2017 Barkley Marathons Race Report

The White Whale of Tennessee

For three years I obsessively chased my white whale through the very Tennessee mountains where I grew up. In 2015 I failed after 3 loops, a harsh introduction to Barkley where I had been doomed by a poor nutrition strategy. In 2016 I failed just after starting the 5th loop, done in by navigational errors that led to sleep deprivation. Those taught me valuables lessons, though, and I came into this year’s race more prepared, with a better mindset, and with the same incredible support from my wife, family, and friends, as well as some outstanding companies (Hammer Nutrition, Ultimate Direction, Every Man Jack, Chopt).

Image courtesy of Roger Overall (https://spierkater.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/15/)

The Barkley quickly made a mockery of my preparation with a dense fog that threw the race into chaos from the very start. I teamed up with Gary Robbins and we clawed back from those early errors to put ourselves in position to finish. The 5th and final loop brought severe sleep deprivation, rain, cold, and the return of the fog before I returned to camp to touch the yellow gate and complete the race in 59 hours and 30 minutes. The white whale was dead. Three years of work that encompassed over six total days on course for the accomplishment of a lifetime.

The experience of this race is one that I’ll never forget and I tried to capture that as well as I could in my full race report. It’s a bit lengthy, but I hope that you’ll enjoy it and take something meaningful away from it. So curl up with your electronic reading device and beverage of choice and head on over to iRunFar to read my full 2017 Barkley Marathons Race Report. Thank you to so many friends for capturing great pictures of the race, including Howie Stern Photography and Josh Patton Designs.

Touching the yellow gate for the 5th time. Photo: Josh Patton Designs

7 thoughts on “2017 Barkley Marathons Race Report

  • April 14, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Hi John,
    I don’t know that you will remember me…I was in school with Patrick until you guys went to Oak Ridge and we went to church together at Union. I’ve followed your progress every year. I’m embarrassed that I had never even heard of the Barkley until you entered for the first time! I have so enjoyed reading your posts about the entire experience. I just wanted to congratulate you on such an amazing accomplishment, and I know so many people back home in our tiny little Joyner community are so proud of you!

    • April 14, 2017 at 12:15 pm

      Thank you very much, that means a lot! We had the fortune of growing up in an amazing area, and the community and the mountains are both things to be incredibly proud of as well

  • April 14, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I have never heard of the term “toboggan”, what we would call a “toque” up here in Canada. I loved reading all those little details from the Barkley.

    Loved reading how you and Gary worked together those 1st 4 loops, Gary navigating by the book, and yourself having some familiarity with this area of navigating by your instinct. And I have so much respect how you kept the group on track early on in the race.

    I am in awe of your decision making such as “picking the most miserable spot you could find” so you could wake up from that power nap. And to keep running right to the gate for fear of falling asleep if you were to walk that final 100 yards.

    It would be such a deeply personal thing to complete this in these mountains of Tennessee you call home. And very touched by your words in “Voyage Home”. John, you are an extremely humble fellow human being. I am sure there will be multitudes more, but you can count me as one of those “10 people seeking a better version of myself”.

    God’s blessings upon you and your precious family.


    Carl Wright

    • April 16, 2017 at 11:14 pm

      Thank you very much for your kind words! It was definitely the experience and achievement of a lifetime for me, and I’m glad that you were able to take a good deal away from it as well.

  • April 17, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    Freaking amazing John! I first heard of you only recently via the Hammer Nutrition sponsored athlete Facebook Group (they sponsor me as well) and it’s been SO cool reading about your prep and now your race report. Way to get it done. And with three kids too! You have a new fan. 🙂

    • April 17, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      Thank you very much! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the reading and I hope to see you out at a Hammer event one day!


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