The only people that Girls Athlete Of The Year Katelyn Tuohy has trouble running away from these days are her growing legion of fans. The New York distance phenom produced a string of phenomenal performances all year that left her competition ever farther and father behind. At the same time, the pack of well-wishers, autograph seekers and selfie takers has grown exponentially, giving the private 16-year-old a jarring taste of celebrity.
Tuohy (North Rockland, Thiells, New York) capped her spectacular soph season in June with an outdoor national record 4:33.87 in the mile to defend her New Balance title (Mary Cain and Alexa Efraimson ran faster than that indoors). “That was pretty special,” she says. “First of all it was like 95 degrees and humid, so it was definitely a challenging race. I was pretty happy with how I kept calm before the race and didn’t stress at all about the conditions.”
With the record as her target, the quietly confident Tuohy paced herself perfectly. “I just remember hitting that last lap, hearing the bell and looking at the clock and thinking that all I needed to do was run a 70-second lap,” she says. “I’ve done that so many times in the past, so I was just chasing down the time.”
That season-capping race came on the heels of a spectacular double at State, where she won the 1500 in 4:14.45 (No. 8 on the all-time list) the day after taking the 3000 in 9:09.71, No. 3 on the outdoor list, but shy of her goal of going under 9:00. “Because I was disappointed with my 3K, it motivated me to give my all in the 1500,” Tuohy says. “I ended up running a personal best on tired legs and feeling really good doing it.”
The tone for that superlative soph season began with State and Nike Cross National titles in cross country last fall followed by a blazing start to the indoor campaign with a 9:05.26 clocking in the 3000 (No. 2 all-time indoors) and an absolute HSR 15:37.12 in the 5000. In fact, over the course of her entire 10th-grade year Tuohy lost only a single individual race longer than 600m, the Millrose Games prep mile in February. She rallied from that humbling setback to win the State Indoor 1500 and New Balance Indoor 2M (along with anchoring North Rockland’s winning distance medley). In May she produced the second-fastest 8-lapper ever (9:51.29+) before her dominating championship stretch.
The outdoor State Meet double had long been circled on Tuohy’s calendar. “We had trained for it. We had mentally prepared for it for a while,” reveals Kyle Murphy, who coaches at North Rockland for the outdoor season. “We did everything we could to make her feel confident that on those two days she could do what she wanted to do.”
He knew that she was ready after an ambitious triple at the Sectional a few weeks earlier, where Tuohy won the 800 in a PR 2:09.43 to go along with easy victories in the 1500 and 3000. “Our team was trying to win the Section meet and she told the team she wanted to do everything she could and that meant getting on the track three times by herself and trying to score 30 points,” Murphy says. “She did that. The team didn’t end up winning the meet, but it ended up being a really good workout day. It put into her mind what she was capable of doing in a quick turnaround fashion.”
And even as her margins of victory continue to grow, Tuohy hasn’t lost any motivation. Already this fall she has shattered the course records on a quartet of venerable East Coast cross country venues. Her aggressive frontrunning style doesn’t even give her competitors a chance to consider challenging her. “If you look at her entire running career, her strategy is always to go out to the lead,” says Brian Diglio, the North Rockland coach for cross country and indoors. “So she’s always had that leader mentality. She’s gotten used to running by herself if she wants to run fast.”
So fast, in fact, that Tuohy can’t train with any of the girls on her team (though Murphy occasionally threw her in with his sprinters for speed work last spring). She calls herself “a lone wolf” when it comes to training, and says she actually prefers running solo. “We debated about whether she should work out with the boys,” Diglio reveals. “And I said, ‘You know what, if she’s not gonna have it in a race, she shouldn’t have it in practice, either.’”
She supplements her running regimen with bodyweight strength training, swimming, biking and plyometrics. And she pays exacting attention to her form. “Going from cross country to the track season last year I was having a little difficulty with my leg turnover and my knee lift,” she explains, “so I really worked on that through the beginning of the spring season to try to get back that speed.”
As her dominance grows, the spotlight has only gotten brighter, which is the one part of success Tuohy isn’t interested in. “Katelyn’s become a little bit of a star at these meets,” Diglio says. “People are nice, but they’re constantly coming up for photos and autographs. It’s been a distraction that we’ve had to learn how to deal with.” Both coaches say she is extremely gracious with her fans, much as she’d prefer to avoid the attention. “But she’s realized that’s not an option,” Diglio says. “It’s lots of girls who look at her as a role model. She’s touched by that.”
Tuohy, who is aiming to break 9:00 for the 3000—something no high schooler has ever done—this season, may finally get a taste of competition this winter, when Diglio hopes to put a professional race or two on her schedule. “A goal of hers, for a long time, has been to qualify for the Olympic Trials,” he says, looking forward to her senior season in ’20. “And if she’s going to try to run in the Olympic Trials she needs to run against women. They have a whole bunch of tools that she doesn’t have yet. Seeing how they race and what that level brings out in her, I’m super excited to see.” □