John Kelly & Damian Hall Barkley Marathons 2023 Q&A

The Barkley Marathons is a sporting event like no other. Staged in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, USA, the 100-mile sufferfest sees runners attempting to complete an ultra-marathon so tough only 17 people have reached the finish line since 1986.

Supernatural Fuel ambassadors John Kelly & Damian Hall took part in the 2023 edition of The Barkley Marathons and have kindly answered some questions so we can delve a little deeper on what has become a memorable year.

First of all, can you tell us what motivated you to be standing on the starting line of the 2023 Barkley Marathons? 

John – it’s a unique challenge and experience, one that I now genuinely enjoy and look forward to with a feeling of eagerness and anticipation rather than stress, doubt, or fear.

Damian – partly because I kept getting asked, “Yeah but what about the Barkley?” But more so, the mystique and the puzzle of the event. It was a fresh test and really intriguing.

What does this race mean to you? 

John – being able to discover more about myself and how to be better (both in Barkley and beyond), and to do it representing the local community in the mountains where I grew up, is an incredible opportunity.

Damian – a very special memory tinged with frustration.

John you successfully became finisher no 15 in 2017. How does it feel to become a two times finisher this year? 

It gives me a big boost of confidence, to know that I can still will myself onward and overcome Barkley’s challenges without the motivation that comes from striving for that first finish.

You appeared to team up for four loops. Was this a race strategy from the outset?  How was the company? 

John – I’ve learned how valuable teamwork can be out there, to prevent disastrous careless mistakes on those early loops and on that critical loop 4 on the 2nd night. It was not necessarily a planned strategy to team up with Damian, but to team up with whoever was moving at a similar pace (which we were likely to do) as long as that continued. It worked well and it was great to have the company.

Damian – it was definitely a strategy to stick with a veteran for at least a loop, to learn all I could. That didn’t have to be John, but I quite enjoy annoying him, so I thought he’d do. Those ascents don’t leave much breath in the lungs for idle nattering, tbh. I don’t remember a great deal of chitchat.  But good company isn’t all about words.

When you were at your physical and mental low points in this race, what was the self talk that helped you to keep pushing on? 

John – it’s always a matter of remembering that I’ve been there before, and that I’ll pop back out of those low points. It’s also helpful to think not of how much is left but how much is complete, including all the training, preparation, and support that has gone into it. What is left is tiny relative to that. Also, those tough points are honestly why I do these things. Those points are where I learn and grow. Going through all that preparation only to quit at the most valuable moment, the very one I was preparing for, wouldn’t make much sense.

Damian – I thought of the time away from family, financial and CO2e costs of the trip over and wanted to make all that count for something.

Damian to get to loop 5 on your first attempt was outstanding. Can you tell us what happened on loop 5? 

Hahahahaaaaa, well, I was a bit tired and I couldn’t find the first book, even though it had seemed straightforward coming the other direction. There were a lot of capstones. I may not have been at the right one. It’s the most confusing library I’ve ever been to.

How closely did the race follow what you had planned? What would you have done differently? 

John – it followed the plan I think as well as anything like this can. I don’t know that I would have done anything significant differently, other than maybe trying to figure out the alarm on my race watch before the start or early on, instead of deep into loop 4 and getting lost for a bit as a result.

Damian – pretty close. I wanted at least a Fun Run (3 loops) and I felt I had to stick with veterans to learn all I could. I stuck with the Tea Dodger for nearly four laps. But on reflection, I possibly hadn’t learned enough…

Any plans to return to Frozen Head next year? 

John – I don’t usually make plans that far in advance, so no. But there also aren’t any plans not to. At this point the question is “why not” more than it is “why”.

Damian – I’d love to!

A huge thank you to John and Damian for taking the time to talk to us again!

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