Continuing our series of hearing from the deep rabbit squad headed to Squaw for Western States next Saturday, we connected with Rachel Bell Kelley of Chapel Hill, North Carolina who will be lining up for her first States, but is no stranger to the 100 mile distance.
Who is Rachel Bell Kelley?
I was always a curious, full-of-energy and adventures child so my mother encouraged all my sports activities from a very young age. I was also very small for my age growing up so I learned very quickly that I could make up for my lack of strength and size with my speed and endurance.
In 4th grade we ran a mile in the presidential fitness challenge and I won it and went on to represent my school in a local presidential challenge. I was hooked! I continued to run 5ks with my Dad, loved that it was our “thing” and eventually ran track in middle school and high school.
Was there a moment in your life when you knew ultrarunning was your thing?
I ran my first marathon in 2006 and didn’t love the big crowds and the noise of road running. I didn’t run another race until 2011 when I found out about ultrarunning. There’s a trail group here in Chapel Hill, the TrailHeads, and they introduced me to ultras and five months later I found myself finishing the Uwharrie 40 in second place! I loved the hours of rugged technical trails on the east coast and even the solitude of the race.
How has your training gone the past six months since your last race at JFK?
I had been tweaking my left ankle off and on for a while and at mile nine of JFK I heard a loud pop and lost the spring in that ankle. I decided to finish the race, but took a full 6 weeks off in November and December to let it heal and to focus on strength. I’ve never really had an off season, so it was nice to have a mental break and work on my often neglected strength. I had another set back in March; an accident led to a concussion and several weeks of no activity, but since then I feel like my training has been consistent and strong.
What was your favorite part from WS Camp last month? Learn anything important that you'll carry with you to the start line in just about a week?
My favorite part of the camp has to be running with all the people I meet. Ultrarunning can sometimes be a solo and lonely sport, but I'm lucky to have many running friends here. It was really fantastic to meet and run with some really talented ultra runners and rabbits; Kate Elliott, Nick Presniakov, Adam Kimble & Coree Woltering. I also spent about 50 miles with Camelia Mayfield. Jackie Merritt, my coach Meghan Laws and many other runners had lots of good, insightful information to share as well. It also just helps me see the actual course so I can visualize my plan.
You've done a few 100 milers, but not for almost 2 years - have you been dreaming about States for a while now?
I did take a break from 100s for a bit. The 100k distance is really my favorite distance to run, so I spent time focusing on “shorter” ultras.
Like many others, I heard about States from friends who had run it, but in 2012 when I saw Unbreakable that’s when I really decided that States would go to the top of my bucket list! Though I usually shy away from events with lots of spectators, there’s something about the history and love that so many people have for this race. I got a little taste of it at the training camp, it’s romantic, it’s electric. Lots of people put many hours into making this race such a great event and I can’t wait to be a part of their labor of love.
What are a few things you learned at RRR & Pinhoti that will help you on June 23rd in Squaw?
Pinhoti was a trip. It was my very first 100, it was only my 3rd ultra and had no idea what I was doing. I let my excitement get the better of me, leading the women’s race for about 35 miles, then absolutely blowing up and ultimately coming back from the dead and finishing in under 23 hours. That taught me two things; first, don’t be a fool and race the first 50 miles of a 100 and second, blowing up in 100 miles doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your race. You can come back from so much, 100 miles can be forgiving that way, as long as you stay determined and fix your problems.
RRR was a whole different beast. I went into that looking for a new type of challenge. I signed up in the Hare division, meaning I couldn’t use poles, or pacers, and had a 30 hour cut off. Living at 500 ft and then racing at elevation was hard! That one taught me that you need to be able to adjust your expectations during your race as well as problem solve on the fly. Oh, and that ultras are just as much about heart and grit as they are about anything else. I still don’t feel like I have the 100 mile distance dialed, but with each race I hope to learn something more about myself and embrace the challenge.
Any plans after States or just rest and enjoying the remainder of the year?
Post States my husband and I have plans to check out as many of California’s national/state parks as we can from Squaw to LAX before our flight home in early July. (All suggestions are welcome!) Beyond that I am looking at a few fall races, pacing him at the Richmond Marathon, and hopefully Hellgate 100k in December. It’s a Horton race I’ve had my eye on for years!