You are here:

Ultrarunner and endurance athlete John Kelly is attempting the epic Wainwrights challenge for Action

Published on


We recently caught up with John Kelly AKA the Random Forest Runner – an experienced endurance athlete and one of the most respected competitors in the ultrarunning community. John is soon to be taking on one of his toughest runs yet – the Wainwrights – with the hope of raising vital funds for rare disease research.

You can learn more about his career and donate to his Just Giving page below: 

In this blog, John talks to us about taking on the Wainwrights, his love of the fell running community and why Action is a cause that resonates with him. 

John Kelly running The Penine Way

The Pennine Way: Photo credit - Steve Ashworth

Please can you tell us more about this challenge and how it compares to others you have completed?

In May I completed the 260-mile Pennine Way and reclaimed the record. Aside for the first few miles of the Pennine Way in the Scottish Borders, I’ll be sticking to England and combining this recent challenge with the Wainwrights and calling it ‘The Full English’. The Wainwrights are set of 214 peaks in the Lake District, most recent attempts amount to 320 miles and 110K feet of ascent. The record for the Wainwrights is currently held by Sabrina Verjee, who recently completed the challenge in a time of 5 days, 23 hours, and 49 minutes. This will be the longest running challenge that I’ve ever taken on.

What brought you to the UK and how does the ultrarunning community here compare to the USA?

My family and I moved to the UK in 2019 as the business I run is based in London. The ultrarunning scene and fell running community is particularly supportive here and I’ve really enjoyed becoming a part of it. There is a rich history and tradition associated with big challenges, especially up in the Lakes, which has some of the toughest routes. Whether it’s the Bob Graham Round or Pennine Way, there is a lot of tradition surrounding these challenges, which makes it even more humbling to be a part of and support.

I am currently on my way up to the Lakes to support three runners on a challenge – this usually involves helping with navigation and carrying kit. A big part of the tradition is having ‘contenders’ and ‘supporters’. This is also an amazing thing to be a part of and I really enjoy supporting the community in this way.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your running and training schedule?

Luckily, the complications of being in a pandemic haven’t really impacted my schedule too much. There were a couple of events in 2020 which I wasn’t able to complete due to COVID. Despite this, I completed The Pennine Way twice in the past year and also did The Grand Round last November. The good thing about this kind of sport is that you’re able to continue for the most part, unless we’re in a complete lock down.

Pre-pandemic, I would get my training miles in during the week on my commute to work. Over the last year I’ve adapted by running to school with my son, who will either cycle or run with me. I’ll then try and tag on more intense workouts during the week around work and family commitments to ensure I stay on track with my training plan.

How does the Wainwrights compare to other routes you’ve completed and are you hoping to break a new record?

The Wainwrights is significantly more challenging in running miles compared to previous routes of this nature. It is for sure the longest run I’ve done in one go. It’s comparable in time to The Grand Round – which included a stretch of cycling. The Wainwrights will be straight out in the hills just pure running and twice the time of The Pennine Way.

Generally, the goal is to break the record – I am in the stage of my athletic career where this is usually the goal.

Image of John Kelly running The Pennine Way

The Pennine Way: Photo credit - Max Holloway

Do you have any other challenges planned this summer?

I am hoping to head back to Tor des Geants® – a 205-mile race in the Italian Alps. I completed the race in September 2019 but experienced some issues which means I have some unfinished business out there! I am raring to get back and complete the challenge to the best of my ability – it’s a very difficult place, but I am looking forward to giving it another go.

Finally, we’re so grateful that you’ve chosen to support Action for your next run. What drew you to the charity and our cause?

I was actually made aware of Action Medical Research through Rod Tredgett and Raring to Row, a four person team rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

One of my great passions is helping children who don’t get a fair start in life. Action’s work fully resonates with me as it helps kids who are medically at a disadvantage. I am very lucky not to have any immediate family impacted by rare or inherited disease but know of others who have had to go through the devastating reality that their child has a disease for which there is no cure.

As with other charities I support, I believe it’s as much about raising awareness and the follow-on benefits as it is the direct immediate donations. I hope in highlighting a few different charities that more people will see one that really resonates with them and drives them to be actively engaged and supportive indefinitely.

Image of John Kelly running The Grand Round

The Grand Round: Photo credit - Max Holloway

John is planning to set off in mid-July. You can read more about this incredible challenge and how you can support here:

Take a look at all our latest blogs