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‘An iron will’: Ihor Verys’ remarkable journey from Ukraine to Barkley Marathons glory

Jonathan Turner
News Director
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With so much media attention on Jasmin Paris making Barkley Marathons history last week, it could be easy to forget what was also a truly remarkable performance from Ihor Verys, who was the first of the record-breaking five finishers – and the first Canadian to ever complete the infamous race.

The 29-year-old, who moved to Canada from Ukraine as a student nine years ago, was running in the Barkley – ‘The Race That Eats Its Young – for the very first time.

More than that, he only took up trail running during the global COVID pandemic – and his first ultra race was as recently as September 2021 at the Finlayson Arm 100k, which he won.

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Meteoric rise

To achieve what he did at the first time of asking and in such a short space of time is incredible – Frenchman Aurélien Sanchez also won the Barkley on debut 12 months previously but he had a much greater bank of experience to his name.

And by all accounts, Verys looked relatively fresh throughout, bar an issue with his feet which race creator Laz Lake thought might derail him on the fifth and final loop.

Writing on Facebook in his recap of the event, Laz referenced an “iron will” when talking about Ihor as he said: “Ihor the champion. Ihor driven by the will to never give up.

“Maybe I had the best view as he left on loop 5. Mincing across the rocky surface on destroyed feet. I did not think it possible that they would carry him another lap over the brutal course.

“But, ultimately, the Barkley is a measure of sheer will. And an iron will. The determination to stay the course to the end carried him to victory.”

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‘Historic finish’

Interviewed this week by Canada’s CBC News, Verys – who had focused on improving his navigational skills through orienteering in the build-up – was asked why he thought a record five finishers were able to make it all the way this year, replying: “First of all we were very fortunate with the weather.

“It wasn’t raining and it wasn’t foggy – when it is, it can be really difficult to navigate.

“The second factor would be the number of good athletes. There were so many strong and solid veterans who have done this race before.

We worked together for as long as we could – which is four loops.

“And by the fifth loop we’d sort of figured out the course – as much as that’s possible – and by helping each other I guess we were able to achieve this historic finish.”

Echoing what Laz had said about him, Ihor revealed his only real problem were the blisters – or trenchfoot – on the bottom of his feet as he was only able to change socks every 12 hours or so at the end of each loop.

And when asked how he was able to manage without any sleep during the 58 hours, 44 minutes and 59 seconds it too him to complete the race he again displayed that iron will by saying: “The body achieves what the mind believes.”

Barkley Marathons 2024 five finishers photo credit Keith Dunn on X
The five finishers, with Ihor in the middle [Photo credit: Keith Dunn on X]

Staying local

And as to what’s next, he added: “Nothing crazy is planned at the moment. I’m just going to do a few races in Canada and travel across our beautiful provinces, exploring the trails here and supporting local race directors.”

There was already an incredible coincidental link between Ihor and the Barkley as Gary Robbins, a man inextricably tied to the race, just happened to be the neighbour (10 doors down) in Chilliwack who introduced Verys to ultrarunning!

If you aren’t one of the 3million-plus who have watched Robbins’ free-to-view ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ documentary, which starts with a classic ‘Barkley Marathons in a nutshell’ explainer, then you are in for a treat and it’s embedded below.

Ihor describes Robbins as “one of my biggest ever inspirations” and Gary was on hand to watch his achievement as he was crewing for John Kelly, who notched a third finish in the race this year.

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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