Who Has Finished The Barkley Marathon

The Barkley Marathon is renowned as one of the toughest and most grueling ultra-marathons in the world. This infamous race, held annually in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, challenges athletes to complete a grueling 100+ mile course through the rugged wilderness. The race, which has been held since 1986, has gained a reputation for being nearly impossible to finish, with only a handful of runners ever crossing the finish line. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the history of the Barkley Marathon and explore the few individuals who have managed to conquer this daunting challenge.

The Barkley Marathon: A Brief Overview

The Barkley Marathon was created by Gary “Laz” Cantrell, a well-known figure in the ultra-running community. Inspired by the failed prison escape of James Earl Ray, the marathon is designed to push runners to their limits both mentally and physically. The race consists of five loops of varying distances, totaling over 100 miles, with a cumulative elevation gain of around 60,000 feet. Runners must navigate through dense forests, treacherous terrain, and unpredictable weather conditions, all while relying on their map and compass skills to find their way.

Unlike traditional marathons, the Barkley Marathon has no official start time, and runners must locate specific books hidden along the course to prove they have completed each loop. The race is shrouded in mystery, with the exact route and distance changing each year, making it even more challenging for participants.

The Few Who Have Finished

Despite its immense difficulty, a select few have managed to conquer the Barkley Marathon. Here are some of the notable finishers:

1. Mark Williams (1995)

Mark Williams became the first official finisher of the Barkley Marathon in 1995, completing the race in just under 60 hours. His determination and endurance paved the way for future runners to attempt this incredible feat.

2. Sue Johnston (2001)

Sue Johnston, a British ultra-runner, made history in 2001 as the first woman to complete the Barkley Marathon. Her tenacity and unwavering spirit served as an inspiration for female athletes around the world.

3. Jared Campbell (2012)

Jared Campbell, a seasoned ultra-runner, made history by becoming the first person to finish the Barkley Marathon three times in 2012. His unparalleled persistence and mental fortitude propelled him to overcome the grueling challenges of the course.

4. John Kelly (2017)

In 2017, John Kelly etched his name in the annals of Barkley Marathon history by becoming the fifteenth person to ever finish the race. His remarkable physical and mental strength earned him the coveted “yellow gate” finish, a symbol of ultimate triumph over this legendary ultra-marathon.


The Barkley Marathon continues to be a legendary event that pushes the limits of human endurance. The small number of individuals who have completed this race are true testaments to the power of determination, resilience, and mental strength. As the race attracts more and more participants every year, the quest to conquer the Barkley Marathon remains a lifelong pursuit for many ultra-runners. Whether the number of finishers will increase in the future remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure – the Barkley Marathon will continue to captivate the hearts and minds of athletes around the world.