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RUN247 / Running News / Trail Running News / Will Barkley course now get much harder? It’s fine margins say Laz Lake and John Kelly

Will Barkley course now get much harder? It’s fine margins say Laz Lake and John Kelly

Jonathan Turner
News Director
Updated on
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Following a second successive year with multiple finishers – after there were none from 2018 through to 2022 inclusive – there will be a strong expectation that the Barkley Marathons course will ‘fight back’ in 2025.

All sorts of records were broken in the infamous ‘Race That Eats Its Young’ this year.

Not only a new high of five runners who completed all five loops but also the first ever woman to finish in Jasmin Paris.

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‘Full frontal assault’

But as both race creator Laz Lake and Barkley guru John Kelly – who himself notched a third finish in 2024 – pointed out, there were actually some very fine margins.

Laz first, who in his recap of the race on Facebook, said: “We were all reminded of just how narrow the margins are at Barkley.

“When the rain began an hour after the race ended we broke camp and loaded everything up in progressively harder rain.

“The drive home was made in a downpour. Had that arrived one day earlier we would have been lucky to see one finisher.

“Another major factor in this year’s success besides the weather was the strategy of the deep field of elite runners. A pack of 18 took on the first loop together.

Usually that results in testosterone poisoning as they beat each other to death.

“This time the best navigators led the group and they collectively used brute force to defeat the new books. It doesn’t require precise navigation to locate a book when 18 people fan out over the place it is at.

Lazarus Lake Barkley Marathons
Laz Lake at the Barkley Marathons [Photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram]

“In military terms it was the equivalent of a full frontal assault. Casualties were expected. But there were so many elite runners the course could not kill them all!”

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‘Ideal window’

Kelly was undoubtedly one of those ‘best navigators’ and he posted on social media: “This was the second year in a row with fantastic conditions. Last year slightly too cold, this year slightly too warm, but neither with heavy rain or fog.

“Start time was in my ideal 5-8 AM window. Good sleep, light by the time you need it, guaranteed daylight finish, no loops of near total darkness.

“Course changes were significant, but difficult to quantify. Replaced 1 of my least favorite sections w/ my new least favorite (briars, blowdowns, cliffs, no clear path… an absolute mess). Added 2 books, even if no new distance that adds ~10 minutes.

“Is 5 too many? Will the course now get much harder? I don’t think so. Everything perfectly aligned, none of the finishes by a huge margin. Next year will probably have a worse start time, worse weather, & not as many strong veterans.”

And he added on X: “There have always been cycles – course changes, buildup of people working towards finish over many yrs, random chance. Important to not have knee jerk reactions. More visibility also = stronger fields, which might change stats of finishes but not of who could finish.”

John Kelly day 2 Barkley Marathons 2023 photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram
John Kelly at the 2023 Barkley Marathons [Photo credit: Davidmillerphotography_ on Instagram]

Jasmin Paris in full agreement

And that was echoed by Jasmin Paris when she spoke to Dylan Bowman afterwards on the excellent Freetrail Podcast.

She said: “Given how close all those five finishers were to the finish, if the weather had been bad then nobody would have finished.

“You only needed thick fog for a loop or two and that would have cost everybody that amount of time.

“We’ve had good weather or two years and I’m sure Barkley is going to throw us a terrible weather year – that’s why I don’t think he [Laz] is going to make it dramatically harder because if he does that and then the weather is not quite as good then nobody is going to come anywhere near finishing.

“He doesn’t want to make it impossible – if he keeps making it harder and harder to the point where no one can finish then it stops being attractive to anyone.”

Locked down for good reason

All of which underlines it’s a very fine line and we shouldn’t get carried away when there are no finishers for a few years – or, equally, eight in two.

But back to Laz and one challenge with an increased profile for one of the world’s most secretive races is the likely worldwide interest heading into 2025.

So a timely reminder that the reason so much is shrouded in mystery is because of the delicate ecological state of Frozen Head State Park, meaning people are actively discouraged from trying to watch the action, however absorbing it may be.

Laz said: “The struggle to keep away spectators is still an issue. I spent a lot of Friday telling people it was not a spectator event but there were still a lot of extra people by the time the finishers arrived.

“It seems bizarre to see people wandering thru the campground like it was some sort of display set up for their amusement.

“The park wont let us block the entrance to the campground (which I would like to do) because we have to leave access to the public trails. I get that, but with about double the campground’s normal capacity already there the only place for spectators is in the way.

“I guess that is something we just have to keep working at.”

Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  

THE SBRX Show

In episode 1 of our new SBRX Show we sit down with ultra runners and coaches Kim and Jayson Cavill to get their take on the Barkley Marathons and triathlon & trail running gear reviews, training tips and more

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