Teen Ultrarunning Phenom Kaylee Frederick: Natural Talent, God, Family, and Making History
I first learned about Kaylee Frederick on social media after she made history at Badwater 135 in July 2023 when she crossed the finish line. My jaw dropped when I learned she was only eighteen years old. Beyond impressive and amazing.
At the October 2023 Beast Coast Productions Hainesport endurance ultras, runners of all ages and skill levels — first-timers, seasoned, and elite — shared the course as they ran their event: the 12hr, 24hr, 48hr, or 100 miler. During a lap, I overheard a runner say to another runner, “Are you Kaylee who ran Badwater?” “Yeah,” she smiled as she kept moving.
Hours and laps later, I spotted her taking a walking break in her shorts and yellow singlet. It was cold. I ran up to her. I congratulated her and told her I would love to interview her. While I was still logging miles on the .9913-mile park loop course in the 48-hr event, eighteen-year-old Kaylee was long gone after she placed first female in the 100-mile event in18:10:03 and set a women’s course record at Hainesport.
In a recent phone interview, we chatted about Hainesport and more. “At Hainesport, it just all kind of worked. That was a really good performance for me. I’d never run that fast. It was a really good day. Everything fit together. It just felt good,” said Kaylee.
During the interview, Kaylee shared her running history, her training, fueling on race day, weather and terrain, her faith, God, and family, advice for anyone setting their sights on taking on the challenge of running an ultra, and ultra events she hopes to conquer.
Speed, Determination, and Endurance
In grade school and high school, Kaylee played soccer, basketball, and track and field. But she realized at an yearly age that she was a fast runner and good at it. “When I was seven years old, I started running. It was obvious that I had a natural talent for the sport. But when I got a bit older, I discovered distance running.”
By a bit older she means fourteen years old. That’s how young she was when she started racing ultras. Her ultrasignup page is impressive. It begins with her first ultra — the 2019 Ghost Trail Challenge 50K. She finished in 8:27:37. It wasn’t easy. Kaylee shared, “I actually ended up having a knee injury. At the beginning of the race, when I ran, my knee would have a shooting pain.”
Some would have dropped out but not Kaylee. She adapted and walked. “I was absolutely fine so I ended up walking almost the entire race. I could walk without pain. I just couldn’t run. I was super slow for a 50K. I finished it. I went to physical therapy, got my life back together, and I haven’t had an issue since.”
Kaylee’s determination, ability to adapt, and endurance in the face of adversity at her first utlra has carried her over to collecting a total of twenty-six ultra finishes, two course records, and placing first and third in a couple of events in just four years of racing.
I wondered where Kaylee, at such a young age, gets her strength to run such grueling distances.
God and Family
While doing research on Kaylee, I noticed a scripture passage on her Instagram bio — You told me I couldn’t, that’s why I did it. — Luke 1:37. I asked Kaylee if her faith is important to her and if it’s part of her ultrarunning. Kaylee enthusiastically shared the importance of her faith and the role that God plays in her running.
“Religion has always been a big part of my life. If you look at other young people my age, they don’t really run like this. I feel I was given the talent and I have to do something with it. That’s why I just keep trying to push myself and inspire people because, after all, God gave me the ability for some reason and I want to use it to do good and to help others.”
Running is a spiritual experience for Kaylee. “Spirituality is everything. There have been times in races where I’ve been running, like at Badwater Salton Sea. I was running with my team and we started to get to the top of the mountain. It was just so beautiful. I was just looking around and I was saying, “God is so good.”
With joy in her voice, Kaylee shared, “The same thing happened at Badwater 135 when we were getting to the top, to the finish. We had like three miles left and you could look out and see how far we’d come and how beautiful everything is out there. I just said over and over out loud, “God is so good,” because He gave me the ability to do that, and put me there, and He made this whole world for us. That’s all I could think of.”
Family is also key in Kaylee’s life on and off the course. “Family is very important to me.” Kaylee’s father died when she was six years old, but Kaylee and her mother Georgetta and older sister Carly are very close. Her mother has crewed her at many ultras, including Badwater 135. Kaylee added, “Until recently, she also has started ultrarunning.” Her sister Carla is not a runner. Kaylee chuckled affectionately, “We’re like pure opposites, but she’s my best friend.”
Peanuts, Pierogies, and Quesadillas
The amount of training Kaylee schedules is determined by the event she is training for. “My training for Badwater was different from my training for Hainesport. One is heat and one is more terrain. Usually for the 100 milers and 100-plus milers, I’ll do a couple of 70 to 100 mile weeks. A few weeks before the race, I’ll count it down to maybe twenty miles or less.”
When it comes to fueling during training, Kaylee shared, “I’m pretty basic.” She eats salad with chicken. Dinner consists of “some sort of meat with vegetables.”
On race day Kaylee hydrates with unflavored Trailwind. “It’s the greatest thing ever,” she added. Consuming calories can be a bit more challenging sometimes. “As far as eating, it’s different for every race. I’ve always struggled with eating food when I run because I have difficulty swallowing food while I’m running. I just find something that works for me that day and I stick to it. One day peanuts might go down super easily, another day it might be cheese quesadillas or pierogies.”
Terrain and Weather
“I prefer to run in the heat than in the very cold where it’s twenty degrees and I have to wear two pairs of pants. But I run all year round. I don’t really have a race season I primarily run.” And she runs on roads and trails, and sometimes prefers one over the other.
“It depends. I do it all. Sometimes when I’m running on the road, it’s just so painful because of the constant hard grind. And then on the trails, you can’t run that fast because you have to pay attention to where you are. But I like them both.”
Kaylee has not yet run a track ultra, but I have no doubt she will.
Kaylee, a college freshman double majoring in biology and secondary education at University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, has her sights on becoming a high school biology teacher. But before that, she’s got ultras to conquer in the ultrarunning world. “I’m currently signed up for Badwater Cape Fear, Badwater Salton Sea, and Badwater 135, again. I have so many aspirations. Western States, the Triple Crown of 200s, Barkley Marathon, and Cocodona 250.” In the meantime, while at school she runs early in the morning or at the gym, and is getting ready for her next event. According to ultrsignup, her next ultra is the Stone Mill 50 miler in November.
And to those of any age who aspire to run their first ultramarathon, Kaylee enthusiastically encourages them to, “Just go for it! Dream the impossible. Don’t stop until it’s possible. You’re never promised tomorrow so do it today. I think whether you’re young or old, or somewhere in between, just dream something so insane that you don’t think you can possibly do it.”
What are you waiting for? Let Kaylee inspire you. Lace up your shoes, head out the door, and put one foot in front of the other. One day you might be sharing the course with her.
I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. My publisher is running a sale through November. Get 50% OFF and FREE SHIPPING. Use Code: CONFSHIP. Order today.