John Kelly, the only finisher of the 2017 Barkley Marathons, recently capped off a year by celebrating his birthday with a long run. Kelly, who is also only the 15th person to have ever completed the Barkley Marathons ran one kilometre for every year of his life for a total of 33K on his 33rd birthday.
“Got in 33K on my 33rd birthday on a beautiful fall day in Umstead, and got to try out some gear for what is now officially my ultra season,” he wrote adding that he was too tired from birthday celebrations to complete 33 miles.
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“My last time in Umstead was a decade ago for engagement pictures, and my last run there I took a wrong turn and ended up going 20 miles for by far my longest ever run at the time,” says his Instagram post from his birthday run.
The Barkley Marathons – known as the world’s hardest endurance challenge – actually brags about its nearly 100 per cent failure rate. Aside from being one of its only finishers, Kelly has a personal connection to the event which has run annually since 1986: he grew up right in the vicinity.
While the date and even the course vary, one thing that stays constant about the Barkley Marathons is its location: Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park. Last year’s race, which Kelly successfully completed, was held on April 3. Kelly had previously attempted the endurance challenge twice: in 2015 and 2016. Canada’s Gary Robbins also ran but he did not make it on time after making a navigational error that cost him both time and ended up bringing him in the wrong direction on the loop.
Even running as far as 33K for a birthday celebration would have seemed far-fetched to Kelly in the past. Up until 2013, he had never even raced father than 10K.
Happy (belated) birthday to Kelly. We’re excited to see what his 33rd year brings him.