2019 Cheviot Goat Ultra

2019 Cheviot Goat Ultra

I’ve long known what it’s like to have a home field advantage. At Barkley, I feel a bit like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. The first time I ran it I was shocked to see how shocked people were by the terrain. In ultrarunning just the mential stress caused by misaligned expectations can often present a large problem, let alone the lack of proper preparation. Running in the cold is fine. Running in the heat is fine. Running in one when you expect the other (or both in one day) is often disastrous.

And so when Jim Rutherford picked me up to head to the Cheviot Goat Race, I thought I had an idea of what the race would be like. It would be wet, there would be some bogs, but I mean, it couldn’t be much worse than Paddy Buckley on the Grand Round, right? I’ve dealt with that stuff before. It would be fine. And with work having been overwhelmingly busy leading into the race, I just hadn’t been able to prioritize giving it any more thought than that.

Welcome, won’t you stay (stuck) awhile

We got started early in the morning, in what I’ve come to consider rather good conditions for English mountain weather. It was expected to get increasingly bad through the day, though, so the course had been reversed to get the higher more exposed section out of the way early. A group of 7 of us headed up the first climb together. Near the top I looked back down to see an incredible, beautiful trail of lights behind me leading all the way back down through the valley. I hadn’t realized there were so many people in the race and thought at first I was seeing a busy morning commute on a highway (except it was Saturday).

Our lead group started to split in half at the top. I was hanging off of the back of the first half when I took a slight miscalculation on the path and stepped on something that looked like ground just slightly to the right of where the others had gone.

Before I knew what had happened I was standing waist deep in a bog. I couldn’t move my legs. At all. I thought quicksand had been invented by Hollywood, but here I was. I looked behind me, wondering if I was going to have to wait on someone to pull me out. I reached out with my pole and found there was solid ground just a few feet in front of me. I lunged forward and grabbed it, slowly pulling myself out.

Shortly after, largely to my relief, the next group caught up to me. We stayed together up to the Cheviot and on the descent two of us broke away. It turned out to be Galen Reynolds, and I found myself running alongside a bearded, gluten-intolerant Canadian with initials GR. Why does this seem familiar? Galen was great company, and it was good to get to pick his brain a bit about Tor Des Geants, where he has had tremendous success.

We ended up getting a bit closer than intended, though. The Penine Way was actually laid with stones for that portion, with those stones occasionally being slightly covered with murky water. I stepped on what I assumed was one of those spots, only to subsequently find myself completely buried in mucky slop. Galen immediately came crashing on top of me. I hadn’t found myself thrashing about in the water like that since my last triathlon. When we climbed out we both enjoyed a good laugh, compeletely covered in mud. Two North Americans do Northumbria: a comedy.

Nice trails y’all. The ample water sources make this a breeze. Photo: Craig Kilday

Flying solo

We stayed together until the half way point, where we grabbed some food from our drop bags and continued on. He got out ahead of me a little, but I stayed close behind until taking another unintended excursion. There were no course markings, and in many places no discernible path, but there was a GPS track that I had loaded onto my watch.

Unfortunately it was not behaving as expected. I mention this only in case someone has had a similar experience and knows how to fix it. The watch wasn’t showing the exact route, it was showing straight lines between waypoints on the route. So where there were curves it differed quite significantly, and in one case I found myself going down through a sheep pasture, over a fence, and down and back up a steep overgrown ravine (hooray, Barkley terrain!). The strangest thing is that my watch seemed to know where the correct path was, telling me I was off course when I followed the displayed route if it diverged from the actual route. So it’s as if it just wasn’t displaying it correctly.

In any case, by the time I found my way back onto the course Galen was out of sight. He went on to have an incredible second half and came away with the win. Meanwhile I wouldn’t see another runner for the remainder of the race, not in front of or behind me. I repeatedly strayed from the best path and found myself wandering through fields of heather, where running seemed like a gauranteed way to break an ankle or end up in another bog, this time never to be seen again.

The bogs weren’t as bad on the 2nd half, but I still felt a bit like Frodo.

I did manage to make it to the finish before the weather got really bad, and I only needed to take my headlamp back out for the last few miles. I came in 4th, fortunately well behind 3rd place or otherwise the sting of finishing one spot off the podium would have hurt a bit more.

I got to hang around in the cafe at the end and chat for a while before heading out to completely destroy my hotel shower with peat bog filth. The race was put on by great people and was a wonderful event. I may not have gone home with any extra hardware but I did take away what was for me a truly unique experience.

I don’t think that shirt will ever be yellow again.

Until we meet again

The Cheviot Goat was great preparation for The Spine, which I have in just a few weeks. Learning the terrain features, what to look out for, and how important it is to stick to the right path, will of course be a big help, but just as importantly my expectations will more closely align with reality. There won’t be another shocking moment from being waist deep in a bog and not knowing what to do. I’ve never been on the bad end of a course where local knowledge is so important, and I actually have a much greater appreciation now for the challenge faced by people who show up at Barkley having never been in the Tennessee mountains. I’m just glad I won’t have that introduction in January when I set out for 268 miles.

Gear and nutrition

Despite the conditions being pretty unusual for me, my gear was my pretty standard setup. Note: I have relationships with many of the companies mentioned below and much of the gear was provided to me. For a full list of those companies, and in some cases discount codes, see this page.

I used a pair of La Sportiva Kaptiva GTX with winter running gaiters in hopes that my feet might stay somewhat dry. They actually did really well until I went waste deep in a bog, at which point nothing short of waders would have helped me.

I went with an Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest, which did very well carrying the rather extensive kit list (the weather can turn nasty quickly, and people can get stuck out there for a while).

My XOSKIN long sleeved shirt, calf sleeves, and socks (toe socks with normal socks over top) kept me comfortable, warm, and chafe-free, and my standard nutrtition plan did quite well at this race: Perpeteum to start and at mid-way, with Hammer gels and a bar distributed over the rest of the race.

I did have to enjoy my first Irn-Bru while I was up there, though. Speaking of unique experiences… that one hit the spot.

The Grand Round – A Fun Run

The Grand Round – A Fun Run

I did not achieve what I was aiming for on The Grand Round, but I ended up with more than I could have hoped for. I have never been more proud of a failed pursuit or gained as many unexpected positive outcomes. Of course I wish a few things had gone differently and that I had been able to finish. I’m an overly competitive goal-driven Type A perfectionist who is horrible company for a “casual” game of anything, and falling short will always gnaw at me. I went out to seek a challenge, though, and based on the criteria I laid out I got exactly what I was seeking. If everything was predictable, there would be no excitement or passion, no adventure, no exploration. In a way, the plan has to be for things to not go according to plan.

As it stands I had an incredible adventure and learned a great deal, both specific to the challenge itself and more broadly applicable to my own life. I also learned that there is at least one thing that I can reliably plan on: the passion and selfless support of the fell running community. I’m still in a bit of disbelief at their generosity, and I come from a place that I’d say epitomizes southern hospitality. I’ll tell you what, though, we sure ain’t got no monopoly on kindness.

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Seeking Grand Challenges

Seeking Grand Challenges

I wanted to get my thoughts on why I’m doing this “Grand Round” out ahead of time, before they’re forever altered by the pain, joy, and experience of actually doing it. For my own sake as much as anything, I wanted them crystallized in writing and set aside for me to reflect on afterwards. Because honestly, I’m terrified. This is likely to be more challenging than even Barkley, and I haven’t been this terrified of anything I’ve attempted since my very first attempt at Barkley. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing; actually I’d say the opposite.

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2019 Barkley Marathons

2019 Barkley Marathons

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

We’ve all at some point or another had those lyrics stuck in our head, and we’ve all probably had a number of situations where they were quite appropriate. I think a key word that really gets overlooked, though, is try. You don’t just sit there and have what you need fall into your lap.

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2019 Franklins 200 Miler

2019 Franklins 200 Miler

Even by my standards this is really, really late for a race report. But that is in no way a commentary itself on the race, I’ve just been a bit busy with the whole moving to another country thing. It was an extremely well organized event with a great community and a challenging course that I came away from with quite a few lessons. Thank you to Rob Goyen, Trail Racing Over Texas, and the volunteers who put this race together, and also to Gina Fioroni, John Sharp, and Jaime Aparicio, my impromptu crew who turned out to be invaluable when things didn’t exactly go as I planned.

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2018 Ironman Arizona

2018 Ironman Arizona

Ironman Arizona was a fitting end to my time in competitive triathlon. It was a caricature really, of all my races to that point: an absolute disaster of a swim, a solid bike that held things together, and a great run. I had no concrete goals before the race; just to enjoy the experience of racing as a professional and go out with a good effort. Given the course, I assumed I would come away with a PR (which I did! by 26 seconds). Otherwise, though, this was more of a celebration than a competition for me – the cap to a long year and both my professional debut and finale.

Thank you to everyone who helped me pursue and achieve what I did in triathlon, whether tangibly or in spirit. It was a fun challenge and journey, but definitely not one without its difficulties. I’m looking forward to the next chapter, the next book really. But first, here’s the last chapter of this one (with maybe an epilogue to come).

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2018 Barkley – A View from the Other Side

2018 Barkley – A View from the Other Side

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. – John Wooden

This year my return to Barkley was a much different experience for me, but one that may have taught me as much as any of my previous three trips there. I witnessed some amazing performances in some unbelievable conditions, and had the honor of crewing for two of those athletes. Sometimes it’s not the completion of a goal itself, but the experience and the lessons learned in pursuing it that are the most valuable. Seeing close up the attitude and perspective that Jodi and Karine, Gary and Linda, and others had this weekend in the face of the tough conditions and the resulting “failure” was a true privilege, and I hope that some of that rubbed off on me.

The weekend allowed me to see things from an entirely new perspective, experience what my own amazing support system has gone through the past few years, and reflect on how some incredible people handled adverse conditions and outcomes that were far from their goals. Thank you so much to Jodi and Gary for inviting me to be a part of it.

If you just want to find out what happened to Gary’s headlamps, click here.

Or if you’d rather just see the footage I grabbed while out there, head over to Youtube (thank you to James DeFilippi for the camera for the weekend).

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2018 Barkley Race Footage

2018 Barkley Race Footage

I’ve put together some on-course footage, pictures, and commentary from my time crewing and acting as a random course checkpoint at the 2018 Barkley Marathons. The video and audio quality is pretty horrible, but this is what I got so it’s this or nothing. And maybe grainy, noisy footage is appropriate for “on-course” Barkley coverage.  

 

La Barkley sans pitie

This one was nearly a year in the making, starting with the incredible photos that Alexis Berg took at the 2017 Barkley Marathons and then adding interviews with me, Gary, and laz. The editing and production here is incredible, and the result is a 20 minute film with portions that get me to relive the experience more than anything else I’ve seen to this point. (English with French subtitles)

La Barkley sans pitié

La course la plus difficile du monde se déroule chaque année dans les forêts du Tennessee. Vous allez comprendre pourquoi en regardant le formidable documentaire vidéo, ” La Barkley sans pitié “. Une production @lequipeExplore

 

2015 Barkley Post Loop 3 Video

2015 Barkley Post Loop 3 Video

No. No I’m not running Barkley this year. Yes, I’ll be crewing (plus some other stuff). And yes, Gary is one person I’ll be crewing for. But there’s another Canadian that I actually committed to first. And no, it’s not *just* about the maple syrup. I’ve been waiting three years to be able to pay Jodi and Karine back for all the help they gave me in 2015 during my first attempt – before Barkley was widely known and before I had absolutely any idea whatsoever what I was doing. After Jamil and I completed a Fun Run, I crashed pretty hard. The people in this video feverishly trying to help me when I’m at my lowest of lows are my wife and dad, and then two people I had never even met before the race: Jodi and Karine. A lot like me last year, Jodi is a bit of an unknown, but anyone who knows Barkley history knows what he’s capable of. I’m looking forward to helping him reach that potential.

Video: Keith Knipling

Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR) Unsupported FKT

Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR) Unsupported FKT

The SCAR was a tough challenge, but one that I enjoyed every minute of. I came away from it with a whole new appreciation for the Great Smoky Mountains, and barely snagged the unsupported fastest known time. The run traverses the length of the national park on the Appalachian Trail, a 72 mile stretch with close to 18K feet of gain and loss. Most of it is right along the border of the two states that mean the most to me: Tennessee, where I was born and raised along with 6 generations of Kellys before me, and North Carolina, where I went to college, met my wife, and where her family calls home.

I also once again owe her a huge thank you for dropping me off in the middle of nowhere before proceeding on her own the remaining 1.5 hours to my parents house with all 3 kids late at night. On the other end of the run David Abraham, part of my extended family, was incredibly kind in driving out and waiting around in the middle of nowhere for me to show up a bit later than anticipated. And without the awesome community of trail runners in the area I probably wouldn’t have even known about the SCAR, much less known enough to attempt it.

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2018 TWOT 100

2018 TWOT 100

TWOT 100 was a great weekend retreat to the mountains, somehow relaxing yet at the same time one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I came in just under the wire (23:48) for a goal that I honestly had serious doubts about being able to do: almost entirely self-supported sub 24 on 112 miles of mostly rough trail with 30K ft of climbing. Congrats to John Fegyveresi and the other runners I got to share the experience with (and who had to deal with much worse conditions than me), and a huge thank you to RD Antoinette Landragin, founder and true legend Dennis “The Animal” Herr, and the volunteers for making an event like this possible. And of course my wife for making an event like that possible for me to do by taking on the kids solo this time for a couple of nights.

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AT 4 State Challenge FKT

AT 4 State Challenge FKT

I was fortunate to have perfect weather in January and great company for my fastest known time attempt on the AT 4 State Challenge, the section of the Appalachian Trail that starts at the Pennsylvania border and travels through Maryland and West Virginia to the Virginia border. It was a beautiful stretch of trail with a rich heritage and I can’t imagine a better way to spend a day of running. Conrad Laskowski and Chris Roberts joined me for the day and while I hope they enjoyed it just as much, I owe them a huge thanks for coming out and providing the company, the support, and of course for making the logistics of getting back to the start afterwards easier. And as always, I owe my wife Jessi a huge thanks for providing the support back home for letting me get out for the day to try these crazy things in the first place. At the end I ended up with a new FKT in 6:39:51 and a new appreciation for some of the terrain I have in my own backyard.

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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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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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2016 Hellgate 100K++

2016 Hellgate 100K++

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.

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