2017 Kona Ironman World Championship

2017 Kona Ironman World Championship

Kona was an unforgettable experience. The race was incredible to be a part of, especially with so many of my teammates there to share the experience with. The trip itself was an amazing time with my wife – some time off like we really haven’t had the chance to have in over four years. In fact it was all a bit much to put into one post, so this is just the race report itself. The rest of the trip will come separately.

Team Every Man Jack at Kona. Photo: Talbot Cox

My race went well, finishing as the 26th amateur, 60th overall, and 10th American male. That came after coming out of the water in 854th place, putting together a solid bike, and then turning in the 2nd fastest amateur run for the day. The support we received as a team throughout the event from our sponsors, family, and friends (as if the support during training isn’t enough) was unbelievable and a huge boost throughout the day and the typical rough Kona conditions.

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Triathlete Magazine – Showdown: The Barkley Marathons vs. Ironman Kona

To be fair, this year’s Barkley involved a bit of (inadvertent) swimming as well. I enjoyed my chat with Sarah Barker for triathlete magazine, and appreciate the great job she did making sure things were accurate!

Showdown: The Barkley Marathons vs. Ironman Kona | Triathlete.com

John Kelly has a pretty strong mental game. This past April the 32-year-old data scientist became only the 15th person ever to finish the Barkley marathons-approximately 130 miles of thrashing through Tennessee wilderness- within the 60-hour cutoff. Exhausted and sleep-deprived at the finish, Kelly had the wherewithal to offer a plausible explanation for why he was wearing a plastic Walmart bag ala shrug.

 

2017 Kona Training

2017 Kona Training

Ever since I started running again a few years ago I’ve focused on two main races per year. All of my training has been built around those races, and other races were themselves part of that training. For the past few years the focus has been Barkley in the spring to cap off my ultrarunning season, and an Ironman in the fall to cap off my triathlon season.

This year had the same general plan, but there were a couple of differences. First, my Barkley finish left me in a bit of a victory hangover: the unquenchable fire I had felt pursuing that goal was finally satiated. How much of a thrill could a strong showing at Kona really add? Second, qualifying for Kona had been the goal itself for triathlon. Should I treat it as a victory lap like I did for the Boston Marathon, or put forth a serious effort? It took me a bit to sort through these questions, and it took me long enough that the questions were somewhat answered for me, but eventually I did manage to regain focus and put in a solid few months of training.

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Publicity, Sponsorships, and the Social Media Quagmire

Publicity, Sponsorships, and the Social Media Quagmire

Update: Thanks everyone for the great feedback, whether here or somewhere else! Please continue to provide it at any time. There are a couple of things I wanted to mention that arose from that feedback. 1) In the interest of transparency and full disclosure, any social media post I make specifically for a sponsor or any recommendation I make for a sponsor’s product will be hashtagged with #sponsoredpost. Sometimes I might still tag a sponsor on an otherwise normal post, but the litmus test will be me asking myself (and honestly answering) “would I have made this post if it weren’t for a sponsor relationship?” 2) I’m of course open to supporting great causes. If anyone has one in mind please feel free to message me.

Let me start this post with this: I have no idea what I’m doing. I majored in electrical and computer engineering, the one thing at NC State where they required us to take both a public speaking and a writing class because they thoroughly expected us to be completely socially inept and incapable of basic communication. So I lack authority on this topic almost to the point of it being comical that I’m writing about it, but I have learned quite a bit and put a good deal of thought into this over the past year or so. I wanted to pass along those thoughts and my experience. Hopefully it might be useful for anyone in a similar situation, or even interesting for anyone who is not. Discussion, feedback, comments, advice, etc. are all welcome and appreciated.

I’ve actually been meaning to make this post for quite some time, but wanted to be sure I could put real thought into it. The usual priorities (family, work, training… sometimes sleeping), and of course making the very posts that I’m going to discuss in this post, didn’t leave time for doing that. In the meantime, I’ve seen other perspectives on this topic covering a wide spectrum (Bobby Geronimo’s scathing post and Dakota Jones’ satirical take both come to mind).

This post isn’t about what other people are doing, though; it’s not my place to say what other people should or shouldn’t be doing. One of the people I’ve looked up to and admired for years is Jared Campbell, who I think has a rather minimalist approach to social media and publicity. I also have a great deal of respect for Jamil Coury, one of the people mentioned in Bobby Geronimo’s post. He has an immense love for the sport, is living that out daily, and a lot of people get inspiration from that. I also of course owe him a great deal myself for two loops of navigation at my initial Barkley attempt in 2015.

But again, this isn’t about other people. This post is just about the path that I’ve taken, for now, and how I ended up on it. At times I feel like the punk band that signed with a record label, but so far I don’t regret where I am.

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2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship – Chattanooga

2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship – Chattanooga

As much as I love to race in new places and experience new challenges, there are really few things better than going back to race in East TN where I grew up. The Ironman 70.3 World Championship being in Chattanooga this year gave me the perfect opportunity to do that, and to do it against the best in the world. To make it even better Jessi was able to come watch her first triathlon of the season, we got to spend some time with friends and family, and I was joined by a large group of guys from Team Every Man Jack. And of course without all of their support, plus our great sponsors, competing at these races wouldn’t even be possible.

The course was amazing, as was the competition. Apparently the course was one of the hardest 70.3 courses people have seen, but I’ve only seen one other 70.3 course and to me it just seemed like a bunch of fun hills to play on. I had a strong bike, and actually a swim that could have been worse and a run that could have been better, to put me 19th in AG and tied for 99th overall. For a world championship, at that distance, I’m pretty happy to come away with a top 100.

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The National – Running Wild

They say save the best for last. There have been a lot of good articles so I’m not sure if this is best, but it’s definitely great and the last 2017 Barkley article to my knowledge.

For the record, though, I’ve never focused training on Barkley year-round. I haven’t even focused training on running year round. I’ve focused on Barkley for 6 month chunks, which is something I believe every finisher has done at a minimum.

Running Wild

On June 11, 1977, when James Earl Ray escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary and was at large amid Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, Gov. Ray Blanton preached calm. In the prison’s 81 years of operation, he told The Washington Post, no one had ever permanently escaped.

 

Esquire Magazine – The Masochist’s Marathon

This is a long-awaited feature on the 2017 Barkley Marathons in Esquire. The author, George Pendle, was a pleasure to speak with and is an extremely nice guy who I know wanted to to portray the race as accurately as possible. Overall, it’s a great article. With today’s editing and sensationalized headlines, though, it should be no surprise what appears on the first page and the title that was chosen.

“Masochist’s Marathon” implies pleasure in the pain itself. The pleasure is in overcoming the obstacles that cause the pain. Despite an impressive amount of fact-checking, I believe the article also misquotes me just a bit (I don’t think I’ve said “daddy” since I was 3) to further cast me as the local yokel dark horse who somehow managed to finish (no one who knew anything about the race considered me a dark horse). But that doesn’t really matter, and the article is a very entertaining read. To paraphrase (not quote) laz, the world at large can never truly know what it’s like out there, and those that do (including myself) know what we did and why we did it.

This Is the Most Hellish Ultramarathon in the World

The world’s top ultrarunners fight to compete in the Barkley Marathons, an ever-shifting race designed by a madman to break their spirits through 100 miles of hellish Appalachian mountains. So far, only 14 people have completed it. A man is begging on the side of a Tennessee mountain.

 

2017 Ironman Lake Placid

2017 Ironman Lake Placid

I had a great time at Ironman Lake Placid racing with Team Every Man Jack and bringin’ home the maple syrup! I was also incredibly fortunate to have my brother to support me and to be able to spend the weekend there with him.

The course was incredible and the race went well: 3rd in age group, 6th amateur, 18th overall, and 3rd fastest run overall. As usual my teammates James DeFilippi, Michael Hoffman, and Clay Emge turned in outstanding performances, with Clay leading the way with the top amateur finish and 5th overall. A number of other teammates also showed up just to support us – I’m constantly amazed by what a great group this is.

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The Goldilocks Difficulty

The Goldilocks Difficulty

A couple of weeks ago I posted Failing with Purpose. I had some great feedback, questions, and discussion from that, and have been meaning to post a follow up for a while now. So here it is, finally. Also related: Component Goals – Lessons from a 5K.

The main question that arose out of the previous post was, “what is just the right amount of difficulty?” I advocated for setting stretch goals where failure is a likely outcome. I still believe that more benefit can be realized by falling short of a stretch goal than by overachieving on an easy one, but just sending yourself on fool’s errands isn’t very productive. There’s a tl;dr at the bottom of the post if you’d rather skip to the bullet point version.

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Failing with Purpose

Failing with Purpose

Note: This post generated some great discussion, which led to The Goldilocks Difficulty as a follow-up post. Also related: Component Goals – Lessons from a 5K.

Background

This isn’t a Western States post, but it’s one that it inspired. This also steals almost entirely from a talk I gave a couple of months back for my high school’s honors night (if you really want to see the video, it’s at the bottom). I hadn’t planned on posting it, but with some of the discussion I’ve seen this week I felt like I should.

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2017 Ironman Syracuse 70.3

2017 Ironman Syracuse 70.3

Conditions were tough at IM 70.3 Syracuse this year, with strong currents and chop on the swim, wind on the bike, and heat on the run, but Team Every Man Jack turned in a solid performance! Greg Grosicki finished 2nd overall, I snagged 5th overall and 1st in my age group, and Michael Hoffman was first out of the water and 5th in his age group. My goal was to do well enough to grab a spot to the IM 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, and I’m happy to say that I punched that ticket and will be heading to my home state in September to race against the best.

As usual I wouldn’t have even made it the race, let alone raced well, if not for quite a bit of help: from my wife’s unwavering support, to my parents coming to help with the kids the weekend of the race, to my teammate James Defilippi for lending me his wheels for the race. I’m extremely lucky to have such great family and teammates.

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Blue Ridge Outdoors – Heartbreak at the Barkley Marathons

A nice little feature done by Josh Patton, one of the talented photographers who was at Barkley.

Heartbreak at Barkley Marathon

The Barkley Marathon starts with the race director blowing on a conch shell and lighting a cigarette, and it ends with either the Easy Button or Taps. It brags that it has a near complete failure rate. In its three decades of existence, only 15 runners have been able to defeat the clock, the mountains, and the briars.

 

Endurance News – John Kelly becomes the 15th finisher at the Barkley Marathons

A feature in Hammer Nutrition’s Endurance News magazine on the 2017 Barkley Marathons, obviously with a bit more info on some of the fuel I used during the race.

John Kelly becomes the 15th finisher at the Barkley Marathons!

BY ENDURANCE NEWS STAFF On April 1st, 2017, Hammer Nutrition sponsored athlete John Kelly left the start line on his third attempt at the 100 plus mile, 60 hour ultramarathon trail race, the Barkley Marathons. On April 3rd, at 59:30 in with just 30 minutes to spare, Kelly became the race’s 15th Finisher since 1986.

 

2017 Columbia Triathlon

2017 Columbia Triathlon

In the weeks leading up to the Columbia Triathlon, I actually considered a DNS for the first time in my life. My post Barkley “indulgence period” had been a bit longer than expected and I hadn’t kept myself in the best shape. There were also delays getting some rather important parts for my new bike, like, you know, wheels. Finally, some big travel had come up for work that would sandwich the race. I had to travel to Europe the week of the race, which was a bit of a disaster where I averaged less than 4 hours of sleep per night including spending a night homeless on the rainy streets of London, and then go straight from the race to the airport to fly to Hong Kong.

The race was planned as a tune-up to jumpstart my triathlon season, though. I figured that no matter the outcome, I would at least accomplish that. I also still had the incredible support of my family, and teammates even more amazing than I originally thought, so I moved forward with my plans.

In the end, things didn’t really work out the way that I planned. After finishing 2nd overall, I noticed from my GPS data that I missed a turn on the run course. I reported myself to the race director and got DQ’d. I can’t thank the RD enough for everything he did to try to get the best outcome after my course error, but in the end rules are rules. I’m still glad I did the race, and if nothing else it was great preparation for the rest of the season. It’s also an outstanding event with a course that I really love (I can’t get enough hills). Read more

2017 Barkley Strategy, Gear, & Nutrition

2017 Barkley Strategy, Gear, & Nutrition

I was done with Barkley posts, but this is one that I told quite a few people I would make and hopefully it will answer a number of the questions I’ve received. After this, though, I’m done for real. If you’d like to revisit anything else related to the 2017 Barkley you can find it at the Barkley Archive.

This post is meant to give a small glimpse into my Barkley strategy, gear, and nutrition choices this year. Parts of this might seem like plugs for my partners, but there’s a reason I work with these companies. They make great products that I’ve found are the best for me. If they weren’t, then I’d work with someone else and you’d see them here instead.

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POD Podcast 064

This podcast was pretty unique amongst the post-Barkley interviews, and definitely the most relaxed one I did. It was a lot of fun to touch on some things that I hadn’t really talked about before.

POD 064 Interview with Barkley Marathon Finisher John Kelly

In this episode, Craig and Jeremy chat with Barkley Marathon finisher John Kelly. The Barkley Marathon started back in 1995. This ultramarathon trail race held in Tennessee annually is brutal as it must be completed within the 60 hour time limit.

The Fat Black Podcast #212

Great conversation with Kristian Manietta on training, setting goals, and overcoming mental challenges in endurance sports. This one really isn’t a Barkley podcast or an audio race report, and dove into things that are much more broadly relatable.

FB #212 – John Kelly

This week I get to virtually sit down with John Kelly. The 15th finisher at the Barkley Marathon – which has been going for way more years than finishers of the event. It’s really the end point of ultra running. If you haven’t watched the Netflix doco do it.

2017 Barkley Crew Report from Joe Kelly

2017 Barkley Crew Report from Joe Kelly

My cousin Joe has been a tremendous support over the course of my 3 years running Barkley. After this year, he wrote his own report and I thought I’d share a perspective of the race from someone there crewing and spectating. The crew put in an enormous amount of work themselves to be out there, take care of everything I need between loops, get back and forth between the camp and the fire tower, and to wait, wait, and wait around some more in the same weather conditions the runners have to deal with. I added the photos, but the words are Joe’s. Thank you again to friends, family, and the incredible work of Josh Patton Designs and Howie Stern Photography for the photos.

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Slate’s Hang Up and Listen – A Barkley Marathons follow-up

That time when two people in DC disagreed but then actually discussed like civilized human beings. Not all Barkley views are rainbows & unicorns, but enjoyed the chat! The Barkley portion starts at 34:52. The original segment in question was on the April 17 episode at 58:25.

Is Nike’s Upcoming Attempt to Break the Two-Hour Marathon a Marketing Gimmick?

Slate ‘s sports podcast on the NBA playoffs, breaking the two-hour marathon, and a Barkley Marathons follow-up. Listen to Hang Up and Listen with Stefan Fatsis and Greg Howard by clicking the arrow on the audio player below: In this week’s episode of ‘s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen, Stefan Fatsis and special guest Greg Howard of the New York Times are joined by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz to talk about a slew of storylines in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Pace the Nation Podcast Episode 102

I went to a road running store in my cycling kit to talk ultras. Maybe we can all get along.

Episode 102 – Charles Barkley (John Kelly) | Pacers Running

We are joined by local runner John Kelly (@RndmForestRunnr) who just became the 15th person to ever finish the Barkley Marathons. John talks about the event and its history, and gives us a recap of his race. We also talk about his support crew, how he finds time to train for ultras and triathlons, google, …

SportsCenter Segment on the 2017 Barkley Marathons

I gave up dreams of being on SportsCenter about 20 years ago, and those dreams had me as a pitcher for the Texas Rangers. It was an awesome, fun experience getting to do this, and even the rundown they had on the side was perfect. LeBron’s birthday is shortly after mine so I get an annual reminder that I’m older than him. But here, he had to wait. 🙂

This was also the first time in my life I’d ever worn makeup. I figured I should make the best of it so Jessi and I went out on a date after it was recorded. I certainly looked better than a few days earlier at least.

The flag they showed next to my name during the clip was MD, but if you look closely that’s a TN flag t-shirt I have on.

Watch on Vimeo

Bad Boy Running Podcast Ep50

This one was a bit different, and I wouldn’t have it any other way from our friends in the UK! It’s awesome to see so much support & interest there.

The Bad Boy Running Podcast: Ep50 – SPECIAL – John Kelly on finishing Barkley Marathons

In this BBR Special Jody and David talk to John Kelly, endurance athlete and the only finisher at this year’s Barkley Marathons. John reveals his journey from not running to competing at Barkley three times until he finally achieved his goal of finishing, how he trains for Barkley and the mind games you go through when you’re out on the course.

RTBF – Immersion dans la “Barkley”, course à pieds la plus dure du monde

I have no idea what they’re saying, but this has some beautiful footage of the 2017 Barkley Marathons and the course. I admit that the drone annoyed me at one point, but I think that point was in getting the Rat Jaw shot that shows at about 7 minutes in, which is amazing. I felt like I was in the Game of Thrones intro.

Between this and multiple recent conversations through Google Translate I think I need to learn French!

Immersion dans la “Barkley”, course à pieds la plus dure du monde – Le Grand Format – 16/04/2017

(du 16/04/2017)

iRunFar – The White Whale of Tennessee: John Kelly’s 2017 Barkley Marathons Report

My own full race report, hosted at iRunFar.

The White Whale of Tennessee: John Kelly’s 2017 Barkley Marathons Report

Editor’s Note: On Monday, April 3, John Kelly became the Barkley Marathons’s 15th finisher when he completed the five-loop race in 59 hours, 30 minutes, and 53 seconds. Here is his report.] Call me Ishmael. No, actually don’t do that. This isn’t a story about my insane captain’s obsessive and ill-fated pursuit of a white whale.

Babbittville Radio Podcast

It was great to chat Barkley and for a bit of a change a little triathlon with Ironman legend Bob Babbitt on Babbittville Radio.

John Kelly – Babbittville – Babbittville

John Kelly ran his first marathon in 2013 at the Marine Corps Marathon, blew up, and still ran 3:38. Just recently he won the infamous Barkley Marathons, which this year was approximately 130 miles long with about 68,000 feet of ups and downs. John’s story of falling asleep during the last of the five laps…

UltraRunning Magazine – Quick & Dirty: John Kelly, the Fifteenth-Ever Barkley Marathons Finisher

It was great to talk with Matt Flaherty not only about this year’s Barkley but some of the previous ones and what led me down that path.

Quick & Dirty: John Kelly, the Fifteenth-Ever Barkley Marathons Finisher

For this edition of Quick & Dirty, I chatted with John Kelly, the fifteenth ever finisher of the Barkley Marathons. To match the massive undertaking that is a Barkley finish, this chat is a bit longer than typical for the column, but Kelly’s approach and insight are fascinating.

Washington Post – With only one finisher, Barkley Marathons lives up to its ‘toughest’ reputation

Kelyn Soong wrote the kind of quality article you’d expect from The Washington Post, and I’m happy I got to chat with him to help him do it.

With only one finisher, Barkley Marathons lives up to its ‘toughest’ reputation

The 12-hour cutoff for finishing the 20-plus mile loop of the notoriously difficult Barkley Marathons trail race was quickly approaching, and still there were no signs of professional ultrarunner Michael Wardian.

The Intelligent Racer Podcast Episode 30

I enjoyed the discussion with The Intelligent Racer, and particularly getting to talk a bit more about training and triathlons!

John Kelley Barkley Ultra Running Interview – Intelligent Racer

In this episode of the Intelligent Racer Podcast we talk with John Kelly about being the 15th ever finisher at The Barkley Marathons. We also discuss his triathlon training / racing. Some related links for more information: John’s Blog: http://www.randomforestrunner.com The Barkley Marathons: http://www.mattmahoney.net/barkley/ The Barkley Marathons Documentary: http://barkleymovie.com Photo Credit: Keith Dunn What is a podcast?

Ultrarunner Podcast – Barkley Finisher Number 15

Eric Schranz from Ultrarunnerpodcast did some great research and I had a great time walking through my Barkley experience with him.

John Kelly Interview – Barkley Finisher Number 15

John Kelly joined me just a few days after his finish to talk about what it took to finish the Barkley Marathons. Here’s a hint: Massive amounts of planning, decades of course knowledge, his Aunt Brenda’s cookies, and the incredible ability to focus through a dense fog of fatigue.

Slowtwitch – The triathlete who conquered Barkley

For the record I’ll always consider myself an ultrarunner who does triathlons, not vice versa, but I really enjoyed this interview and getting to look at Barkley from a bit of a different perspective.

The triathlete who conquered Barkley

A week ago triathlete and ultrarunner John Kelly became the 15th person since 1986 to conquer the infamous Barkley Marathons – a ultra difficult 100 mile trail race in the Frozen Head State Park in TN. This humble Every Man Jack athlete talked to us about that experience and more.

Trail Runner Magazine – Born and Bred in the Briars

They may have stolen my initial title for my race report,  but Ariella did a great job and the title worked better here anyway! It also forced me to come up with a title that I think was better for my race report.

“Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please. Only please, Brer laz, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

Read at trailrunnermag.com

WBIR – Celebration and heartbreak at the Barkley Marathons finish

Raishad came over to my parents’ house to interview me the day after the race. I’m still kind of in rough shape, and he probably caught me between naps, but it was awesome to get to talk to him and tell some of the story to the same news program that I grew up watching.

Celebration and heartbreak at the Barkley Marathons finish

MORGAN COUNTY, TENN. – On Monday afternoon, John Kelly joined one of the world’s most elite running groups by finishing the 2017 Barkley Marathons. The insane course is a 100 mile race up and down the steep cliffs of Frozen Head State Park in Morgan County.

Canadian Running – Who is John Kelly, the 15th person to have ever finished the Barkley Marathons?

I feel like “Who is John Kelly?” is what people have asked at every Barkley for the past 3 years. Thank you very much to Canadian Running Magazine for helping to clear that up.

Who is John Kelly, the 15th person to have ever finished the Barkley Marathons? – Canadian Running Magazine

John Kelly made trail running history on April 3, 2017 by becoming the 15th person to ever complete the Barkley Marathons. The Barkley Marathons in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee is known to the toughest endurance challenge ever with over 160 kilometres of tough terrain, sheer drops and thick forest.

2017 Barkley Marathons Race Report

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).

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WATE – East Tennessee native becomes 15th finisher of Barkley Marathons

Of all the people I’ve talked to after the race, it’s still one of the coolest things to me to see the local media interest and to get to talk to them.

East Tennessee native becomes 15th finisher of Barkley Marathons

WARTBURG (WATE) – It is a race that is notorious for how many people have not completed. More than 1,000 people have attempted to complete the Barkley Marathons, but on Monday, John Kelly, 32, became the 15th person to complete the race in Frozen Head State Park.

Canadian Running – 2017 Barkley Marathon features one finisher, heartbreak for Gary Robbins

Canadian Running Magazine was at the race, and this is their immediate story on the race’s two-faced finish.

2017 Barkley Marathon features one finisher, heartbreak for Gary Robbins – Canadian Running Magazine

Washington, D.C.’s John Kelly has finished, and won, the 2017 Barkley Marathons in 59:30:53. Gary Robbins did not make the 1:42 p.m. EDT cutoff after 60 hours. With the victory, Kelly is the 15th finisher in the race’s history. Robbins missed the 60-hour cutoff by an agonizing six seconds after touching the yellow gate (the finish) from the opposite direction.

2017 Barkley Marathons Quick Recap

2017 Barkley Marathons Quick Recap

I’m hoping to get to my full race report in the next week, but I wanted to go ahead and get a quick recap and some thoughts out. The past few days have been pretty crazy, and it’s still kind of hard to believe. I owe a huge thank you to my family, awesome crew, and companies that supported me. I needed all of their incredible support and commitment to get me to that gate a 5th time. Having 30 minutes might seem like a nice cushion, but just 8 minutes more per transition, or just 30 seconds more per book, and I would’ve been over.

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