In light of Gary Robbins’ agonizingly close Barkley Marathons finish in which the Canadian missed the time cut by a mere seconds, we are reminded of Steve Bauer’s second place finish to Eddy Plackaert at the 1990 Paris-Roubaix. With less than a week before the Hell of the North, it’s only fitting to compare these two races which ended in heartbreak for Canadians.

Robbins failed to become only the 16th person to ever finish the grueling 100 mile (160 km) ultramarathon. The way in which the spring running race concluded for the Canadian was not totally dissimilar to Bauer missing out on the win at Paris-Roubaix, a 260-km race, by mere centimetres on the win in the famed velodrome.

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The Barkley Marathons takes place in the Appalachian Mountains in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee. Of course, Paris-Roubaix’s course is notoriously pancake flat and takes place in Northern France.

Paris-Roubaix is not nicknamed the Hell of the North for no reason. With treacherous cobblestones, a leg sapping distance and a historic past it is one of the most revered races on the pro cycling calendar. The cycling lore surrounding the race and the velodrome in which it finishes holds a prominent place in the hearts of cycling fanatics and many of the world’s greatest cyclists.

Garry Robbins at the 2017 Barkley Marathon
Gary Robbins at the 2017 Barkley Marathons

The Barkley Marathons, on the other hand, has gotten the reputation as the hardest running events in the world. The legendary race, which runs through the thick brush and woods of Frozen Head State Park, is often dubbed one of the most challenging races in the world. Annual entry is limited to just 40 runners and the Barkley has a number of quirks including its $1.60 entry fee, secretive registration process and the requirement of collecting pages of books on course to prove that one followed the race map.

In both cases, talented Canadian athletes lined-up at the start line of an epic race with high hopes that they would be able to make history.

Photo: Steve Bauer Tours Inc.
Photo: Steve Bauer Tours Inc.

The two Canadians in historic positions had lots of hopes resting on their shoulders. Steve Bauer entered the Roubaix velodrome with the hopes of taking a historic win in the French monument. Bauer lost the race by a heartbreakingly small margin, just a couple of centimetres, to Belgian Plackaert. Robbins, after 60 hours in the woods only taking short naps over the course of three days, missed the time cut to officially finish the Berkley Marathon by seconds.

Despite the two racers being unable to make history, the efforts required to just make it to the finish of either of the races is an accomplishment in-and-of itself and should not take away from the athletes immense efforts.

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For full coverage of the Berkley Marathon visit runningmagazine.ca

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