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North Vancouver man gearing up for 160 kilometre ultra-marathon

Last Updated Feb 28, 2020 at 11:44 pm PDT

Gary Robbins (Courtesy Instagram/garyrobbins)

The Barkley Marathons' route spans 160 km of tough, Tennessee mountain terrain and runners have 60 hours to finish

North Vancouver resident Gary Robbins is currently in Tennessee, documenting his fourth attempt to conquer the course

NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A North Vancouver athlete is preparing once again to run one of the hardest marathons on earth, and one already that’s broken his heart on several occasions.

Gary Robbins is gearing up for the Barkley Marathons. The route spans 160 kilometres of tough, Tennessee mountain terrain and it is entirely unmarked. Runners have 60 hours to complete it and only 15 people have ever been able to do so.

Robbins is currently in Tennessee, documenting his fourth attempt to conquer the course. He came within a few seconds of completing the ultra-marathon in 2017.

“That was devastating and heartbreaking for everyone who who witnessed it,” says Anne Francis with Canadian Running Magazine.

“But he knows the course really well having attempted it three times before, and hopefully he’s healthy and fit and we’re rooting for him. We really hope he makes it this year.”

In addition to building up strength and endurance, there’s another reason Francis says preparation is crucial.

“The other thing about this race is that no one really knows exactly when it’s going to take place. It’s all very secretive,” she explains. “There’s no there’s no advertised set time. Everyone knows to listen for the blowing of the conch shell. And that signals that the race is going to start in one hour. So hopefully you’re ready.”

And once it starts, it doesn’t stop.

“Some some ultra trail races are stage races where you rest at night, but this is not one of those. So people who do the best have to cope with serious sleep deprivation,” Francis says.

Francis says the race is designed to be punishing.

“It’s the brainchild of a very eccentric race director known affectionately by his chosen name, which is Lazarus Lake,” she explains. “He is a former ultra-runner of some renown, who likes to make this race as difficult and as sadistic as possible. There’s a lot of unusual elements to this race, and it really has a very devoted following as a result.”

One of these is a “quirk” that makes it impossible to cheat.

“There 14 books hidden around the course and you have to tear out the page corresponding to the number on your bib on each loop of the course,” Francis explains. “It makes the race kind of foolproof because if you’re missing any pages, you’re done.”

Francis says it’s entirely possible there will be more Canadians among the 40 participants.

“There were a couple of Canadian women there last year. But so far we don’t know. [Lake] doesn’t announce who is going,” Francis says. “We have to do some detective work to find out who else is going to be there. But certainly if there are any other Canadians we will be rooting for them as well as Gary. Gary has first place in our hearts.”