“I was a running nerd in high school. I mean, I’m talking posters on my wall of Steve Cram and Steve Ovett and I desperately wanted to be good at running. And that desperation meant that I didn’t have the best running form and I was missing some things but I could will myself to win races and I could will myself to black out basically because I was like, ‘This is my opportunity to get to the United States and to get to the college system.’ And then you get to the college system and then you realize, ‘OK, wow, I’m not that good because there are so many guys that are good so I’m gonna have to get ready to hurt myself to get really, really good at running in the college system.’ And then you get to that level, and then—for me, after that—it was constantly breaking so I could never really go as deep as I wanted because I would break. But I don’t know where the desire to win comes from other than the desire to just feel like I’ve done my best and to know that when it’s all said and done that I can’t really have any regrets…The ability to go hard and to hurt yourself, yeah, I think some athletes have it better than others—and I would put myself, maybe I could at times, go fairly deep—and I don’t know really where that comes from. I think it’s one of those things where it was more of a desire just to know I’ve done my best, and if my best wasn’t good enough, which in many times it wasn’t, that’s OK, because then I could walk away and be like, ‘Well, that’s as good as I am.’ And I think knowing that can give any athlete a little sense of peace or a sense of calm.”
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Keith Kelly and I go back 20 years to when we were both competing on the New England collegiate racing scene. He was an NCAA Division I national cross country champion at Providence College and I…well, I participated in some of the same events that he did from much further back in the field. We struck up a friendship a few years later when we both started working in the running industry and our paths have been criss-crossing ever since.
Keith is an incredible athlete: in addition to his individual NCAA title, he was a 5x All American at Providence, he finished 24th in the senior men’s race at the 2001 World Cross Country championships, and he won the Irish national cross country title in 2009. When his competitive running career got cut short due to injury, he got into cycling and rose through the ranks to race as a Cat 1 within a year of putting himself in the saddle. Now 43 years old, Keith works as a Global Run Marketing manager at New Balance. (In the interest of transparency, yes, New Balance is a regular sponsor of the morning shakeout but this conversation is completely my own doing: no one at New Balance asked me to host Keith, I am not being compensated by New Balance for this episode, nor is Keith my marketing contact at the brand. Just wanted to get that out there.)
In this episode, Keith talked to me about athletic career, his extensive injury history, and when he knew running was something his body could no longer tolerate. We discussed his interest in cycling, how he channeled his fitness and competitiveness into his new sport, and what he misses most about running. We also talked about how the pandemic has affected the running industry, how super shoes are changing the sport, and a lot more. This is the longest conversation I’ve ever had for the podcast but it’s an incredible one—I promise—and I hope you listen all the way through to the end.
Keith Kelly: Instagram | Twitter | Strava
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Mario Fraioli: Website | Strava
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Music and editing for this episode of the morning shakeout podcast by John Summerford.