2019 Recap, 2020 Goals

2019 Recap, 2020 Goals

2019 had a lot of changes. I moved to a different country to build a team at a new company while switching to full-time ultrarunning and racing on completely unfamiliar terrain. There was some success for sure, and plenty of things to celebrate, but also a number of times I fell short. Any good year should have a combination of those, and the best ratio probably varies by person, but I can’t help but look at the year largely as a stepping stone, a scouting expedition before returning in full force. That could seem like a negative view, but I view it as quite optimistic: the best is yet to come.

2019 left me with a bit of blood on my chin (no, that’s not a goatee)

2019 Recap

DateRacePlaceTime
Dec 72019 Cheviot Goat Ultra410:36
Nov 3NYC Marathon1212:35
Sep 29Berlin Marathon3,8883:11
Sep 8Tor Des Geants1692:52
Jul 18Ronda dels Cims 170KDNF11:15
Jun 28Lavaredo 120K3215:41
May 29The Grand RoundDNF79:53
Mar 30Barkley MarathonsDNF 21:02
Feb 6Franklins 200M160:53

2019 started with my first ever 200 miler, the Franklins 200 in El Paso in early February. It was quite a challenging course, with the rocks absolutely ripping me to shreds. It was a great introduction to the distance, and I’m thrilled to have come away with the win (although just short of my sub 60 hour goal). It would be months before my feet would fully recover, though.

Did I mention it was windy? Photo: Stasulli Photo / Trail Racing Over Texas

After that it was time to say good-bye to our friends and our home in Rockville. We visited all the Washington, DC landmarks and attractions that we hadn’t bothered to see over the previous 5 years, got ourselves prepared as best we could to move across an ocean with 3 small children, and headed out.

Fortunately for the kids, they don’t have to worry much about shielding their eyes from the sun for pictures in England.
The Farm to Founders 50K (inaugural?) was a great success: the full length of the Rock Creek Trail from rural Maryland to the Lincoln Memorial.
Not sure which of us was more excited. This was one of those things that was so much more incredible to see in person than I would have imagined.

But wait! Why not do Barkley the week that we’re leaving for England? Sounds like a brilliant idea! I was genuinely excited to get out and enjoy some time out there, and to see what I could do with a different perspective on the race. Unfortunately it turns out that that perspective, granted / cursed me with the wisdom to realize after 2 loops, while in the lead with Guillaume, that I did not have the proper mindset to push through what I knew loops 4 and 5 would bring. I felt worst for the people who had supported me in getting back to Barkley, but at that point I accepted what was 100% inevitable and tried to escape with the best outcome I could: valuable lessons learned and at least somewhat preserving my body for the next imminent challenge. It would unfortunately become a theme of mine for the year.

Jared and I were all smiles beforehand. The guy in the back (Karel Sabbe) ended up being the last person standing.

Upon arriving in the UK, my focus turned completely towards that next challenge: The Grand Round. Well, completely except for getting myself and my family situated, dealing with mountains of bureucratic UK paperwork, and building a new team at our startup. I did the best training, planning, and preparing as possible, and gathered an incredible group of support (I really will never be able to say enough about the support I was given for that crazy adventure). Unfortunately it too came up a bit short, but it lit a fire in me that I hadn’t seen since before finishing Barkley.

It was a bit windy there too. Oh, but there was also torrential rain! Fun times.

But there was no time to dwell on it: Lavaredo 120K was in a few weeks! The race covered some incredibly beautiful terrain, and although not as quickly as I would have liked I did manage to make it all the way to the finish line this time! And then I got to take a helicopter ride. 🤦‍♂️

First helicopter ride, and one of the coolest pictures I have. Photo: Federico Ravassard

I had evened the score for the year between finishes and DNFs, but just a few weeks after Lavaredo came Ronda dels Cims. Andorra is an amazing place, and I’m pretty sure there’s not a single flat piece of ground big enough for a football field. The course was perfect for me: steep and technical. Unfortunately I wasn’t prepared for warm temperatures, and found myself dangerously over-heating after pushing a solid pace early on. I ended up dropping out fairly early, in my first ever DNF in a “normal” race. It stung pretty bad, especially at a race I had been so excited about. But again, I had another big challenge right around the corner, and thought it best to only ruin one race instead of two.

I at least made it to the highest point in the race.

The thing with a race like Tor Des Geants is that even if the race part of it doesn’t turn out too well, you still end up with a journey of a lifetime: 205 miles through the Italian Alps circumnavigating the Aosta Valley. I ended up making some poor strategic decisions, gave in to the sleep monster, and tumbled out of the top 5 down to 16th place. But, I finished. And if I get the chance to return I’ll have a huge advantage over the 2019 version of me.

So I ended up 3 for 6 in my planned 2019 ultra events: 50% DNF. But I easily learned more than I ever have and those failures set me up for the future better than a string of mediocre successes ever could have.

I rounded out the year with a couple of marathons: Berlin and New York City I ran Berlin shortly after Tor Des Geants purely for the joy of running it, and then came away with a 2:35 PR at NYC shortly after losing my best friend: our dog Dixie. Not content to finish the year with a 50% ultra DNF rate, I slipped in one last race: the Cheviot Goat Ultra, where I came away with 4th place and learned a thing or to about northern England bogs.

After the first bog. Before the worst. Photo: Craig Kilday

The end of the year was largely the same as 2018: endless work to keep our startup moving forward. Around 80% of contracts in our business start on January 1st, so November and December are just heaps of fun. Fortunately it wasn’t quite as bad and stressful as the year before, with enough revenue to keep the lights on already in the door and an actual team to take a huge amount of the most time-critical work. I even got to stop a few times to enjoy a British Christmas!

2020 Goals

In the past, I’ve laid out my goals for the year pretty clearly. This year, things will be a bit more abstract. The start is clear, though: not even two weeks after 2020 starts I’ll be setting off in The Spine Race to cover the full 268 miles of the Penine Way. My experience at the Cheviot Goat Ultra gave me a small taste of what it will be likely navigating that terrain in winter, and fortunately Jasmin Paris just put out her race report from 2019 in time for me to read it about 37 times. There’s really no way to not understate it, so I’ll just say this and leave it at that: it will be challenging, and quite easy to take a quick turn for the worst.

I’m hoping for a good bit of this at The Spine.

Beyond that, I’m going to keep the details and the timing of my plans a bit closer to the vest this year. As my training progresses and my life evolves, I want to be sure I’m doing things for the right reasons in the right way, and am focused on the goals rather than on the perception of the goals.

I will say that I plan on fully utilizing the lessons learned in 2019, and trying to take care of some unfinished business. My experience isn’t the only thing that puts me in a much better position than I was at this time last year. There’s no pending move to another country. I have the stability, the knowledge, and the objective outside perspective of a coach (David Roche), along with the huge stress relief of not having the burden and time sink of planning and analyzing my own workouts.

Perhaps most importantly, I’m transitioning to CTO of our company. In the world of startups a change in title doesn’t necessarily mean much, but in practical terms it means I’ll be spending less time doing all of the time-critical difficult to estimate technical work, which we’ll be able to distribute across the team instead. If that results in me sleeping properly and consistently it could be the single biggest boost my training has ever seen.

One thing that won’t change in 2020 is the sponsors that I’m working with. As difficult as having a demanding job might sometimes make my ultrarunning “hobby,” it does mean that I’m completely free to work with the companies whose products give me the best chance of success rather than going with the highest bidder. All of these companies have given me great support for years and have been wonderful to work with.

So all in all, 2019 left me with a bit of a bloody chin. But a ship’s not safe in harbor, you’ve gotta break a few eggs, or insert your cliche of choice here. I’ve never been one to go with the whole New Year’s Resolution thing, or new year new you, or whatever, but I really feel like things are going to come together in 2020. Failure can be the shortest path to success, and those shortcomings of the past year will be my springboard for the next.

2019 Podcast Round-up

2019 Podcast Round-up

I got a bit behind this year on posting podcasts and other interviews I did, so then I stopped trying entirely. I decided I’d try to pull together the ones I could find or remember and give a full run-down here. Please let me know if something is missing (which I expect someone would probably only notice if it’s one I did with them).

I believe these are in chronological order, so while all of them hit a number of topics the focus of the first ones are primarily Barkley, followed by The Grand Round, and then more general interviews towards the end.

‎Everyday Running Legends on Apple Podcasts

‎The perfect podcast for your run. Brodie Sharpe interviews everyday runners who have motivational running stories designed to inspire every runner. Get a boost of inspiration listening to a wide range of runners whether it’s training for their first marathon, completing their 100th ultra-marathon or…


Like a Bigfoot Podcast #144: John Kelly – Finisher of Barkley Marathons on When/Why We Push Our Limits

In 2017, John Kelly became only the 15th finisher of the Barkley Marathon, an epic race through the rugged mountains of Tennessee. He battled through pain, exhaustion, sleep deprivation and three years of preparation in order to achieve one of the biggest accomplishments in ultra running.


233 John Kelly, Barkley Marathons finisher and 2x Kona finisher – Oxygen Addict Triathlon Podcast

We’ve got an in-depth interview with an incredible athlete for you this week. Barkley Marathons finisher and two times Kona Qualifier John Kelly is on the show! John talks about becoming only the 15th person ever to finish the insanely tough Barkley Marathons, when he completed it on his t


Episode 496 – John Kelly

This week Holly speaks to the Barkley-marathon-finisher John Kelly, Tom’s non run streak comes to an end and he’s back from the parkrun UK annual conference and Martin’s back from a rather painful Strava Mile at the always-incredible Night of the 10,000m PBs, which also saw incredible racing from start to finish.


Episode 172 – JOHN KELLY – ‘The Grand Round’

Episode 172 of Talk Ultra is here… We bring you a full and in-depth interview with John Kelly about his amazing journey to attempt The Grand Round in the UK and the Godfather of Trail, Kurt Decker is co-hosting. ***** Speedgoat is currently on ‘The Longtrail” with Belz (his crewman from the AT) ***** Talk Ultra is…


Beating the Barkley Marathons – An Interview with John Kelly – James Runs Far

What does it take to complete the most difficult adventure race in the world? The Barkley Marathons! John ‘Random Forest Runner’ Kelly is one of the few people to have ever finished the brutal challenge.


Ep. 31 – John Kelly – Failure is Feedback by Smart Athlete Podcast by Solpri

In today’s episode I sit down with John Kelly – ultra runner and one of only 15 people to have completed the Barkley Marathons. I ask him how he found himself get into ultras in the first place. Something that varies with each guest I find myself speaking to that has decided to truly go the distance in running.

Our Dixie Dog Delight

Our Dixie Dog Delight

I don’t really process my thoughts all that well through verbal conversations. Most of the time inside my own head works just fine. That’s one reason I run – that’s thinkin’ time. But sometimes there’s too much to fit in there.

I wrote these thoughts out the night after our dog died. I didn’t write them out for anyone but myself. I’m not interested in a conversation; I’m not looking for anyone’s sympathy or anything else; I would actually very much rather not talk about it beyond just leaving this here and letting it go so I can move on. But over the past few years many of the high points of my life have been quite visible. With sample bias being one of my greatest enemies as a data scientist it seems appropriate that balance be provided to that, especially given how social media tends to paint an idealized picture where people have perfect lives and nothing ever goes wrong.

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2019 Barkley Marathons Training

2019 Barkley Marathons Training

Training for Barkley is a bit of a conundrum as it is. There are so many variables involved in the race that it is impossible to optimize training for all of them. This year I had a couple more wrinkles thrown in: I was getting ready for a big move and trying to somewhat hide the fact that I was doing Barkley. At the same time, though, I had the benefit of more experience and more confidence under my belt, and a much different mindset approaching the race.

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Kelly Family Brentrance

Kelly Family Brentrance

Or Kellentry? Usexit? I don’t know, I’m not very good at this. I do know that I at least outlasted the other John Kelly in DC, but after five and a half years in the DC area (the longest I’ve lived anywhere other than my childhood home in TN), we’ll be moving on in April. That is, assuming our destination doesn’t implode on March 29. Sorry, 29 March (gotta get used to that).

If you don’t care about the why, or any other details, here’s the important info:

  • When are we moving? April
  • Where? Somewhere near Bristol, England
  • Is it permanent? No, temporary while I build out the development team at our company
  • Where to next? Not sure, but hopefully finally to a “permanent” spot where we can settle down and our kids can grow up, likely somewhere in the VA / NC / TN area
  • Are you going to run races in Europe? Dang sure better believe it
  • Why are you moving? Well, that’s what the rest of this post is for
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