Barkley Marathons Cancelled Due To Coronavirus

The infamous ultra event will not be held for the second time in race history.

Andrew Dawson |

  • The Barkley Marathons has been cancelled by race creator Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell due to the ongoing coronavirus concerns and the park cancelling his permits.
  • This is the second time in race history that the event has not been held.

The Barkley Marathons are the latest race to be cancelled because of the growing coronavirus pandemic across the world.

Race creator Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell notified runners on Monday after weeks of trying salvage the event. The status has been in question ever since Europe started to be effected by the virus. Many athletes in this year’s field, including Karel Sabbe from Belgium, hailed from overseas, and the travel bans in effect by the U.S. were taking them completely out of the race.

“I knew all along that ultimately it wouldn’t be held, but you operate off what info you have and you do what you can,” Cantrell said. “We did all we could before we just had to cancel it.”

Cantrell attempted to update the field with domestic runners, but as COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., the field kept shrinking and the logistical hurdles mounted.

“I’d send the runners an update and then go out to get my miles in and then while I was out, I end up on the phone because there were more changes,” Cantrell told Runner’s World. “You’d adjust to new restrictions and figure it out, but then you’d flip on the news and it changed again.

“The last few weeks have been all day, every day doing this. Who would’ve thought it would take twice as much work to not have a race than to have one?”

Ultimately, even with the shrinking field, officials in Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee (where the race is held) ended up cancelling Cantrell’s permits for the race. This is the second time in the race’s history that it has been called off. The first came in 2000 when the park cancelled the race because of, as Cantrell puts it, “a political thing going on.”

Though the race has grown in popularity over the past few years, the race caps participants to around 40 people. The field consists of runners of all abilities, from elite ultrarunners to newer ultra-endurance athletes.

The race historically takes place during the first weekend in April, and only 15 individuals can call themselves official Barkley finishers by completing all five loops of the treacherous course – including a total elevation gain 60,000 feet (18,288 metres) if someone completes the entire thing – in less than 60 hours.

“The last two weeks have been bizarre because I have a lot of contacts in Europe,” Cantrell said. “The best thing I can compare it to is watching football on mute and listening to the game on the radio. You hear the play before you see because there’s a lag. When something overseas happens, I hear about it two weeks before and then the same thing happens here. I’m hoping we don’t follow exactly in step with what’s going on overseas, but that’s what’s been going on so far.”

Cantrell said that this year’s runners will have to apply again to run next year, but they will likely get their spots back.

“I’m assuming no one will finish the race again this year,” Cantrell joked. “It was a really exceptional field this year.”

Many athletes like ultrarunner Jamil Coury took to social media to share their reactions to the cancellation for 2020.

The infamous race in the foothills of Tennessee is the latest in a string of event cancellations and postponements across the world that includes the Boston Marathon, Paris Marathon, London Marathon, and NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships. The 2020 Olympic Games have yet to postpone the event.

Cantrell has not suspended all other races though he has stopped purchasing new items for the race. As always, he plans to start preparations for next year’s Barkley on April 1.

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