Two-time Barkley finisher John Kelly recently set a new men’s supported fastest known time on Vermont’s rugged 273-mile Long Trail.
Kelly completed the run in four days, four hours, and 25 minutes, beating out the previous men’s supported FKT of four days, 11 hours, and 44 minutes set by Ben Feinson in 2021.
Kelly completed the FKT on July 3.
Built between 1910 and 1930 by the Green Mountain Club, the Long Trail is the oldest long-distance trail in the United States. The trail runs from the Massachusetts border through Vermont’s Green Mountains to the Canadian border. It has a particularly rugged reputation, with rocky, steep climbs and more than 60,000 feet of elevation gain.
Kelly started at the Canadian border and ran south. The Tennessee native described the trail near the border as being more like a deer trail than a famous long distance trail. He said some of those early sections had standing water and slippery rock faces.
“[It] made speed foolish if not impossible,” Kelly said on his Instagram account. “I kept telling myself to save the running for when I could run.”
The second day presented some brutal challenges as Kelly had to summit Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, endure brutal heat, and deal with poor air quality from the Canadian wildfires.
“I hadn’t noticed any effects on my own breathing,” said Kelly, “but the absolute last thing I wanted was for anyone to come out and expose themselves to unhealthy conditions while supporting me.”
With the steepest, most technical part of the trail behind him, Kelly had planned to switch to more runnable shoes on Day 3. But it wasn’t to be. He said the heat, moisture, and constant beating from rocks and roots had left his feet battered and swollen. He instead switched to his emergency larger shoes.
“I swapped into them with the reluctance of someone who, just before a big date, found that they no longer fit into their favorite outfit,” said Kelly.
On Day 4, after downing a burger and shake to replenish his calories, Kelly began having stomach problems as he was climbing Killington. The stomach issues eventually faded away, but rain later in the day again turned the trails to standing water that hid dangerous rocks and roots.
On Day 5, Kelly was faced with heavy rain and signficant fatigue. The rain was unrelenting, and he said the trail fully transformed into a creek with water pouring into it.
“[It was] as if the mountain itself were reaching up to gasp for air with water escaping down every slope,” said Kelly.
He described the last miles of running the trail as frequent bursts of energy in between moments of overwhelming fatigue.
Kelly said his original goal was to take the FKT in under four days, but he said he’s still happy with the result.
“In the past I would have played the what if game,” said Kelly. “I’ve realized it’s not only pointless but impossible.”