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John Kelly smashes 31-year-old Pennine Way FKT

Kelly set a new best mark on the legendary Pennine Way FKT by 40 minutes

American ultrarunner and 2017 Barkley Marathons finisher John Kelly ran the FKT on the U.K.’s legendary Pennine Way early Thursday morning. The Pennie Way FKT was held for 31 years by Mike Hartley, a storied British ultrarunner, until today. Kelly surpassed Hartley’s time by 40 minutes to finish in two days, 16 hours and 40 minutes (the previous record stood at two days, 17 hours and 20 minutes). 

RELATED: John Kelly set to run ‘Hartley Slam’ in U.K.

The Pennine Way, which is travelled during the Spine Race (which Kelly won earlier this year, before the pandemic), is a 268 mile (431k) trail up the middle of England from Edale to Kirk Yetholm. Over the course of that 431K, the path gains just shy of 12,000m of elevation on extremely rough terrain. For a little context, the elevation is nearly twice the height of Mount Everest and the distance is like running from Toronto to Sudbury. It’s a lot of running and climbing.

This FKT attempt wasn’t Kelly’s first time traversing this course. He has run it over the course of the Spine Race, but this week’s effort was different. He was assisted and running through the summer (as opposed to January, when the Spine Race takes place) and working with nearly 20 hours of daylight as opposed to the eight he would’ve seen last time. On top of the daylight, this was a supported effort, so he didn’t need to carry any extra supplies. 

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Kelly was supported primarily by his partner Nicki Lygo who documented most of the effort on Twitter. Kelly dealt with some poor weather and significant stomach issues, but he still managed to pull it off. Initially, he was flying through aid stations in under 60 seconds, but slowed to 30 to 40 minutes toward the end when he would sleep for a bit and try to soothe his stomach. 

While Kelly’s effort on Pennine Way is astonishing, he’s not done yet. He took on what he’s calling the Hartley Slam. Pennine Way was Part One and the Grand Round is Part Two. The Grand Round route involves nearly 300K of running, thousands of feet of elevation gain and over 600K of biking between its sections. Kelly attempted the Grand Round in 2019, but was unable to complete it, so he’s heading back for a second try two weeks after today’s finish.

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Kelly is doing this challenge for two reasons: to have something to do since his 2020 race calendar was cleared and to raise money for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, a U.K. charity that helps disadvantaged youth. If fans are looking to donate, they can do so here. Tune back in two weeks time to follow Kelly on his journey to conquer the Grand Round