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John Kelly tackles his first big UK trail quest

The most recent Barkley Marathons finisher took on a massive challenge in his adopted home this week

American ultra-trail runner John Kelly, who shocked the trail world by dropping out of this year’s Barkley Marathons after two loops, recently relocated to the UK with his family, and decided to challenge himself with a massive new quest. Kelly’s “Grand Round” was to include three of the most famous British fell-running routes (fells being the rather desolate mountains in northern Britain): the Paddy Buckley Round, the Bob Graham Round and the Ramsay Round, each in under 24 hours, and cycling from one to the next, the goal being to complete them all in under 100 hours. This represents 113 summits, about 298K of running, almost 26,000m of elevation gain, and 644K of cycling.

RELATED: John Kelly drops out of Barkley Marathons: “I was no longer having fun”

Kelly started his quest on Wednesday and ultimately decided to call it quits earlier today after completing the Paddy Buckley and the Bob Graham Rounds (and cycling from one to the next). He wisely decided it wasn’t safe for him to ride his bike from the Lake District to get to the Ramsay Round, considering his lack of sleep.

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Two weeks from today I'll be setting off on quite the adventure, and potentially the most challenging thing I've ever attempted (yes, that includes Barkley). I'll be attempting what I'm calling The Grand Round: all 3 of the UK's big rounds in under 100 hours (Paddy Buckley, Bob Graham, Charlie Ramsay), each individually in under 24 hours, and riding my bike in between them. Total: about 185 miles running with 84K feet of gain over 113 summits, and biking about 400 miles. Pictured is the first of those summits – Carnedd Moel Siabod. As I think about this right now I honestly don't know if it's possible, if I'm capable of doing it. But I've thought that about a lot of things before I tried them, and those are the things from which I've invariably grown, learned, and overall come away better off. Already, just learning about the land and the community has been wonderful. The support I've received in planning this has been unbelievable, and anything accomplished will truly be owned by the entire fell running community. . . . #grandround #paddybuckleyround #bobgrahamround #charlieramsayround #fellrunning #mountainrunning #ultrarunning #trailrunning #exploreyourunknown #createyourpassion #adventureiseverywhere #goals #challenge #humanpotential #foryourmountain #selfpropelled #yoursecondskin #howihammer

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Kelly battled fierce winds, mud, and difficult, technical terrain, but attracted runners on each leg. He ended up running the Paddy Buckley (109K) and the Bob Graham (42 peaks and 106K of running) in around 23 hours each, and cycling from Snowdonia in Wales to Keswick in the Lake District (a distance of 279K).


Last year, British trail runner Nicky Spinks attempted a double Ramsay Round (two circuits in 48 hours), and almost succeeded. Spinks made it through most of two loops of this year’s Barkley Marathons before cold weather forced her back to camp. Just last week, Spinks completed a double Paddy Buckley Round.

RELATED: 51-year-old woman completes first-ever Double Ramsay’s Round

Kelly set out his reasons for making the attempt in a blog post, here. “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,” Kelly writes. “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.”

He goes on: “So why am I doing this crazy, rather arbitrarily defined thing? There are a few reasons, which all basically come down to exploring my own strengths, weaknesses, and limits, and doing it in a way that’s personally appealing to me…

“Races are great. They give you a chance to test yourself against others, and most of the organizational logistics are taken care of. I’ve competed in many events where that was my primary goal: to see how I stacked up against the best or to see what time I could get in a common distance. That definitely has its time and place, and having the event organized and planned for you is quite nice.

RELATED: 51-year-old woman completes first-ever Double Ramsay’s Round

“But to do those events we have to limit ourselves to the distances, venues, and types of events that others have decided to organize. I was a triathlete who hated swimming. Now I’m a mountain runner who loves cycling, in locations and over distances that don’t exactly fit the typical duathlon mold.

“So what to do? I made my own challenge, with loads of mountain running and road biking. And I’m going to enjoy every last second of it. There won’t be any, “I can’t wait till I get through this section so I can get to the next part…

“I’ve never lived in Colorado, or California, or anywhere that anyone would really consider a trail running mecca (outside of growing up next to Frozen Head maybe). With a family and a rather demanding job, I rarely even get to travel to the “big mountains” other than races. I trained for Barkley by running up and down a 95 foot hill for hours on end. But no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve found exciting adventures not far outside my door.”

Kilian Jornet set a new FKT (fastest known time) for the Bob Graham Round of 12:52 in 2018.