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Grandma's Marathon: Wisconsin native Taylor sets new Grandma’s standard

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Kellyn Taylor crosses the finish line to smash the record for the Grandma's Marathon women's race. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 3
Grandma's Marathon women's winner Kellyn Taylor kisses her husband, Kyle Taylor, as their daughter. Kylyn, looks on at the finish line in Canal Park on Saturday. Taylor won with an event record time of 2:24:28. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com 3 / 3

Kellyn Taylor never quit on anything in her life, and that is what made the Boston Marathon in April so humbling.

Taylor didn’t want to quit, but she had no choice. She was hypothermic.

Taylor proved Saturday that the true measure of a champion isn’t how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.

Taylor, in her first marathon since dropping out halfway through Boston, won the 42nd annual Grandma’s Marathon women’s race in a breeze, covering the 26.2 miles from Two Harbors to Duluth in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 28 seconds, shattering the event record by just over two minutes.

“I feel fantastic,” Taylor said. “I went into this race wanting to redeem myself. I set pretty lofty goals, but to break the event record by over two minutes, that’s a pretty great day. I even exceeded my expectations.”

Taylor, 31, is a native of Sussex, Wis., who lives in the running mecca of Flagstaff, Ariz. She is trained as a firefighter and is confident she can juggle the demands of that job, being a mother and an elite marathoner.

“Just figure out a way,” she said.

After making $36,000 on Saturday — $10,000 for the win, $10,000 for a sub-2:29 and $16,000 for the event record (or a new Toyota) — Taylor knows firefighting can wait.

The former All-American at Wichita State has clearly found her calling, having not picked up marathoning until 2015. Saturday was only Taylor’s sixth marathon, with four of those being sub-2:30s, and she lopped more than four minutes off her personal record.

Taylor is the first American woman to win Grandma’s Marathon since Mary Akor, a Nigerian native and naturalized U.S. citizen who won the last of her three straight titles in 2009. Before that, it was Mary Alico in 1996.

“We’ve elevated ourselves to a different level,” Taylor said of American marathoners. “For myself, I was dabbling in the 2:26 range, but I hadn’t hit it yet, so it felt good to actually go out there and get some validation that I can do it.”

For those scoring at home, Ethiopian Askale Merachi came in a distant second in 2:30:18. Most years, that’s a winning time, but this year, she wasn’t even in sight, lest you pull out a telescope. Defending champion Hellen Jepkurgat finished fifth, more than 10 minutes back.

The lead pack was still with Taylor at the halfway point before she began pulling away about 15 miles in. By the 20-mile mark, her lead over Merachi was approaching three minutes. Taylor averaged 5:31 per mile, and she completed the second half 32 seconds faster than the first.

Merachi would have preferred it warmer. She has been bothered the past few days by a stiff lower back, and the cool weather didn’t help her loosen up. Still, she wasn’t complaining. Her time trimmed more than two minutes off her PR, a 2:32:25 she set in finishing second at Grandma’s last year.

“I tried to go with (Taylor), but I couldn’t keep up,” Merachi said. “She was really strong. When she runs, she looks good, but I’m happy with this.”

And so was Taylor.

Taylor said the rolling course reminded her of training runs, away from the hustle and bustle, like running along Lake Mary Road near Flagstaff.

Taylor was asked when she knew she had it.

“I felt pretty confident going into Mile 22 or 23 that I would get the record, barring disaster,” she said. “I had a nice cushion.”

Taylor’s arrival surprised spectators at the finish line. How could this be, so early?

Taylor’s husband, Kyle Taylor, and their 8-year-old daughter, Kylyn, greeted her after she crossed the line. Kellyn needed a couple minutes to compose herself and “got rid of her coffee,” throwing up by the fence, but otherwise felt the strongest she has ever felt finishing a marathon.

“She set her goal high, and then she crushed it,” Kyle Taylor said. “She always believes it’s possible. It was her day. She felt good and the weather cooperated. This was her run.”

Kyle Taylor said his wife can handle cold. She can handle rain. She can handle wind. But Boston in April had all of that and then some, causing her to drop out despite being part of the lead pack. Well, redemption is a beautiful thing.

According to the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races, she now has the second-fastest time by an American woman this year. Her goal is to make the U.S. Olympic team.

“I hope people see what I see in myself. That I’m a contender,” Kellyn Taylor said. “You can say you’re a 2:25 or 2:26 marathoner all day, but unless you actually do it, you’re not. This definitely puts me on the map.”

Where Taylor goes from here, we’ll see. The stars might not align like this again, but on Saturday, she found redemption.

“Being a marathoner, you only get two, maybe three races a year, so to not even finish Boston, it was like, ‘Wow. There goes half my year,’ ” Taylor said. “So this is a relief, finally. I am doing the right things with my training. It’s just hitting your body on a good day, and everything came together this race. I’m super excited, but I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet.”

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