Mariah Kelly is a New Balance sponsored track athlete specializing in the 1500 meters distance. She has been running since she was quite young. She thinks she just naturally fell in love with running from the beginning. She started running with a local track club, Athletics Niagara, when she was 15 years old. She says was not very good when she started but it didn't take her long to be amongst some of the best Junior middle distance runners in Canada. At the time, her primary event was the 800 meters. She did a little bit of cross country but her coach at the time approached the 800 meter event from a speed/power training philosophy. When she was a senior in high school she was looking at different collegiate options both in Canada and in the states and decided to commit to Baylor University. She was offered a full scholarship and completed that honor all the way through graduation. When she first started at Baylor she was injured, so she had to sit out her first cross country and indoor track season. It was a long road back to health but with hard work and commitment, she was able to accomplish some pretty special things. She left Baylor as a two time NCAA All American. She made multiple NCAA appearances, set two school records, won two Big 12 conference titles and multiple All Big 12 performances in multiple events. She also had the honor of being named the captain of both the cross country and track team for a few years. She says it's fair to say she went in an underdog and came out amongst some of the best middle distance runners in the NCAA. After graduating She decided to move to Victoria, British Columbia to train under Heather Hennigar who is in charge of the Olympic middle distance development group in Canada. Her first year she was able to drop 6 seconds in the 1500 meters event, taking her from an above average college performer to being on the cusp of becoming one of the best in the world. She accepted a sponsorship from New Balance in 2017 and has been representing them ever since. Since 2014 she has made every Canadian 1500 meter final, winning her first national medal this year, a Bronze.
After all that you accomplished, what drives you to continue running?
My drive to run has never been associated with with how good I was or am, nor how good I thought I could be. I was never a stand out athlete that everyone was after. I have always been the underdog that was able to accomplish more than people would have guessed possible. My drive to run has never been associated with the possibilities of what I might accomplish but more the love I have for running. The best way I can describe my relationship with running is that it provides me with a sense of freedom that I have never felt in any other aspect of my life. There is a sense of peace I feel any time I am out there, whether it be an easy run, a race or a work out. As long as I feel this way my drive to continue running will be there and it is the only thing I need to do this.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don't feel like running?
This is going to sound crazy but to be honest, there aren't days when I don't feel like running. Of course there are days when running is not as enjoyable as other days but I still love to get out there and run. I have never come back from a run and felt worse than I did before I left.
What are your goals for the upcoming year?
My biggest tangible goal for this year is to make the Olympic team for Canada. Some other tangible goals that I have are to have another podium finish at Canadian Nationals and to make the World Indoor team. However, my biggest goal for this year is to stay true to myself. I am sure this sounds odd but this is something I have struggled with my entire career and I believe it is a crucial piece to not only my success on the track but also as a person. I think it can be easy to lean on other people to know what you need in this sport which can sometimes leave you ignoring your own gut instincts. My biggest and scariest goal for this season is to follow my instincts and truly insert myself in my own career.
Can you tell us about when you had to borrow spikes and won your first national medal?
As a professional track athlete the two things you are never suppose to leave behind are your spikes and your race kit. I forgot the more important item of these two. The week leading up to nationals was one of the scariest weeks of my life. Two days before I left for Montreal I received a call that my brother was in a bad motorcycle accident and was in the ICU. My brother lives some what near me so I got on the next flight to see him in the hospital. I was able to stay with him until my mom arrived and the doctors declared him stable. A couple of days later I flew to Montreal. It was a difficult time for my family because everyone was worried and scared for my brother. So I think it is fair to say my head was not all there in terms of my performance. I had a goal of being completely immersed in the moment while I was at the track but as soon I left, I gave myself the permission to let go and just to do what I had to do to get by. I think I forgot my spikes that morning because I was nervous and my head had just been taken for the ride of its life. It wasn't until 10 minutes before I had to enter the call room that I realized I did not have them. I did everything in my power to not panic. I let out a huge and loud curse word and then just hoped things would come together for me. I knew that no matter what I was going to race so that gave me a sense of calm.
My physiotherapist, Tyson, and my training partner, Laurence, raced out of the stadium to go and get me her spikes. We happen to be the same size so this was a safe bet. In the mean time my coaches, Heather and Geoff, ran around the stadium hunting for other options. Some of my competitors' coaches were helping too, it was quite the scene. We were 5 minutes from leaving the call tent and someone passed me a pair of Nike spikes a half a size too small. I tried them on and knew they didn't fit or feel good but was willing to wear them. Next, someone passed me a pair of New Balance spikes, which was great because they were my sponsor so I wouldn't have to worry about hiding the logo. They were also a half a size too small but they felt way better than the Nike shoes. I walked around in them and then we left. My training partner was running in as we left. I was able to do one stride in the spikes and then the gun went off. I didn't think about my feet once throughout the race. I just raced. As I crossed the finish line and realized I had secured the bronze medal I was filled with joy. I turned around and saw my family standing by the gate near the finish line. I was able to run up and give them all a hug. We cried about everything in that moment. This was the best moment for me, sharing it with the people I love who made it possible for me to accomplish this. I saw Krista, the girl who let me borrow her spikes outside of the track and gave her a huge hug. This moment was such a perfect example of how many great people are in the running community. I am very grateful for the kindness that was shown to me during this time.
Out of all of the distances you've raced, which would you say is the hardest?
I think every event has its own special degree of difficulty but in my experience the most difficult event is the 1500. The 1500 is special because it requires almost the same amount of speed as the 800 but also almost the same amount of strength as the 5000. It is a true hybrid. These requirements are what make the training for this event so difficult. You have to do almost the same amount of mileage as a 5K runner but also get in almost the same amount of speed as an 800 runner, never mind the specificity you need gearing toward the event itself. However, beyond the special training requirements, the 1500 is one of the most tactical events on the track. It is not long enough to get settled for too long but it is also not short enough to just leave it to one move. You can be the fittest person on the start line but if you are not a true tactician you don't stand a chance. I think what makes this event so unique is that you have to know yourself so well that you are able to deliver a calculated effort that will leave you on top no matter how the race plays out. It is all about energy delivery throughout the race. It is an ability to run your own race within a race where 1,000 different moves are being made at 1,000 different times. You must figure out how to respond but also still deliver your own move when it counts. It is a difficult puzzle to put together and I am still in the process of trying to figure it out.
What's it like being in the top 100 in the 1500 distance?
I think it is very easy to get caught up on times and rankings. This is something I have always struggled with and definitely spent too much time obsessing over. Of course this is a part of the sport and something you need to be aware of but I am really working on staying away from that this season. I want to focus on being the best athlete I can be every day because without that focus I don't have a hope of reaching my full potential. It is tempting to look at other athletes and wonder how they got to where they are. There have been times I have spent so much time on that I have forgotten about where I am and what I need to do to get to where I want to go. My focus this season is to leave that all behind and to focus completely on my own performance and what I need to do in order to move forward.
What was one of the biggest hurdles to overcome while balancing track and school at Baylor?
To be honest, most of my time at Baylor was challenging. There are so many things I could talk about that were difficult to move past but if I had to choose one I think I would say that watching the sport I love destroy some of the people I love was the hardest thing to accept. Someone I was very close to suffered from a great deal of depression throughout her time at Baylor and as a result I almost lost her completely. This sport has so many beautiful things to offer but if you let it, this sport can also take you to a very dark place. Expectation and disappointment can burn the soul. This is something I have witnessed in others to a point of no return but also I have experienced myself. I have been lucky to have a support system which has kept me from going to that dark place but I am well aware that this isn't the case for everyone. It is never easy to see the people you love suffer and it is even more challenging to feel helpless in trying to bring them back to the light. My experiences at Baylor taught me that this life is a privilege and a gift, and at any moment everything can change. Mental illness is a real thing and it needs to be talked about so that people aren't forced to hide away and suffer alone. I will forever regret not being able to do more to help my best friend. Her love for running was no different than mine but she got caught up in the darkness this sport can bring. Luckily it was something she was able to move past and be better for it but my guilt for not doing more to help will always be there. My biggest hurdle was trying to find a way to come to terms with this and forgive myself. Her and I are still close and there are still moments today where I run for her.
What does your weight training consist of and which exercise do you feel helps your running the most?
My weight training program is crucial in keeping me healthy and strong all season long. I do a lot of power cleans and a few other Olympic lifts but most of my weight training program consist of plyometrics. We focus a lot on powerful movements which are crucial in developing that final kick at the end of the race. We also have a big rehab component to our weight room routine. I focus a lot on single leg exercises to help strengthen my achilles tendons, something I have had issues with in recent years. I find that the plyometrics are huge in helping my running but also, something we just started last season, was ladders. I believe this was huge in helping my overall speed and running technique.
What's the weirdest or funniest thing that ever happened to you while running?
This is weird, funny and gross. Brace yourself. Lots of times when I long run, my dog, Charlie, and husband, Dennis will accompany me. If you have ever done a long run you know it is impossible to do without having to take a mid run morning dump. So, I was out there doing my thing and when I came back Charlie had disappeared. Dennis and I were able to find him and carry on with our run. After the run we were carrying Charlie back to the car because we had lost his leash and all of the sudden he started throwing up all over Dennis. Sadly, it stunk, not because it was vomit, but because it was my poop. It was the grossest, weirdest and funniest thing I have ever experienced.
What's your favorite types of fuel before a race and why?
My favorite pre-race meal is Thai food. I usually eat it the night before but then the day of the race most of my meals are pretty boring and simple. I just try to make sure I get a good breakfast which I also love.
What's your favorite cheat food & drink?
This is a weird combination but I am a sucker for red wine and cookies.
Last winter I ran along the Canadian side of Niagara falls and it was so relaxing and beautiful. Where's one place you love to run?
I grew up along the Niagara River so running by the Falls will always be a special place for me but since then I have run along so many beautiful places. One place I love to run now is the gravel crushed Galloping Goose trail in Langford. This trail consist of ocean views, lakes and the most beautiful forest you will ever see in your life. I think I love it so much because it is almost always empty. So any time I run there it is just me, the forest and sounds of nature. You can't even hear any cars for the most part. It is the best therapy session in the world and it is in my back yard and it is free.
What would it mean to you to make the national team and represent your country?
Since I started this journey it has been a goal of mine to make a national team and represent my country. In a lot of ways this is the first step toward reaching my destination on this journey. It is difficult to put in words what this would mean to me but the best way I can describe it is honor and pride. It is an opportunity for me to not only showcase my hard work but also to represent everyone and anyone who has helped me along the way. It is my opportunity to give back to the country that gave me everything. I am so grateful to live in a country that provides endless opportunity and the privilege to not only dream but to go after those dreams. I would like to give this country what it gave me, an opportunity to not only dream but to believe. This is my hope.
How do you feel about your chances this time around?
There is so much you can't control in this sport but one thing I can guarantee is that no matter what happens I will give every day my absolute best and when the time comes I am hopeful that my best will be enough.
Who would you say is the funniest New Balance teammate?
There are so many great people and athletes a part of New Balance Canada but I think my funniest teammate would have to be Evan Dunfree. He is so light hearted and you can always count on him for a good laugh.
Do you like ice baths?
I am not sure if I would say I like ice baths but I like the benefits they offer my body and mind. I think ice baths are a perfect place to practice feeling calm in a state of discomfort and also the perfect place to repair the body after it has been beat up.
In your free time when you’re not running, what other hobby’s do you enjoy?
My favorite thing to do outside of running is to go hiking. I also love to camp although I don't get much time to do that.
What's the most important tip you like to give new runners?
Be kind, patient and compassionate to yourself when you are just starting to run. Listen to your body but also don't be afraid to push yourself beyond limits you think you are capable of surpassing. Cherish the small wins and remember you can not fail if you refuse to give up. Each failed attempt in an opportunity to learn and improve. Cherish these moments.
When it comes to running, what would you say is your biggest strength and weakness?
My biggest strength is my incredible work ethic. I am willing to do whatever it takes and I am extremely stubborn when it comes to giving up in the face of failure. I think this is crucial in a sport like mine. My biggest weakness is that I am not always patient or kind to myself when it comes to performance. I am really trying to take some time to learn to be true to myself no matter how scary or crazy it might seem. I think if at the end of this all I can look back and say I stayed true to who I am and gave it everything I had, I will be happy. I think this is the hardest part, not only in the sport but in life too.
Who is someone you look up to in the sport?
I have always admired Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn. These are two athletes who have always come off as incredibly hard working which I admired. They have dedicated themselves to excellence and reached the top of the sport. I love to follow their journeys and learn from what they have been able to experience. I admire them not only as athletes and what they are able to do on the track but also as people. They are exactly where I would like to be one day so who better to look up to?
Who is one of your favorite athletes to train with?
I love to train with Erin and Laurence my two training partners. Erin is a steeplechaser and Laurence is an 800 runner. They are both strong in aspects of training that I am weak in. Erin always pushes me in the longer aerobic sessions. She works so hard all the time and I find that incredibly inspiring. Plus she is a lot of fun to train with. When we work, we work but we also enjoy a few laughs through our suffering. Laurence is fast and strong. She is constantly pushing me in the weight room and in our speed sessions on the track. She is a fiery athlete and I love to feed off her competitiveness and her passion. We have a great time on and off the track. It is just so great to train alongside two people who work incredibly hard and share some of the same goals that I have.
If you could compete in one Field event, which would you choose?
I would love to try the pole vault. I think those women are so bad ass, they honestly remind me of super heroes flying over that bar. I would love to be able to do that.
What's next for Mariah Kelly?
Right now I am taking my break but I will start back running toward the end of this coming week. The plan for the fall is to really grind and put in some great mileage to help build my base. My biggest objective is to stay healthy and build my strength. Heading into the winter season we will plan a warm weather training camp heading into the indoor season. I am planning to put more focus on the indoor season this year with hopes of putting out some big performances heading into the Olympic year. Come outdoor everything will be focused around the Olympic games.
Click the links below to keep up with Mariah Kelly
Published September 20, 2019