North Vancouver runner's 100-mile race ends in confusion, heartbreak

North Vancouver's Gary Robbins finished the crippling Barkley Marathons race just six seconds past the 60-hour cutoff Monday — a heart breaking result but not the worst of the news for the ultra-marathon runner.

Turns out Robbins ran off course during the final lap of the 100-mile race through the Tennessee backwoods, a mistake that regardless of his time disqualified him from being crowned an official Barkley Marathons finisher.

It was originally reported that Robbins was disqualified because he arrived at the finish six seconds late. But in a blog post Robbins said he took a wrong turn soon after collecting his last page.

Racers in the Barkley Marathon must collect pages from books stashed along the route to confirm they passed through all the checkpoints.

"I got all my pages, but I went around the wrong side of the mountain in the fog," a severely weakened Robbins said in a post-race interview posted by Canadian Running Magazine.

'A pretty devastating scene'

There was confusion and sadness when Robbins crossed the finish line in the wrong direction six seconds over the cutoff time.

In a video Robbins is shown sprinting toward the yellow gate that marks the start and finish line. After tapping the gate, he falls back and collapses on the road.

"I've covered a lot of races ... and this is one of the saddest moments I've ever witnessed in sports," said Michael Doyle, editor-in-chief of Canadian Running Magazine, who was at the finish. 

"I'm here to do a job and cover the event and act professionally — I'm a reporter — but I was getting a bit choked up," he said, adding that weeping could be heard from the spectators.

According to Doyle, the crowd of spectators was exhilarated just 30 minutes earlier when local runner John Kelly crossed the finish line.

The Barkley Marathons is among the world's most difficult feats of human endurance and like almost nothing else in the realm of competitive sports.

The race is held on an unmarked course through the backcountry of Frozen Head State Park that changes each year.

Competitors have to navigate with a map and compass through the 20-mile course five times in alternating directions to complete the race.

Robbins failed to finish the race last year, in his first try. He told CBC Radio's As It Happens that he began hallucinating and lost the ability to navigate on his final circuit.

This year's Barkley Marathons winner and only finisher — Kelly — completed the course in just over 59 hours and 30 minutes. He's the 15th person to complete the race since it kicked off in 1986.

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker