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John Kelly wins Montane Spine Race

The 2017 Barkley Marathons finisher's lead was briefly challenged by two competitors who later dropped out

An exhausted John Kelly kissed the wall in Kirk Yetholm late last night to win Britain’s 268-mile (429K) Montane Spine Race in 87 hours, 53 minutes, 57 seconds.

“Everything hurts,” Kelly said, surrounded by cameras and well-wishers.

For a time, it looked like he might challenge Jasmin Paris’s time of 83:12, set so audaciously last year, but it was not to be. (However, Kelly’s time counts as a new men’s course record.) The race, which covers the length of the Pennine Way (a national trail that extends from northern England just south of Manchester into Scotland), starts at Edale in the Peak District, travels through the Yorkshire Dales and over Hadrian’s Wall to Kirk Yetholm, with over 11,000m of elevation gain. This year’s race saw some of the worst winter weather in the race’s history, including Storm Brendan, which caused much disruption and damage in the British Isles before subsiding a day ago.

Kelly is better known to some as the last person to finish the Barkley Marathons.

Last year, the Scotland-based Paris35, made history as the first woman ever to win the gruelling winter ultra, smashing the men’s and women’s course records in the process.

Previous course record-holder Eoin Keith, who finished second last year, did the same this year after being overtaken twice by two competitors who later dropped out (Eugeni Roselló Solé of Spain and Jayson Cavill of the U.K.) Keith’s time was 100:11:00.

RELATED: Barkley finisher leads Montane Spine Race with 140K to go

Simon Gfeller of Switzerland and Wouter Huitzing of the Netherlands may be moving together in third position on the course. They are followed by Sabrina Verjee, who has led the women since the race started Saturday. Verjee won the summer version of this race outright in 2019.

With two competitors DNF’ing behind Kelly, he was able to open up a devastating lead after Bellingham, three aid stations from the finish in Kirk Yetholm.

Kelly, who is currently living in the U.K. with his family, has fully embraced British fell running. Last year, after bailing out of the Barkley Marathons after two loops, he took on the ambitious challenge to complete all three of Britain’s most famous fell-running circuits (the Paddy Buckley Round in Wales, the Bob Graham Round in the Lake District and the Ramsay Round in Scotland) while pedalling his bike from the finish of one to the start of the next, solo. This represents 113 summits, about 298K of running, almost 26,000m of elevation gain, and 644K of cycling. He gave himself a cutoff of 100 hours.

Ultimately he quit after finishing the Bob Graham Round, realizing it wasn’t safe for him to be riding his bike after running for more than two days and nights on no sleep and riding 279K from Wales to the Lake District.

RELATED: John Kelly tackles his first big UK trail quest


Seventy-four other competitors have dropped out of the race. To track those still on the course and for full results, click here.