UD ambassador John Kelly is known most for his multiple Barkley Marathons appearances and completion in 2017. A rarity in the ultra-running community, John also competed in Ironman triathlons. This year he is leaving the bike and swim cap behind for a more focused season of running. In typical John Kelly fashion this meant attempting something new and difficult: his first 200 mile race. With more up his sleeve for 2019 we caught up with John to get insight on how an ultrarunner like you – used to 50’s and 100’s – can level-up to a distance that is getting more and more popular.
I’ve never been much of one to start out small and build my way towards something. I’d rather aim high, and take my chances on crashing and burning. I figure that’s at least the quickest way of finding where I stand and I can climb out of the wreckage much more capable of assessing what my goals should be and how to reach them.
So when I decided to give up competitive triathlon to go full-time on ultrarunning, doing my first 200 miler seemed like a great place to start. Franklins 200 fit in to my schedule perfectly, and it also helped that I knew TROT (Trail Racing Over Texas) would put on a great event.
Fortunately I didn’t crash and burn, but I did experience some turbulence and I either learned or reinforced a lot of invaluable lessons that I’ll carry forward with me in 200 mile races and other new and unfamiliar objectives.
This is one that I knew, but have to be constantly reminded of. I’ve been on both sides of some close calls (missed Kona podium by less than 2 minutes, finished Barkley where I couldn’t have afforded even 30 extra seconds per hour), but in a race this long something is going to go wrong. The good news is that there is plenty of time to recover. After a rough night turned a planned 30 minute nap into a 2.5 hour aid station stay that brought thoughts of dropping to my mind, I came back to life and surged for one of my strongest sections of the race.
Don’t let Your Guard Down
Address problems as soon as they pop up. Our minds can make some obstacles seem too large, while casting others aside completely. Small things can turn into big things over this distance, and the main reason for my rough night was me simply ignoring a drop in temperature thinking I could just make it the rest of the way to the aid station instead of bothering with a jacket.
Have a Solid Plan
No, actually, have many solid plans. And don’t be afraid to adapt! The first two lessons actually lead to this one. When an issue emerges, know what to do. I planned to do the whole race in one pair of shoes (Courtney did in her last 200!), but when the rocks took their toll and led to some major soreness and swelling, I was forced to switch course: taking the time for some foot repairs and a new pair of shoes. If I had forged stubbornly ahead, I would not have finished.
Some of these things might seem fairly obvious. Indeed they do to me, reading back over them. When your mind starts slipping late in a race that long, though, no amount of reinforcement is too much. Personal experience (learning the “hard way”) is probably the most powerful teacher there is, but hopefully some of my experiences at the Franklins can also help others avoid those mistakes.
John’s “Franklins 200” gear list: