Eliud Kipchoge versus Kenenisa Bekele, Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal, Team Canada versus Team USA. Sports are fuelled by rivalries, and even if athletes are friends off the track, court or rink, they drop the niceties when it’s time to compete. After American ultrarunner John Kelly had his Pennine Way fastest known time (FKT) taken away from him by Britain’s Damian Hall just a week after he, Kelly, originally ran it, a new fell running rivalry was born. The two have taken some good-natured jabs at each other over social media since Hall finished his successful attempt on the Pennine Way FKT, and it’s showing us that the Kelly-Hall rivalry is the matchup we didn’t know we needed – until now.
The Pennine Way
The Pennine Way is a 431K route through the U.K. It starts in Edale, a town near Manchester, and heads north into Scotland to finish in Kirk Yetholm. Before Kelly, the last finisher of the Barkley Marathons, broke the route record in mid-July, the FKT had stood since 1989, when British fell runner Mike Hartley covered the distance in two days, 17 hours and 20 minutes. Kelly broke Hartley’s record, but just barely, finishing in two days, 16 hours and 40 minutes, eking out a new FKT by 40 minutes. Kelly didn’t get to enjoy his record for long, and just nine days later, Hall smashed the FKT on July 25 when he finished the route in two days, 13 hours and 34 minutes.
The Kelly-Hall rivalry
Kelly and Hall are friends, but there’s definitely a competitive streak between them. After his run, Hall posted on Instagram to apologize to Kelly for stealing his FKT. It was a nice post, and there was certainly some sincerity involved (at one point, Hall writes that he’s one of Kelly’s biggest fans), but we can’t help but think Hall’s taking a subtle jab at his friend. Kelly responded to Hall with an Instagram post of his own, writing about the “fair temptress the Pennine Way” that “came between” the two of them.
“Watching Damian’s tracker did feel a bit like watching a friend go after an ex — in the end you’re happy they’re both happy, but it feels weird,” Kelly continued. He added a shot of his own, referencing his Barkley Marathons finish, saying, “If you’d like to visit my throne you can find it 11 switchbacks up a trail from a yellow gate in the mountains of Tennessee.”
Ultimately, the two are clearly good friends, and while there’s no bad blood between them, they definitely drive one another to be the best athletes possible, and that’s what rivalries are all about. Hopefully the two will face off again, whether it’s on another FKT or in a real race.
I'll be returning to The Pennine Way for an FKT attempt & I'll be giving another go at The Grand Round, about a month apart. I'll also be raising funds for The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust @s_lawrencetrust. More info at the link: https://t.co/bdOvIyN9kw
— John Kelly (@RndmForestRunnr) June 30, 2020
As for Kelly, the Pennine Way was just Part One of his summer plans. Next up for the Barkley Marathons finisher is a 297K run called the Grand Round. Kelly named this Pennine-Grand Round double the Hartley Slam, after the aforementioned Mike Hartley. He’s set to tackle the Grand Round later in August, and who knows, maybe Hall will give it a shot once Kelly’s finished, just like he did last time.