August 8 2018
When the going got tough, these women kept running.
Elite marathoners know their careers will be filled with peaks and valleys, but Kellyn Taylor never expected to experience her highest and lowest moments in one spring.
In April, disappointment at the Boston Marathon hit Taylor as hard as the gusty winds and pelting rain that took down so many runners that day.
By the time she approached mile 13, Taylor—who had hoped in the days before the race to finish in the top three—was rain-soaked and shivering uncontrollably.
A race official on a bicycle came alongside her and asked if she was okay. So cold, she couldn’t respond, but realized she would collapse at some point if she didn’t stop.
She was taken to a nearby fire station and wrapped in blankets and a fire jacket. After an hour, she finally stopped shaking, but as warmth filled her body, so did an agonizing feeling of defeat.
A native of Wisconsin and an experienced frigid-weather runner, Taylor was hard on herself for succumbing to the cold.
“I felt like a failure and thought, ‘Why wasn’t I tough enough to get to the finish line?’” Taylor recalls. “I am usually a pretty tough person.”
Looking back, she says wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt was not a good decision because it stayed wet and kept her cold. Ben Rosario, Taylor’s coach and head of Northern Arizona Elite in Flagstaff, Ariz., says the weather was so unusual and extreme even he wasn’t sure how to advise his runners that day.
“And while I am ashamed to admit that, I certainly don’t think I’m the only coach, nor is Kellyn the only athlete, that wishes they could go back and decide to wear a waterproof jacket and capris instead of a long-sleeve shirt and shorts,” he says.
After her bad experience in Boston, Taylor, 32, took a break from running and went camping with her family to let her body and mind recover. Although Taylor still felt upset in the weeks following Boston, she was eager to figure out her next goal.
“I feel like you can’t really dwell on things too long, or it will eat you up and destroy any chance of being successful,” she says.
She needed another race to look forward to, and most importantly, she didn’t want to waste the solid fitness she had gained from her intense training for Boston. Rosario agreed. “If I did something right in the aftermath of Boston, it was keeping a clear head when choosing our next race and coming up with Grandma’s (Marathon) as the best option,” he says.
To prepare for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. on June 16, Taylor and Rosario knew she couldn’t repeat her grueling Boston workouts, which included 130-mile weeks and the toughest training of her career.
Instead, they focused on workouts to build Taylor’s speed. Excited to show the world what she could do, Taylor set the bar high. She wanted to win, set a personal record and to top it all off, she wanted to break the women’s course record of 2:26.
“Going into the race, it kind of felt like a Hail Mary,” she says. “I’m going to have faith it’s going to go well.”
Only eight weeks after that miserable day in Boston, Taylor not only achieved her goals, she shattered her expectations, finishing in 2:24:28. It was a new course record, and she beat her personal best by more than 4 minutes.
“I think it was the best race of her career,” Rosario says. “I think it was the best performance our team has ever produced. And I think it makes her one of a handful of favorites to make the Olympic Team in 2020.”
Elated, Taylor felt like a giant weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
“It was such a huge sense of relief, after having such a bad race in Boston and feeling like I hadn’t hit the times I was capable of,” she says. “To have one come together nicely, it was a good feeling.”
After Grandma’s Marathon, Taylor turned to her other passion: firefighting.
In addition to running at an elite level, Taylor has been working to become a professional firefighter, a pursuit that is as rigorous and demanding as marathon training.
She passed the physical test and went on an initial interview, but recently learned she did not advance to the next round. Taylor was bummed.
“I would have loved to have been hired,” she says. “It would have been perfect—having won the marathon and then being hired.”
But Taylor always seems to find a way to create positive experiences out of negative ones. Until she is ready to apply to a paid fire department again, she plans to join a volunteer department to keep her skills sharp.
And even though Rosario would prefer that Taylor focuses exclusively on running, Taylor says it’s important for her to have interests outside of the sport.
“It keeps my mind off of training,” says Taylor, who also has a 7-year-old daughter. “A lot of runners get into their heads, and it’s all running, running, running. It’s nice to have other things in life.”
Taylor is done with marathons for the year, but has a busy schedule of races lined up for the fall.
Ranging in distance from a mile to a half marathon, the events will give her a chance to test her ability in shorter races—and have fun.
She is especially looking forward to seeing if she can break her personal record in the mile, which is 4:33.
As far as a return to the Boston Marathon, Taylor is not ready to think about that just yet.
“I know I will do it again sometime,” she says. “I will finish and hopefully it goes well, but I don’t know if next year is the year.”