John Kelly Reclaims Pennine Way Title

John Kelly has once again run the fastest known time on the Pennine Way. He retook the record by posting a time more than three hours faster than arch-rival Damien Hall, who seized Kelly’s previous record last year.

The cat-and-mouse game began last year when Kelly broke Mike Hartley’s long-standing 1989 time. He ran the 435km English trail in 64 hours and 40 minutes, besting Hartley by 40 minutes. “I’ve made a bit of a habit of setting out to do things that I’m not sure are possible,” the American ultrarunner said at the time.

Then Hall came seemingly out of nowhere and beat Kelly’s record just eight days later. It took Hall 61 hours and 34 minutes to finish the Pennine Way.

They might come across as competitive men who are dissatisfied that the other has stolen their glory. The truth, however, is far different. In their minds, they are playing a fierce game of pushing their personal limits. Outwardly, they seem to be immensely grateful to other runners who push them.

Shortly before he set off, Kelly hinted on Instagram that he had “a crack at reclaiming the record”.

Kelly’s new time of 58 hours and 4 minutes is three-and-a-half hours faster than Hall’s — another big gulp out of the old record.

Just one hour’s sleep

Running the trail north to south this time, Kelly endured heavy showers and poor visibility. He maintained a consistent pace from beginning to end, and snatched just one hour of sleep, 48 hours into the race. His strategy was simple: keep moving.

“A solitary, peaceful run in wintry conditions is one of my favorite things,” said Kelly.

Just keep moving: Kelly keeps pace, despite “grim conditions”. Photo: Run247


Kelly is familiar with hostile conditions here. In 2020, he won the Spine Race, widely regarded as one of the toughest of all endurance races. It too follows the Pennine Way but it takes place in winter, with only eight hours of light a day and frequent whiteouts.

That race took Kelly just under 87 hours 54 minutes. “The Spine Race was one of those rare experiences where I couldn’t have possibly imagined beforehand exactly what it would be like,” he said stoically.

We’re half-expecting Kelly to jump out of a telephone booth in a Superman costume next. He’s a father to four children, holds a Ph.D., and works as Chief Technology Officer for Envelop Risk. How he finds time to train for ultra-distance events is anyone’s guess. To “do [my] day job with a clear mind, I run,” he explains on his website.

Perhaps that’s where mere mortals like myself have been going wrong in our own personal quests to become world record holders? Although I suspect Kelly’s analytical mind also functions as a superior, custom-built Garmin, providing an extra edge.

Damien Hall and John Kelly’s humor and support for one another adds an enthralling element to their challenges. Photo: @Ultra_Damo


When Kelly finished, Hall tweeted, “That was effing impressive. Relentless. Humbling. Inspiring. You git.”

Now we’ll eagerly wait out the next few days to see if Hall takes up the gauntlet afresh. In the meantime, he’ll need to update his website, removing “FKT The Pennine Way” — for now, anyway.