Runner Eoin Keith, becomes the first Irish competitor to take on notorious Barkley Marathons
Elite runner Eoin Keith has become the first Irish competitor to gain entry to the notorious Barkley Marathons in the US.
The 49-year-old took on the gruelling five-loop course across rugged terrain at Frozen Head in Tennessee over the Easter weekend.
But he was defeated by the punishing 160km circuit â" along with the other 39 entrants as not one of them managed to finish the worldâs toughest race.
The Barkley was the subject of a Netflix documentary which recounts how just 15 runners have ever managed to complete the ultramarathon.
Over the course of the race runners face five 12,000ft climbs and five 12,000ft descents â" the same as climbing and descending Mount Everest twice. Eoin told the Irish Sunday Mirror: âIâm mostly recovered except for a broken collar bone.
âItâs the hardest thing Iâve ever done but the experience was amazing.
âItâs obviously the pinnacle of the sport so anybody whoâs big into marathons and pushing themselves to the max is all about making their way there.â
IT expert Eoin, who trains in the Wicklow mountains close to his Dublin home, said he was in âpretty good shapeâ starting the race as his preparation had gone well.
But he added navigating the unmarked course using only a compass in brutal weather conditions took its toll.
But despite the handicap of being a ânewbieâ, he finished the first 32km loop of the race in 12 hours â" keeping on target to complete the course within the deadline of 60 hours.
He said: âPhysically I was in pretty good shape but mentally I was exhausted.
âThe last two hours started getting dark, started raining, coming down cats and dogs. At one point my head torch gave u p the ghost, we had lightning lighting up the place.
âThe whole experience was like turning up on a film set. It was bizarre, it was nearly like an out of body experience.â
It was on the second loop while running with four others that disaster struck.
Eoin added: âI slipped on a rock and as soon as I hit the ground I felt it was a heavy fall, a few seconds later I knew my collar bone was broken.
âIt was the middle of the route and thereâs nobody to come rescue you. It wasnât hurting that bad so the easiest thing for me to do was carry on. So that is what I did.â
By this time the course was treacherous having been lashed by torrential rain for hours on end and the group realised they were not going to finish in time.
Eoin fell âseven or eight timesâ onto his broken collar bone getting back to the starting line but was justifiably proud he refused to take âquitterâs roadâ.
He said: âNo one should be disappointe d because the course won. Conditions were particularly brutal. Barkley is the toughest race in the world.
âI loved it from start to finish. Itâs not often I get pushed way beyond my limits. I will probably try
and enter next year, thereâs no guarantee Iâll get accepted but I will try.â