American Sets 5-Day Lake District Fell Running Record

When ultrarunner John Kelly set out into the Lake District hills from Keswick, Cumbria, England, on May 2, he did it to settle a score.

He would succeed. Five days, 12 hours, 14 minutes, and 42 seconds later, Kelly would pull back into Keswick with the fastest Wainwright Round time on record (unofficially). Last year, bad weather and foot problems stifled Kelly’s effort on the punishing round-trip. Even a glance at the course details explains why.

You might call the task prohibitive — 214 peaks, 515km of travel, and a massive 36km of elevation change.

Dearth of crisps leaves Kelly ‘not happy’

The peaks, or fells, share a name with Alfred Wainwright, who originally compiled them in his 1950s Lake District opus A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. In height, they range from 978m (Scafell Pike) to 298m (Castle Crag).

As opposed to his 2021 attempt, Kelly found overall good weather on the route this year. Photographer Steve Birkinshaw reported the labor took its toll on the 37-year-old anyway.

“John Kelly looks like he will break the Wainwright Round record tomorrow night,” Birkinshaw tweeted on May 6. “I was with him this evening on the Northern Fells. He was still moving strongly but at times in a lot of pain. Not happy we did not have any salt and vinegar crisps.”

john kelly lake district fkt

On his own, but not alone

Kelly started and finished the Wainwright Round at the historic Moot Hall. He took the record from his La Sportiva teammate, Sabrina Verjee, who set the route’s fastest known time (FKT) at five days, 23 hours, 49 minutes in June 2021.

That year, which some called “the year of the FKT,” Kelly had supported Verjee on a May attempt.

Addressing this year’s FKT mission beforehand, Kelly acknowledged that disappearing into the mountains for days can be more than just physically challenging. He thanked his supporters for staying behind him.

“Thankful for a job that has allowed me to work remotely and take most of my annual leave in a span of just over a month, and for a family supportive of big adventures and crazy goals,” he wrote.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.