March 10, 2022

‘A new way to fail’: John Kelly says frustration outweighs all previous Barkley DNFs

He knows what it takes to complete the notorious ultra-marathon and came to close to doing so again this year
By Stuart Dick
Share
WhatsApp
Facebook
Twitter
Reddit
Email

John Kelly, the last individual to complete the treacherous Barkley Marathons back in 2017, was on course to emulate that feat in 2022 after the opening two loops, but fate would turn against him.

After a 8:07:50 first circuit, and recording a two-loop time of 19:34:01, Kelly was on a faster pace than his successful 2017 attempt.

Waist belt woes

Unfortunately for Kelly, who owns the Pennine Way record, his third loop would be marred by a misplaced waist belt.

“Every time I think I’ve figured out all the possible ways to fail at Barkley, a new one pops up,” Kelly explained in an Instagram post.

“This year I was carrying my book pages, the ones that prove I’ve visited the course checkpoints, in a waist belt. During loop three I stopped to pee, looked down, and it was gone (the belt, I’m talking about the belt).

“I spent nearly three hours essentially doing hill repeats on a section known as Little Hell, scouring the hillside thinking it must have been ripped off by a tree or during one of the many times I fell on the steep muddy slope.

“It ended up being at the very top of the hill right in the middle of a gravel road. I found it when I had given up and started back towards camp.”

Frustration

Despite the setback, Kelly managed to complete the third loop inside the time-limit to begin loop four (35:26:09), but with three hours of effort expended trying to find his lost belt, his chances of finishing diminished.

“I turned around and finished loop three, technically still with enough time to start loop four. I kind of wish I had.

“No one has started loop four with so little time remaining and finished. But no one ever will until someone tries and does it. My legs felt much better than they ever have at that point, nothing was hurting (other than briar scratches), and I was mentally very alert (although I knew that the night 2 drowsiness would eventually inevitably kick in).”

“The frustration outweighs any of my other Barkley failures. One reason I pursue big challenges is that I feel I grow more even from a failure than I do from success at something more reasonable.

“I really can’t think of any lessons to learn or things to improve on here. And as much as I love the multi faceted challenge of Barkley, I feel like I didn’t fail at any of the intended parts of it.”

The 2022 Barkley Marathons on RUN247: