By FRED KRONER
Kelly Bails has had a history of slow starts in her running career.
The Mahomet resident is now a veteran marathoner — having completed 19 races at the 26.2-mile distance — but running was not her primary activity as a teenager in Chatham, Ontario, Canada.
“I wasn’t really a runner back in school,” Bails said. “There was a very small track program that only met a couple days a week at another school’s track.
“My main sports in high school were gymnastics, cheerleading and dance.”
When a new century arrived, Bails undertook a new venture. She began running in 2000.
Earlier this month, she achieved a goal, running a Boston Marathon-qualifying time for her age division (45-49) while competing in the Dallas Marathon.
“I was beyond happy and excited to finally qualify,” Bails said. “I finally felt like I made it as a runner.”
Her training had gone well and she felt prepared.
“As long as I had good weather, I was pretty confident going into the race that I could run a qualifying time,” she said.
Three miles into the race, however, her mindset changed.
“Miles 1-3 were probably the toughest for me,” Bails said. “It was crowded and I didn’t see the first two mile markers, so I didn’t know if I was on pace.
“I don’t wear a GPS watch in a race, so I’m really dependent on mile markers. When I saw the third-mile marker and looked at my watch, I was way off pace — much, much slower than my goal pace.
“I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to meet my goals. And I was worried about pacing myself without any other mile markers.”
Her target time for 3 miles was 26 minutes. Instead, Bails hit the marker in 27:14.
“I almost mentally gave up at that point, but then I remembered that I told a bunch of people my goals — not something I usually do — and didn’t want to go back and tell them that I gave up at Mile 3,” Bails said. “Turns out that those 3 miles were the slowest of my race. I pulled myself together and focused on getting back on goal pace.”
It helped, she said, that the remainder of the miles markers could be clearly seen.
“I was hitting all my paces from that point on and felt really strong,” Bails said. “The next hardest part of the race was mile 20.
“It’s typically a hard point in every race, but at this race, I faced a series of uphills that were very challenging. I knew the course leveled out at mile 22 and had a slight decline to the finish, so I just focused on pushing up the hills and getting to Mile 22. Once I hit 22, I knew everything was going to be OK.”
The Parkland College mathematics teacher finished the course in 3 hours, 49 minutes and 47 seconds. Not even a nagging blister could prevent her from registering her second-best marathon time.
She needed 3:55:00 to qualify for Boston. Despite her slow start, she met her secondary goal of a time under 3:50.
Bails said it was difficult to gauge her progress as the race continued.
“Doing the math was becoming a challenge and I couldn’t quite figure out what my splits needed to be,” she said. “My brain gets a little foggy that late in a race.
“I just focused on running strong and passing people. My last 10K was really solid and I felt great.”
When she competes, Bails doesn’t follow a Pace Runner.
“I don’t believe in running with a pace group,” she said. “They aren’t always consistent and may not have the same race plan. I think it’s better to follow my own plan and listen to my body.”
Bails’ lifetime marathon best time came in South Dakota in 2008 with a 3:48:26.
“At that time, the qualifying standard for my age was 3:45:00,” Bails said, “so I was very frustrated with missing qualifying that year.
“Even though this wasn’t a PR, I would consider it one of my best marathons because it was a harder course than the one that I ran a PR and it is nine years later.”
While she is elated to qualify for Boston, Bails will need to wait 17 months to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Registration for Boston 2018 closed before I even ran this race, so I qualified for Boston 2019,” Bails said. “However, I will plan out my 2018 training year with Boston as the 2019 goal.
“I’ll probably run a late fall marathon in 2018 as a training run leading up into official training for Boston 2019.”
The 2018 Boston Marathon will be held on April 16. The 2019 event (which will be the 123rd) will be on April 15.
The race is always held on Patriots Day.
Her goals won’t be complete when she runs the famed course in Boston.
“I’ve run 19 marathons in 19 different states, so I’ll continue working on running a marathon in every state,” said Bails, who has not yet run a marathon in Massachusetts. “I think I can still run a PR in the marathon.
“I don’t think I’ve quite reached my marathon potential, so I need to find another race that has a good course and the potential for good weather, and in a state I haven’t done.”
Bails doesn’t yet have an official guarantee that she will be invited to the 2019 Boston Marathon.
“Registration for Boston opens first for the people that run 20 minutes under qualifying time, then 10 minutes, then 5 minutes,” she said. “For 2018, if you didn’t run under qualifying standards by more than 3 minutes, 23 seconds, you didn’t get in. That’s why I wanted to be 5 minutes under qualifying time.”
Bails ran her first marathon in 2005 — and has done as many as five in a year — but took a self-imposed break six years later.
“After a particularly bad marathon in 2011, I took a five-year break from marathons and stuck to distances at half marathon and under,” Bails said.
Though Bails is a devoted runner, she’s not one who is consumed by attempting to compile a streak of consecutive days pounding the pavement.
“I do not believe in running every day,” Bails said. “The body needs rest, so I take at least one day off running every week and sometimes two if I’m not training for anything.”
She looks forward to her running regime.
“I can’t even imagine not being able to run,” she said. “It is such a huge part of my life.
“It’s my meditation. It’s my way to be in nature. It’s my social life.
“Most of my best friends are runners. It’s one of my jobs, but is it really a job if you love what you do?”
Training sessions are a time to build camaraderie. Race Day is a time to pursue a goal.
“I was running solo,” she said. “If I’m running for time, I don’t want to be distracted or worry about another person when I’m racing.
“My husband (Joe) was at the race running the half marathon.”
Kelly Bails has taught at Parkland College since 2002.
She and her husband own a running coaching business (Coach Bails Running, LLC) and Kelly Bails is one of the M-S junior high track coaches. She works with boys’ sprinting events.
The Dallas Marathon was appealing, she said, because of the timing.
“It was a Sunday race (it’s easier for me to travel to Sunday races than Saturday races) and it was the end of the semester, so I didn’t have to take any time off work,” she said.