If you think you’re having trouble lacing up for a run today, imagine how KP Kelly is feeling right now. By his 77th consecutive marathon, when MapMyRun spoke to him, the 37-year-old, Ohio-native had lost all but two toenails — one of which was digging into his skin causing a painful infection. Built like a basketball player at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, Kelly only moves at one speed these days: a forward shuffle. Still he continues to hit the streets daily for one insane, self-imposed reason: to complete 100 marathons in 100 days for 100 charities.
On March 19, Kelly’s three-month, 2,620-mile journey from ocean-to-ocean, which started in Los Angeles on December 10, wraps up in Daytona Beach, Florida. Day 100, however won’t just be another 26.2-miler for this ultra-marathoner. Kelly has plans for an epic finish, which he reveals below, along with how and why he got here, what he has learned along the way, and what’s next.
Read this before your next run, and maybe you’ll be inspired to push past the discomfort to go just a little farther for longer.
Q: What, on earth, possessed you to run 100 marathons straight?
Kelly: The goal is to raise awareness and donations for each charity-of-the-day. All 100 charities are listed in order on my Instagram. I hope to have raised around $25,000 by March 19. My mom has Alzheimer’s, so you’ll see a bunch of charities related to that disease. I have a nephew with cystic fibrosis, so I’ve run a lot for CF, too. There are also a bunch of military-related causes. And I generally do at least one run for each city’s local Good Shepherd, homeless shelter or food bank.
On a personal note, I wanted to challenge myself to the extremes of my possibilities. Before this, I had completed more than 150 marathons (a ton in about 3 hours), run across Ohio twice (262 miles in 69 hours) and qualified for Boston. This mission, however, is not about speed. It’s about creating awareness. If I did it straight through, I would do it much faster — in maybe about 60–65 days. But I would probably have a day off each week. For this, it was 100 days without a break.
Q: What’s your route across America?
Kelly: I went from LA to Vegas through the Grand Canyon, Scottsdale, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Gulf Shores, Alabama and then backtracked to New Orleans to run the St. Jude Heroes Marathon, and then up to Atlanta and Charlotte. I’m going to head down the East Coast to finish. It’ll end up being 16 cities overall. The whole course was designed around official marathons in major cities on Sundays to break up the driving between each location.
I have a big surprise that I’ve haven’t really told many people. I’m actually going to run 100 miles, instead of the usual 26.2, on my last day. I’m going to start north of Jacksonville and run to Daytona Beach. I think it will be good to give it all that I have the final day. This way, I won’t be able to run the next day. If I just did a marathon, I might be tempted to see how long I could keep up this streak. But if I run 100 miles, there’s no way I will be able to keep it up. I will snap.
Q: What’s your daily running routine?
Kelly: I took no time off from my full-time job as a self-employed social media marketer. Every weekday morning, I’d work until 1:30 p.m., then from 2 p.m.–6 p.m. or 7 p.m. at the latest, I’d run with my phone or tablet to keep checking in on clients. I figured out which clients thought it was hilarious and great to hold phone meetings during my run, and I’d always reach out to them at those times.
Q: How’s your body holding up?
Kelly: I have just one speed: forward shuffle. My legs don’t really loosen up at all anymore. They’re stiff and heavy, so I can’t really move fast. But, thankfully, I haven’t had any major injuries to make me stop. My heart, lungs and all that has been good. I had an ear infection that required antibiotics for a week early on, but since then nothing in terms of my health has stopped me. So that’s been a blessing because even the common cold, at this point, would probably be very challenging.
The feet take a pounding, of course. I have two toenails that have held on. The rest are gone. My feet are always purple by the time I’m done with my run. I’ll elevate them until they get better. I’ve been lucky that a lot of the blisters haven’t been too bad. I did have one toe that got treated at the hospital. Since then everything’s been OK. I’m pouring hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol on my feet at the end of each run just trying to avoid any type of infection.
Q: What’s your average pace?
Kelly: The first 42 marathons, I was averaging about 4 hours and 18 minutes. The next 19 marathons took me around 5 hours and 8–12 minutes on average. I was worried because there’s not much room to slow down after I get to 6 hours. It’s just too long being out there. Thankfully, the last seven marathons now, I’ve been under 5 hours. So my speed is back up, but yeah, it’s been a struggle.
Q: Is elevation a factor?
Kelly: With my legs feeling really heavy, I go up and down hills very slowly. If it’s a steep downhill, I’ll go backward to use different muscles that are a little more fresh, responsive and less painful.
Q: Have you lost a ton of weight?
Kelly: The weight is dropping off now. This week, I really focused hard on not losing weight while running — and thanks to pizza and chocolate chip pancakes, I kept the weight on. But I do keep eating healthier and healthier as I go, so weight is dropping a little bit.
Q: Any other unexpected ways your body has changed?
Kelly: My legs always look like I’ve just lifted. My muscles are tensed up all the time. Also, you don’t realize that pumping your arms nonstop for five hours every day would make them hurt more than your legs. I can’t move my arms overhead most of the time. Also, it’s like I have rubber-bands on my wrists — my arms look so stressed.
Q: How do you push through the pain?
Kelly: It’s not necessarily a tough-guy thing. It’s a mental thing. When I’m running, I just tune it out. I’ll occasionally feel it, but I’ll keep going. I’m not going to stop. It won’t suddenly feel better. It’s only going to feel worse. So I keep my mind occupied, and that helps a lot. Knowing that I’m doing this to myself — that I’m the one causing this pain and I can make the decision to stop at any point, but I’m not going to — is a weird mental game.
Q: Do you have a ritual to help get you pumped to run?
Kelly: I’ll do an ice bath and then salt bath just before I head out so everything’s kind of loose. I trick myself into thinking I feel better than I do. I usually have music on for about a half-hour before I go. Music lifts my spirits. When I’m running, I’m either working or listening to business-related podcasts or music (random songs, like pop, oldies or jazz are on my playlist).
Q: What have been the highlights, so far?
Kelly: Well, I had never seen the Grand Canyon, and I ran it rim-to-rim, so that was cool! I saw the sun set and rise at the Grand Canyon. I think the St. Jude Heroes Marathon in New Orleans was probably the most fun. They had bands all along the course.
Q: Have you learned something new about yourself from this whole process?
Kelly: I’m proud of my perseverance. I’m really testing my willpower and my integrity to stay true to all those things. I think a younger version of myself would not have been able to do this at all. And so, yeah, I’m proud that I have learned to push through difficult times and adversity.
Q: What’s next?
Kelly: From Daytona Beach, I’ll head five miles north to Ormond Beach, where I’ll relax for several weeks and let my body heal. I’m not planning to move much at all. Most I’ll do is walk from the balcony to the beach and back — and that’s about it. After that, I’m sure there’ll be some big, crazy challenge next. I read about this challenge that ends with a marathon in Antarctica. So maybe that’s next.