John Kelly On Discovering Your Limits & How Failure Leads To Success


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John Kelly is one of only 15 people on the planet to have completed the Barkley Marathons.

This year, John won the Montane Spine Race, the 268-mile ultramarathon which starts in Edale, in the Peak District, and ends in Kirk Yelthom, Scotland. Held in January, it’s not uncommon for participants to be battered by high winds, torrential rain and snow. The combination of the distance (yes, you did read that correctly – the race is 268 miles long), the elevation of the ascents and descents, bad weather and the subsequent sleep deprivation, means the race is widely considered to be one of the toughest in the world.

The Spine Race, which follows the Pennine Way, was the location for yet another of John’s adventures this year. In July, John ran the Pennie Way again (yes, all 268 miles of it) in 2 days, 16 hours, and 46 minutes, setting a new FKT (Fastest Known Time), beating the course record held by Mike Hartley for 31 years, by 34 minutes. The following week, Damian Hall, a previous guest on the Eat Your Greens podcast, beat John’s time and set a new Pennine Way FKT.

Fast forward to this August and John embarked on perhaps his biggest challenge; something he dubbed “The Grand Round”. First attempted by him last year, and successfully completed this year, “The Grand Round” links the UK's three big fell running rounds - the Paddy Buckley Round in Wales, the Bob Graham Round in The Lake District and the Charlie Ramsay Round in the Scottish Highlands, by bike. Yes, BIKE! John ran roughly 185 miles, climbed more than eighty thousand feet, over 110 plus summits, and cycled between each round, covering more than 400 miles on his bike in total. Raising money and awareness for The Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust he completed the Grand Round in less than five and a half days.

In this episode, John explains why he runs, when and how he’s made sizeable leaps forward in terms of his performance, and how he assesses, and then decides on, which FKTs and races to participate in. We also discuss John’s relationship with failure and why failing can be good, how he manages his mind when things get tough and the importance of competition. And, of course, we talk about just some of the many FKTs and races he’s participated in!

To donate to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust via John’s Just Giving page go to: and to connect with John on social media search Random Forest Runner or head to his blog,

Show Notes:

02:07 – 04:22 – John on why he runs

04:33 – 06:39 – John on when he felt like he might have reached his limit

06:46 – 08:05 – Mind or body. Which does John find most difficult to manage during an FKT or race?

08:14 – 09:29 – John on the tools and techniques he deploys to overcome challenging moments

09:43 – 11:10 – John on how he chooses which FKTs and races to participate in

11:14 – 12:03 – John on when he first had the idea for “The Grand Round”

12:28 – 14:19 – John on when he’s seen the biggest improvement in his performance

14:43 – 16:14 - What learnings does John apply from his background in data science and role as a CTO to FKT/race planning and execution and vice-versa?

16:43 – 18:37 – John on how he breaks down challenges and learns from failure

18:46 – 19:48 – John on which failure he’s learnt the most from

20:06 – 21:16 – John on celebration and reflection post FKTs and races

21:59 – 24:16 – John on the importance of competition

25:22 – 26:35 – John on what he prefers, FKTs or races?

27:00 – 31:18 – John on when he first began to realise what he was capable of and which endurance events have taught him about himself

31:26 – 32:36 – John on the character traits he possesses which he hopes to pass to his children

32:46 – 37:21 – John answers 5 quick(ish)-fire questions.

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