and how this story of his will end," he said.

"Obviously the story isn't over, there might be a bit of a hiatus in writing it."

The Barkley Marathons is nearly four times longer in distance that a regular 42.2 kilometre marathon.

It developed a cult-like following after a film crew covered the race and produced the documentary, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young in 2012.

The event was designed by Gary Cantrell, who was inspired by the story of James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1977, Ray escaped from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary and ran through the woods for 55 hours before he was captured.

During the course of the race, participants are required to collect pages from books stashed along the route to confirm they passed through all the checkpoints.

Robbins says the earliest he will get back to the race is in 2020.

Kelly says Robbins will be missed at the race this year, but he's optimistic he'll return.

  • Listen to Gary Robbins recount his experience at the race in 2016