Running legend John Kelly has given a fascinating insight into his experience on the support team after his unfortunate exit at the Montane Winter Spine Race – and hailed the “mind boggling” performance of overall winner Jack Scott.
The American star, winner of the event in 2020 and current holder of the FKT for the Pennine Way, sprained his ankle 65 miles into the 268-mile race which is dubbed ‘Britain’s most brutal’.
But it didn’t take him long to decide what to do next, underlining the ‘Spine family’ spirit.
‘I was trying not to get in the way’
As he explained on Instagram: “After accepting my race’s fate, I somewhat joined the support team. I say somewhat, because the incredible crews working the checkpoints 100% had things covered and at times I was trying to not get in the way.
“But hopefully I provided a bit of encouragement to the runners & helped where I could, particularly to be sure the leaders had everything & got back out quickly. Minutes matter to them, & I knew a good bit about what was going on in their heads.
“At Langdon Beck I managed food & sleep schedules for them while Challenger North runners poured in. Yes, I brought @ultra_damo tea (but didn’t make it… no one wants that). At Alston I did my best to encourage @trail.jack to keep crushing it & pull away from Damian. Then I did my best to encourage Damian to get going & catch Jack.
“I scavenged my kit to replace items people had lost or broken – goggles, GPS, microspikes. Maybe I could make it to Kirk Yetholm in pieces.”
‘Far better than nothing’
And Kelly was delighted at his instinctive decision to stay on the race, revealing: “Some people seemed surprised I stuck around. Was it agonizing being inside looking out at the beautiful winter conditions? Of course.
“Did every piece of me (except my ankle) want to be in the thick of the battle at Alston? Yup. But what was I to do? Sit around & feel sorry for myself? Travel all that way only to turn around & miss out on it completely? Staring out longingly at the landscape between fleeting moments of being part of the race was far better than nothing.
And how many people have sat around for hours on end waiting for me to show up at a support point, many of them the same people here?
“I did still return home a couple days earlier than planned, & ended up not fully missing out on beautiful winter conditions. With a few days of single digit F (negative teens C) and a solid layer of snow, I had those dream-like Spine conditions at home. But instead of trudging through bogs I got to go sledding & have snowball fights with my kids. Fair trade.”
‘So well deserved’
The Winter Spine Race of course was won by Jack Scott who did indeed “keep crushing” it as he smashed the previous best time by over 10 hours.
And Kelly underlined the extent of that achievement, calling it “mind boggling”. He added: “Comparing Spine performances across years is so hard because conditions can vary so wildly, but no one else has ever even finished before dark on the 4th day (that was my goal this year), and he nearly finished before light.
“There’s no way this shouldn’t be involved in ultra performance of the year conversations in 11 months.
This was an outstanding athlete having a near perfect performance in near perfect conditions.
“He kept telling me, even after I dropped out & switched to support, that the lead pace was way too fast. Not for him it wasn’t. It’s such a great example of all of us being capable of so much more than we think we are, and how we can also collectively help each other redefine what we think is possible. He’s now put that course record so tantalizingly close to sub 3 days.
“So well deserved and amazing to see up close. The last time I had seen Jack was when he supported me on my Paddy Buckley Round starting my “Grand Round” in 2020. After this run along the Pennine Way, I’d love to see him take a crack at a certain one of my other supported records.”