I’ve had the draft of this post open on my computer for over a week, the relentless cadence of the blinking cursor mocking me as I sat here idle, unable to figure out how to even start. Do I start with a simple summary, repeating the same old statistics on distance and elevation? Or maybe I should wax philosophical on one of the many things I wrestled with or discovered on this journey. The literal journey itself – the incredible places and landscapes I got to explore… surely a remark on that would be a suitable start. And of course I would be horribly remiss to not lead with a mention of the amazing support I received throughout, without which none of this would have been possible.
The truth is, none of those things alone would sufficiently reflect the experience I had. In fact I’ll go ahead and say that I’m incapable of putting it all into words even with a full write-up. So I’ll skip the whole synopsis bit and get right to it, with everything included in due course. You can find a recap of each section over on my Instagram starting here if you would rather have a brief summary or don’t have time to sit down to the ensuing novella (this is the longest report I’ve written by a wide margin, and I’ve written some long stuff). If you’ve fully exhausted your Covid19 Netflix watchlist and are in for a full binge reading session, there’s also a prequel trilogy on why I decided to do this in the first place, how that first attempt turned out, and what was different going into this second attempt.
I don’t think there’s really anything I can say here that I didn’t say at this point last year before setting off on this adventure. In a way, the very fact that I failed at my first attempt at “The Grand Round” shows that it was a good challenge – one that forced me to learn, grow, and develop a better plan. If a grand challenge doesn’t teach us anything, doesn’t force us to improve ourselves or develop a better strategy, then was it really all that grand?
I’ve made a bit of a habit of setting out to do things that I’m not sure are possible. Mike Hartley’s 31 year old record on the Pennine Way, England’s first national trail, fell squarely in that category – not just as something that I might not currently be capable of but as something that might not ever be within reach. I ended up besting his time by just 34 minutes, roughly equivalent to the ~30 seconds per hour margin I had when I finished Barkley.
Like nearly everyone, my 2020 plans were pretty well wrecked by Covid19. I’m still hoping to cram in a couple of big challenges, though. I’ll be chasing a Pennine Way FKT and giving another attempt at my Grand Round project, barely a month apart. As alluded to in my previous post, I’ll be raising money for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust through these efforts.
About a month ago I ran the Berlin Marathon just for the simple joy of running it. I’ve never been one to artificially manufacture joy, and there simply was none going into the New York City Marathon shortly after losing our dog. Doing something we love can not only be a conduit for joy, though, but also a weapon against pain and stress. So maybe the title of this should actually be “Running For Joy.” If we only do what makes us happy when we’re happy, well… chicken or egg? (speaking of which, half of this post ended up being about NYC food rather than the race 🤷♂️)
Sure, I shifted my goals a bit after a couple of weeks of poor training, sleeping, and eating, but sometimes we learn more and get greater meaning and satisfaction from a good result in poor conditions than from a great result in good conditions. My original plan for the race was to go for sub 2:30, the threshold that I’ve long considered a lifetime goal. Going into the race I adjusted that plan to sub 2:40. Coming away with a 2:35 was not only immensely satisfying but told me that when the timing is better I can definitely get that sub 2:30.
Shortly after Kipchoge achieved his remarkable sub 2 run I shared a thought on Twitter that was not planned, fully formed, and I thought innocent enough (just the kind of things I thought Twitter should be good for).
It turns out that was a mistake, and most things said in only 280 characters can pretty much be taken whatever direction anyone wants.
I wasn’t planning on writing a race report for the Berlin Marathon, and really, I’m still not going to. Ok sort of, but the main topic of this post is my experience of a weekend where I was running with no competitive goal, no time target, just running for the pure joy of running and experiencing a new place. It’s such a seemingly simple thing, but remarkably important and incredibly easy to lose sight of no matter what level of competition we’re at.
Lavaredo had a lot of firsts for me: first time in Italy (and Austria, after driving down from Munich), first time in an ultra that big and competitive, first time competing in an ultra between April and November, and first time in a race in anything that would be considered an alpine environment. I had an unforgettable experience and I think I ran a fairly smart race, but in the end it wasn’t my best outcome. Oh, and yeah, first time in a helicopter too.
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.
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.
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.
I have no idea what this post is going to end up looking like. I just have some thoughts that I want to attempt to get out, and we’ll see where it goes.
I’ll also preface this by saying that this is 100% my opinion and feelings on what I do and why. As far as I’m concerned, what anyone else does is completely up to them and none of my business as long as they’re not endangering others. And that’s my main goal I guess is to try to ensure that people aren’t needlessly doing stupid things for the wrong reasons or without the proper training and preparation on account of me. I have 3 kids, and after seeing my 4 year old scramble up a briar and scree-covered 60 degree slope like a mountain goat a few days ago I know that there are enough problems my genes will cause without adding me setting a poor example.
I know I haven’t posted anything in a while. The whole moving to the UK thing hasn’t left much time for writing blog posts. On the running side, though, here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to in the past month.
I did this as a fun project and challenge on my home turf, not really as anything related to Barkley. It was a personal challenge, and I chose to share in hopes that it would motivate others to set their own big challenges, or to come visit the park to challenge some of the records. I think it’s safe to say, though, that Brett’s record isn’t going anywhere. Probably ever. Plus, no one will ever run that same course again… it totally wouldn’t trigger the segment on Strava.
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.
If you understand both references in the title of this post, then your invitation to the triathlon sci-fi geeks club should already be in the mail. Next week we’ll be re-enacting the Battle of Endor with TT bikes. It’s totally safe. Completely. (but be sure to sign those waivers… you know, just in case).
This will be my last “last” triathlon post. There were just a few things left unsaid, and a few things worth repeating, that I wanted to put into a proper farewell post. I’ll start with what I will and won’t miss, and finish with why I actually left. And no these lists aren’t comprehensive, just some of the highlights.
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).
I thought I’d be one year and done in triathlon, but the sport and the challenge of trying something different sucked me in and resulted in a great, fun few years. Unfortunately, though, time is finite. It’s time to spend the last years of my prime (for endurance sports) focusing on the thing I love even more and am best at. But first, one last race, as a pro, at Ironman Arizona. Sarah Wassner Flynn did a great write up for Triathlete Magazine on my journey and my race this weekend.
When it comes to racing as a professional triathlete, John Kelly’s triathlon career will be one and done. John Kelly is a standout age-grouper triathlete who has had a very impressive 2018: multiple podium finishes, an 8:58 Ironman PR, and a world championship title.
Kona was again an awesome experience overall: a great week before the race with Team EMJ, and a better week afterwards with Jessi. For the race itself, though, I’m honestly not 100% sure where to start. I made no secret that my goal was to return and make it on to the podium after falling just short in 2017, and that a year of training was focused on that. I managed a sub 9 hour finish, a time at Kona that I can be proud of by any measure, but I fell well short of the podium. I am incredibly fortunate to have even been able to pursue that goal, and oftentimes the pursuit of a goal can be more valuable and enjoyable than its achievement.
So I’ve had a lot of shifting and at times conflicting emotions since the race, and I’m not even sure that how I feel now is how I’ll feel next week. I don’t even know where this post is going to go exactly. I’m just going to transcribe my thoughts as best I can as they come to me. Some of those thoughts I’m going to compartmentalize into separate posts, though, as I want this post to be about my race itself rather than about larger issues within triathlon (Ironman specifically).
Ironman Mont-Tremblant was special for a number of reasons: the maple syrup, the poutine, the awesome course and scenery, the people, my actual race. But the best part by far was that for the first time my entire family was there. The twins are too young to be able to remember it later on, but it was still awesome to have them all here and for my kids to get to see me do that while I still can. So it’s equally important to point out what it took to make that possible: my wife wrangling a 4 year old and 1 year old twins at an Ironman that required off-site parking and a shuttle system. I’m thrilled with my own performance, but actually probably fewer people have pulled off what she did. I also owe a huge thank you to my teammates and their families who offered to help in so many ways.
As for my race, I am thrilled to have pulled out a sub 9 on a difficult course (and my new favorite course), an age group win, and top 10 overall including the pros. This was just a great event in a great area, made better by being with family and teammates. Thank you to all the great people I met here as well who gave such amazing support and made this such a friendly and exciting atmosphere. Next up, Kona!
Apparently Jeremy Sanders (Running Dad) and I ran a race together a few years ago when I was just starting back to running and before either of us knew who the other was. I was happy to answer some questions from him and then actually meet him for real at Miner’s Lady 8 Hour over the weekend. He’s a great guy and I’ll look forward to our next time on the trails together.
So much focus goes into getting to the finish line of a race, but the real journey is usually getting to the start. IM Boulder was much earlier in the year than I’ve ever done an Ironman, but the support of my family and my teammates got me to that starting line. The years of accumulated training and experience kicked in for that final 140.6 mile stretch.
On an incredibly hot and at times downright miserable day, I was thrilled (and honestly, relieved) in a way that I’ve been for few other races to make it all the way to that finish line Adversity breeds achievement, and everyone who made it to the finish line that day should be proud of it.
I also managed to accomplish my main goal in doing an early season race: securing my Kona slot with an age group win and 2nd overall amateur finish.
A large number of condolences went to extremely strong women in 2018, so much so that laz dubbed it the ‘year of the woman.’ Unfortunately some of those strong women didn’t make it to the starting line for one reason or another, but there were still some very good contenders in the field this year. Quite a big deal has been made over the years about the lack of a woman finisher at Barkley, and laz loves to get people (and especially talented women) riled up by saying a woman can’t finish.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favorite parts of running and biking is exploring new places, but there’s still something comforting and exhilarating about the familiarity of a regular, well-trodden route. Like being in the company of an old friend, we can let our minds relax and just enjoy being there.
While the elite road runners of the world were at the New York City Marathon, and a lot of ultra runners were recovering from races like Javelina Jundred and Pinhoti 100, I ran a local 5K! The real performance of the day came from my 3 year old son, though, who crushed the one mile fun run. I originally signed up for the 5K because it was right after that and I thought, why not have my own fun run (by the normal definition, not the Barkley definition)?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 →
When I considered joining a triathlon team after the 2016 season, I really had no idea what was out there. I was (and still am) quite new to the sport and had been improvising up to that point. I knew almost no other triathletes and I wanted to find a group of people with similar goals that could help me learn more about the sport and the community. As I researched teams, my sights landed squarely on Team Every Man Jack: they were a team of extremely good athletes, but they also made it a top priority to be great ambassadors for the sport and to avoid having anyone on the team with the arrogant, elitist mindset that can unfortunately be found in triathlon.
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.
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.
JFK 50 is America’s oldest ultra, local for me, and it was on my birthday this year… how could I not sign up? It was also my first big, well-known ultra and a great opportunity to get out there and knock the rust off of my trail running legs after my triathlon season ended in October. I enjoyed the race, it turned out to be a beautiful day (at least while I was on the course), and for the cherry on top I got to share the experience with my dad while he was in town.
I ended up in 8th, something I didn’t think I had a shot at given the conditions, and Jim Walmsley broke the record in a 54 year old race by over 13 minutes.
Ironman Maryland was the focus of my 2016 triathlon season, and it was a relief just to get to race day. My wife Jessi was 35 weeks pregnant, and with twins we knew that in the weeks leading up to the race that they could arrive at any time. I had continued training as if the race was a sure thing, but obviously the race was far from my most important concern and at any moment I could be dropping everything and end up with my first DNS (did not start).
John Kelly figures he has the record. The 31-year-old native of Rockville Md. crossed the finish line of the 120th Boston Marathon on Monday with a time of two hours, 57 minutes, which by his estimation is some 12 minutes faster than Neil Light managed in last year’s Virgin Money London Marathon.
My first Ironman was supposed to be my last. I signed up for it on a bit of a whim, out of curiosity in what I could do with a new type of challenge and to fill a gap after qualifying for the Boston Marathon and having to wait a year and a half to run it. I thought it would be fun to see what I could do in triathlon, so naturally I signed up for an Ironman.