However, in recent editions, several of the athletes – or their sponsors – have announced on social media in the hours before the start that they are taking part in ultra running’s most secretive race.
The line-up for 2023
The race got underway at 0954 local time (1354GMT) and here are some of the biggest names involved from across the globe…
John Kelly has finally confirmed that he is taking on this year’s Barkley Marathons with a scheduled tweet two hours after the start.
The American became the 15th finisher of the Barkley Marathons in 2017 as he clocked a time of 59:30:53. Kelly had completed three loops in 2015 and four in 2016, with 2023 his fourth attempt at the fabled event.
The 38-year-old rose to prominence after his Barkley Marathons feat, winning the Montane Spine Race in 2020 and setting a series of Fastest Known Times (FKTs) across the UK.
Reflecting on his 2017 Barkley finish, Kelly said: “It’s more kind of a matter of there are so many ways that you can fail at the Barkley, so it’s learning what those ways are and kind of decreasing your probability of each one. That was definitely the case in my first year.”
It’s not often John Kelly gets topped but as a three-time finisher of the Barkley Marathons, Campbell is a step ahead.
Rock climbing was his thing before ultra running but he was in danger of making the Barkley Marathons look relatively ‘easy’ as he completed in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
He makes a welcome return this year – could it be a fourth finish?
Not one but two confirmations on Twitter about the Spine Race winner. The first from inov-8 – along with Nicky Spinks – and for the second see Jasmin Paris below.
The Briton set a new men’s record as he won the Montane Spine Race earlier this year to add to his plethora of titles, records and Fastest Known Times (FKTs).
The 47 year old is a journalist and author as well as a runner, and is a strong advocate for the sport reducing its impact on the environment.
Hall finished fifth at Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc in 2018, and has completed that legendary event a further three times – in 2015, 2016 and 2017. This will be his first appearance at the Barkley Marathons.
Hall’s fellow inov-8 athlete Spinks is returning to the race for a second time. In 2019, the Briton dropped out part-way through the second loop amidst plummeting temperatures and appalling weather conditions.
Reflecting on the most challenging part of that attempt on the Teas and Trails podcast, she said: “It was the cold, and me underestimating the cold.
“All three of us who set off on that second loop, Stephanie Case, Billy Reed and me, we all had about the same amount of clothes on and we all got hyperthermia really.”
Asked what she would do differently on another attempt, she added: “I would spend more time asking my support what the weather is going to do and lay out clothes and trust them.” Somehow she’s been given the ‘sacrificial lamb’ race number of 1…
It’s a strong British contingent this year and Paris, like Hall, is a co-founder of The Green Runners. She became the first woman in nine years to complete a three-loop ‘Fun Run’ at the Barkley Marathons in 2022, missing the 36-hour cut-off for starting a fourth lap by 3:49:56.
The 39-year-old is best known for her 2019 Spine Race triumph when she set a new outright course record for the 268-mile Pennine Way just 14 months after the birth of her daughter.
The Belgian dentist has to be considered one of the pre-race favourites for this year’s Barkley Marathons. The 34 year old looked set to become only the 16th person to complete the race when he set out on the fourth loop of last-year’s race with a near four-hour cushion that he believed would get him through the last two loops.
But the effects of the race, a major navigational error and a series of hallucinations put paid to his challenge.
He said: “I saw a lady with two kids at around 3am. I was feeling cold so I asked for help but then she changed shape into a trash can.”
He was eventually picked up by a friendly police officer who took him back to Frozen Head State Park. And this week he was back on Instagram to announce: “Third time’s the charm. See you on the other side.”
The Czech runner is another big name back at the Barkley this year. Also a former Spine Race winner, he too is factoring previous learnings to this latest attempt judged on his Instagram post: “This year I have taken different approach to Barkley, I did not travel alone, I also arrive several days prior to the race.
“I tried to prepare as much as possible, one of the big questions still remains: Who else is in? Who will I meet in the Frozen Head?” As to that last question we’re now starting to find out exactly who Paloncy is up against…
There are many other names who have now been announced – France’s Guillaume Calmettes, Swede Johan Steene and American Harvey Lewis among them but we’ll now focus on the live coverage and see which of them progresses the furthest – or joins Campbell, Kelly and co as finishers.