Now, Kelly will take her place among the elite women’s runners in the world after earning a super seed at the 10K Peachtree Road Race.
The Alpharetta resident, who will be competing on the college level this year at Colorado after transferring from Ole Miss, will be among the 60,000 participants taking part in the nationally-renowned road race Friday.
Kelly — who is participating in her 10th Peachtree — will once again be running the 6.2-mile course that winds its way down Peachtree Road from the starting line at Lenox Square mall in Buckhead to the finish line at Piedmont Park on 10th Street in Midtown Atlanta.
This year, Kelly will be starting in the front pack with some of the best women’s runners in the world after earning super seed status with a time of 38 minutes, 16 seconds to win the women’s 15 to 19 age group and finish in 47th place overall among the women at last year’s Peachtree.
“I’m really excited,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be an awesome experience. I’ve run races like the New Balance Nationals, the state meets for cross country and track in high school, so I’ve run big races before. There’s going to be a lot of elite women there and it’s pretty nerve-wracking, but I’m very excited to be starting with them.”
The 2013 Peachtree was a breakthrough for Kelly, who broke the 40-minute mark for the 10K for the first time in last year’s race.
“I was really happy with that time,” Kelly said. “Last year was the first time that I really trained for it. I didn’t really know what to expect, because Peachtree is a really hard course. The first three miles are very fast and the last three miles are a lot harder. I wanted to break 40 [minutes] – that was one of my main goals and I wanted to run around that time, but I wasn’t sure if I could. So, I was kind of expecting it, but kind of not.”
Kelly enters this year’s Peachtree in even better shape after putting in over 100 miles a week of training over the last several weeks to prepare for a three-day trail stage race in Chattanooga, Tenn., in mid-June as well as for the Peachtree.
“I’ve been training in Florida a lot, so I’m kind of used to the heat,” Kelly said. “I haven’t done any speed work or anything, but I did a three-day race called a stage race [two and a half weeks] ago and it was like 60 miles over the course of three days. So, I’ve been running over 100 miles a week and that’s the highest I’ve ever gotten, so I’ve been doing a lot of training.”
Kelly, who ran her first Peachtree in 2005 at the age of 10, has been guided in her running career by her mother Sue Kelly, an accomplished competitive runner herself who has run the Fourth of July race several times.
“She’s my biggest role model,” Kelly said. “She coached me all through high school [at Milton] with coach [Andy] Carr and she’s the main person who really got me going. I attribute all of my running success to her.”
Annie actually planned to focus primarily on swimming in high school instead of continuing with running, but she fell in love with the sport again and went on to establish herself as one of the top cross country and track distance runners in the state during her career at Milton.
“Before I went to high school — my freshmen and sophomore years — I didn’t expect to continue running,” Kelly said. “I was a year-round swimmer. The plan was, I was going to quit running after my sophomore year and continue swimming. But I ended up loving it so much, getting way better at running, so my mom was my main coach throughout my high school years and turned out way better than I expected.”
After graduating from Milton last year, Kelly continued her running career on the college level at Ole Miss.
However, she left the University of Mississippi — where she finished 57th at the SEC meet and 31st at the NCAA South Regional during the cross country season last fall — after only one semester to transfer to Colorado, which ranks as one of the top cross country and track programs in the nation.
“We actually ended up having six girls leaving Ole Miss within the first semester and there was five of us who were top runners and there were a few coaching issues and a few issues with the program that I don’t necessarily agree with,” Kelly said. “I kind of figured out that I would be better off at a different program. [At Colorado], Coach [Mark] Wetmore is one of the best college coaches ever and we have three assistant coaches who are Olympians, so I thought it would be a great experience.”
After sitting out the track season last spring to acclimate herself to the higher altitude of Colorado, Kelly will begin competing for the Buffaloes in cross country this fall.
For now, Kelly is focused on making a good showing in her debut as a super seeded runner at Peachtree.
While she doesn’t expect to be among the top women’s finishers, Kelly is still looking to surpass her time of 38:16 from last year’s race.
“I’ll probably take the first few miles a little quicker than the last three miles, because it’s faster, but I’m going to try to take it in control,” Kelly said. “As far as placing overall, I don’t know. It’s a very fast race and there are some very fast people and I don’t know if I’m ready to keep up with them. But I hope I place well.”