John Kelly is an ultrarunner with a triathlon habit. In April 2017, John became only the 15th person in history to finish the infamous Barkley Marathons. He finished in a time of 59h30m33s – only 27 seconds before the 60-hour race cut-off.
As far as racing goes, I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to top 2017. After working towards a number of goals for the past few years, they all seemed to converge at once. I raced at Kona (and had a pretty good race to boot). I started the year with my first overall win in any race of any form since Kindergarten (TWOT 100), and then I finished the year with another, actually getting to break the tape for the first time (Lookout Mountain 50 Miler).
Two of my races ended up resulting in national championships (Miami Man Triathlon and Lookout Mountain 50 Miler). They’re really titles in name only, as I wasn’t actually competing against all the best in the nation, but maybe they can at least cover for those state titles I never could get in high school.
Then of course there was Barkley. Barkley was my Super Bowl. My World Series, World Cup, green jacket, ok you get the idea. It had been my focus for years, and most other races I had done were merely training for Barkley. Finishing was an achievement for me that I really don’t know if I’ll ever surpass athletically.
More than that, though, the journey to finishing Barkley taught me invaluable lessons that extend well past the bounds of athletic achievements that are admittedly somewhat arbitrary and in the big picture rather inconsequential. I came away a stronger, smarter, and better person from the experience (which would have been true even without the finish), and that ability to take on and reach goals with seemingly assured failure will apply to pursuits in all areas of my life.
In addition to the unbelievable support I received from my wife and family, I was also fortunate to become more a part of the ultrarunning community: some of the most supportive, giving, and fun people there are. I’ve made incredible friendships with people who have done amazing things, and essentially everyone I’ve met is someone I would enjoy hanging out with.
I was able to find a similar group of people with Team Every Man Jack, and enjoy the benefits of teammates who truly want everyone to achieve the best result they’re capable of. In the meantime I got to learn, oftentimes the hard way, how to navigate the world of social media and sponsorships.
So where does that leave me for 2018? That’s a good question. I’m down in San Antonio right now, with my first race of the year tomorrow at Bandera 100K. I’m honestly just here to get a Western States and Spartathlon qualifier, and don’t really have any intention of doing much more at this one. Even if I did, there a good number of people here a good deal faster than me (men and women) and I hear there are zero briar patches or hills so steep you can reach straight forward and touch them where I can make up ground on those people.
I will be back at TWOT 100 in February, with the goal of lowering my course record to sub 24 hours. It’s a pretty big stretch goal, but it’s one I’m excited about and right there in my zone of difficulty that will keep me motivated. And it also has those steep hills I need. And I’m out of prize apple butter.
I’d also like to go for a few fastest known times this winter, possibly the Maryland 4 State Challenge and/or the Benton MacKaye Trail. Those will be pretty dependent on weather, family plans, and work, though.
In April I’m doing the London Marathon, which will actually be my first marathon not dressed in costume in nearly four years. I’m excited to see what I can do now, but at the same time I’m not going to build my training around that.
Then, my final season of competitive triathlon begins. After this year, I’m going to ultras full time. There are a lot of ultra goals I have that would happen during what has been my triathlon season. I also feel like there won’t be much left for me to pursue in terms of goals in triathlon, at least not enough to get me to keep subjecting myself to swimming. Doing different triathlons doesn’t excite me the same way that doing different ultras does. The races just don’t, and can’t, have the same level of uniqueness.
With this being my last year of triathlon, though, I want to make sure I come out of it knowing that I reached my potential, and being completely satisfied with the efforts I put in to it. So throughout these next few months I’m going to try to do something that I haven’t done the past few years: continue to work on my bike and swim.
I’ve already joined a Masters swimming group, and have continued to do my bike commutes the last couple of months. Last year I was 2 minutes off my age group podium at Kona, after coming out of the water in 854th place. Originally I only planned on doing Kona that once, but now the goal is to go back one more time and see what I can do if I learn how to swim and strengthen my bike a bit.
I’ll be going for an early season Kona Qualifier at IM Boulder at the beginning of June, a time at which in years past I would have only recently gotten back in the pool and on the bike after dedicating the winter to Barkley training. If I don’t qualify at Boulder I’ll probably take one more shot at a later season race.
In the middle of the season I have the awesome opportunity to go represent Team USA at the amateur Long Course World Championships in Denmark. I’m pretty excited about putting on the Team USA kit and seeing what I can do.
Then after Kona (if I make it there), I might do one final “victory lap” in triathlon by grabbing my pro card and racing as a pro at one last race. It’s one of those things that would be cool to look back on when I’m 85, and I don’t want to be disappointed at having the opportunity and not ever taking it.
Then, then I burn my goggles and wetsuit. Ok no, I’ll probably at least sell the wetsuit. And I might do a recreational triathlon here and there in the future, but I’m definitely never training for the swim again. Maybe I’ll do an occasional competitive duathlon (if I can find one that’s long enough) as I do enjoy biking and feel like I can keep up my fitness there without it adversely affecting my ultra training.
But otherwise, it will be all ultras all the time. I’m already excited about some of the ideas I have for 2019. A lot can happen in a year, though, and who even knows where I’ll be at the time. So for now, those will just remain as ideas lurking in the back of my mind.
Good luck to everyone with your 2018 goals! Reach far, don’t be afraid of failure, and enjoy the experience not just the outcome. Even if 2018 race goals aren’t reached, the pursuit of them should leave you better from it come 2019, and that should be the main goal above all.
As for me, I truly might not be able to top my personal 2017 outcomes, but I can guarantee at least two things: 1) I will continue to push my boundaries and never regress in terms of challenges and continuous improvement, and 2) I will seek to help others reach their goals, as the sum of outcomes across many will always be able to exceed anyone’s individual outcomes.
Lookout Mountain would be a great addition to anyone’s 50 miler list. The event and the course really typify what I love about trail and ultrarunning. It’s a great, low-key community of people putting on a well-organized race on a course with incredible trails and views. And it’s great knowing that the proceeds from the race are going back towards those trails. Thank you to Wild Trails and all the volunteers for such a great event.
I was thrilled to come away with the win against great competition. It turns out the race was also the RRCA Ultra National Championship, which is a pretty cool bonus (although let’s be real there are plenty of people in the country who can handily beat me in a 50 miler).
I also learned some great lessons, the biggest being to stop worrying about the details and just run! I caught a stomach bug the day before the race and absolutely none of my “all-important” pre-race preparations that I usually worry so much about went right. Sure, some of that stuff matters a little and given the choice I’d rather have it be right, but in the end, the cumulative training and experience built up through time and hard work are vastly more important than the final 24 hours. The issues before the race forced me to run one of the smartest races I’ve ever run and I may have actually ended off better from it.
I spoke with Neisa and Andrew from Territorio Trail on a beautiful day down at the reflecting pool in DC. I’m a little disappointed that my Spanish (my college minor) is too rusty for me to have an actual conversation in it, but probably better for most people here that it’s in English. 😉 They do an intro of me at about 41:30 (in Spanish), and then after a commercial / music break my interview (in English) starts at about 47 minutes.
JOHN KELLY. LA MISTICA DE BARKLEY MARATHONS. John Kelly llegó a Frozen Head el abril pasado como un perfecto desconocido. 59 horas y media después inscribió su nombre en la historia de los ultras convirtiéndose en finisher de la Barkley Marathons. Repasaremos con Kelly su trayectoria, en la que destaca la variedad de pruebas en …
Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches is a pro triathlete in Quebec, but I spent a good deal of the time talking to him about Barkley as well. I might do a race up his way next year, and if so hope we cross paths.
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!
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.
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.
I had a great time this week chatting w/ Rob from Training For Ultra – everything from Barkley, to triathlon, to goals and limitations. And whisky. Still holding out for that George Dickel sponsorship. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, …
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
I’m always happy to chat with Aussie friends (our company, QxBranch, is half in Adelaide and I actually brought laz an Adelaide Crows t-shirt for my entry fee in 2016). The Wounded Pelicans are doing some pretty awesome stuff themselves.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
One of the first questions I normally get asked when people find out I’ve done / am doing the Barkley Marathons, is how I train for something like that. My training has evolved over the years, from 2015 when I had no idea what I was doing and just ran every hill I could find all the time at any time of day no matter the impact to personal life, to this year when I had a very set routine and fit my training around family and job rather than vice versa.
I originally signed up for The Wild Oak Trail (TWOT) 100 as practice for Barkley. As I learned more about the race, though, I became quite excited about it in its own right. While I stuck to my original plan of using it primarily as part of Barkley training, that excitement was justified. It was a really fun race that’s actually about 112 miles with 30K ft of climbing on a gorgeous trail in Virginia. I met some great people, had no major problems during the race, and came away with a new course record.
A huge thanks goes to Antoinette Landragin and the volunteers that made this exactly the kind of race I love: low key but well organized and on some great trail with great people. Also thank you to Antoinette and John Daniel for the pictures.
This was my first podcast, actually before 2017 Barkley. And before I figured out how to keep my eyes focused. This was an awesome experience for me and these guys were great. I wouldn’t hesitate to chat with them again at any time.
Hellgate was an awesome race, and actually my first “normal” ultra over the 50 mile mark. It was a bit colder than I’d hoped for, but otherwise was a great night (and morning) in beautiful mountains and a chance to meet some more incredible people in the ultrarunning community. This is a race that I’ll definitely be back to at some point, and can definitely see it as being one of the primary races I focus on in the future.
As always the community and race organizers were to thank for making the race so enjoyable; without that I’d probably just stick to trail running on my own and wouldn’t do these things. Thank you in particular to Scott Livingston for some pictures from the race, as I actually didn’t get any myself. And of course without my wife’s support and her making it possible for me to shirk dad duties for a day, I wouldn’t be able to do these things at all.