Photo Credit: Josh Patton Designs


NAME: John Kelly
RESIDENCE: Rockville, Maryland
AGE: 33
FAMILY: Married to Jessi Kelly with three children, a 4 year old boy and one year old twins (a boy and a girl).
OCCUPATION: Data Scientist

Introduction: John is the most recent finisher and winner of the Barkley Marathon. He is also an accomplished triathlete. Unbeknownst to either of us, we ran a portion of the Shamrock Marathon a few years ago together with the same pace group. I have followed John on social media for a while and got to hear him talk about the Barkley experience at the screening of “Where Dreams Go To Die” in Washington DC. John will be running the Miners Lady 8 Hour Endurance Race this weekend and speaking at the Trails In Motion Film Festival in Charles Town, WV.

When did you start running?
From about as soon as I could walk! I was in a jogging club in elementary school and was always chasing my older brother around, before running cross country and track in middle school and high school. Then I took about 10 years off from it and got back to it when I was 28.

What drew you to endurance trail races and triathlons?
The adventure and exploration aspect of it mainly. I came to trail running through backpacking, and had kind of gotten to the point where I didn’t have enough time to see everything I wanted but realized I could see a lot more if I ran (or biked). Then I also figured out that I’m much better the longer a race is.

How many miles do you log per week on average?
Depends on what I’m training for. For triathlons, it’s by hours not mileage. I probably average 15-20 per week. Then for something like Barkley it’s as much about vertical as mileage, so for that I probably average 80+ miles a week but with 25K+ elevation gain. Even still, it’s less time consuming than triathlon training.

How do you manage your time training around the family’s activities?
Commute. Almost all of my weekday run and bike mileage is as my commute. So I’m using time I’d otherwise be sitting on the metro. The exception is when I’m working from home. On weekends I try to get up and get it done as early as possible.

What are your kids involved in (sports, school, etc)?
Too young to be involved in much, but my oldest has done a few 1 mile fun runs. They run around the yard and the house plenty. 🙂

Is your wife a runner?
No definitely not, but she did do a 5K recently and did an incredible job preparing for that and running the whole thing.

I really enjoyed getting to go to the “Where Dreams Go To Die” documentary in DC a few months ago. How cool is it to watch that race and relive the rigors of Barkley all over again?
I honestly wasn’t a fan of some of the cameras and what not during the race, but after it is nice to be able to relive it, especially some of the moments that I don’t recall very well due to the state I was in. There’s a pretty fine line between publicity and obscurity for Barkley, and I think Ethan did a pretty good job with it.

What is your favorite Barkley memory?

How does the challenge of a race like that compare to a triathlon?
It’s a completely different challenge: different logistics, different training, different mental preparation, and different pain. And the difficulty really depends on your goal. Is finishing Barkley more difficult than finishing an Ironman? By an absolutely enormous amount. Is it more difficult than winning Kona? Well, that can be debated.

How has your family been involved with your races? Do they get to travel with you for some? Cheer you on?
They’ve been a tremendous support, particularly my wife, parents, brother, and wife’s parents, who have helped with the kids and/or traveled with me to really make it possible to do some of these races. My wife and kids come with me whenever possible, but with 3 young kids and the lengths of some of these races ,sometimes that isn’t always feasible.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced trying to train and race and raise a family?
Time, which I think is true for about anyone. My time gets split between family, work, training, and sleep. That’s it. Those are the only 4 activities I do. Normally sleep gets the short straw unfortunately, which probably has a negative impact on all 3 of the others. Just making sure every minute is used wisely and setting a clear schedule has allowed me to arrive at a point where I can train with minimal impact on family time, and then try to make that family time as meaningful as possible.

Any bucket list races you have yet to cross off?
Lots of them. 😉 So many races, so little time. That’s one of the things I love about ultrarunning: almost every race is unique and offers its own appeal.

Are you looking forward to the Miners Lady 8 Hour Endurance run up here in my neck of the woods? Any mileage goal for that one?
I am looking forward to it. My family will be coming up there for the weekend for me and it will be a lot of fun to get out there and support and get some mileage in. I’m not really racing, though. I’ll run for a bit, but an 8 hour ultra in the middle of triathlon season with an IM in a few weeks isn’t really in the cards.

Favorite race or run you have done so far?
I think I have to say Barkley here. Although I also have a soft spot for TWOT100 and Lookout Mountain 50 Miler. I’ve also really enjoyed doing FKT attempts: all the same exploration and challenges, without the crowds, costs, or fixed schedule.

We are looking to do a Team Running Dad 4 State Challenge to raise funds for The Lucas Fund (UVA NICU) and cancer research. Any tips or words of advice for running that trail?
Take advantage of the runnable parts, watch out for rocks, and don’t get lost amongst the boulders just south of the PA border. It could also make things much easier if you have some water drops at a few of the road crossings.

Who has been your biggest inspiration in the running world?
I’ve never really been someone who has had a single hero (well, except for Nolan Ryan when I was a young kid). A lot of people have qualities and stories that we can draw inspiration and lessons from, and almost no one is free of flaws. So looking for the best in everyone and then being able to accept those flaws without expecting someone to be a perfect hero is the route I’ve tried to take. With all that said, you probably want a real answer, so if anyone I would have to say Jared Campbell. He has accomplished a lot of amazing feats that have been or are goals of my own, and I love the way he approaches the sport: it’s about exploration rather than just racing. He also does all this while having a day job and raising a family, and he has managed the publicity side of being an accomplished runner in a way that I really admire and wish I could better emulate: allowing himself to be out there to support and inspire people in a sincere way, but without any sort of attention seeking or over-promotion.

Any advice for other Running Dads?
Have fun, and make the most of every second! Our kids will grow up, and our running will inevitably degrade with age, so enjoy both to the fullest. Then we can sit around and take joy in our kids’ accomplishments while we sit on the couch with The Weather Channel on in the background.

Read more about John on his blog: Random Forest Runner