After years as a 400-meter hurdler, Ashley Taylor understood her best races were possibly behind her.
Running a career-best 58.65 at the 2014 Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championships as a freshman with the Lumberjacks, Taylor broke the 59-second mark just once more over nearly 20 races through the next few years of her career.
“Hurdles is awesome, but I just kind of lost the love for it, unfortunately. I think I am more happy to be back in love with the sport again,” Taylor said, with two Big Sky golds and a silver in the event. “The lack of getting better, it was just a tough go. Maybe I just plateaued in that event. I’d been running it for so long, it was time for me to pick up more miles and a longer race.”
Taylor’s move to the 800m provided an instant boost to her confidence and the most success she has seen in her NCAA career.
Winning the Big Sky Conference Indoor title in the 800m, Taylor took advantage of her NCAA Indoor berth and broke her own school record twice. After running a 2:05.92 in early February at Northern Arizona’s own Mountain T’s Invitational, Taylor dropped the record to 2:04.50 in the first round of the NCAA meet before a 2:03.66 earned her a fourth-place finish in the nation.
“I knew I belonged there, so going into the finals I wasn’t nervous. I was more excited to see what I could do.” Taylor said. “It’s all about just having fun.”
Taylor’s eventful 800m final forced the senior to fight for her finish in the top half of the race. Running in eighth of eight runners for much of the final race in early March, Taylor bided her time until the final lap of the race.
Running on a 200m track with banked turns, the only one of its kind Northern Arizona’s athletes had seen all season, Taylor understood she would need to win the straights while tucking into the inside lane on the corners.
Taylor did so on the first night of the NCAA final at Texas A&M's Gilliam Indoor Stadium in College Station, winning her heat and clinching her first career All-American honors. Surrounded by seven of the nation’s fastest 800m runners in the final, Taylor’s second race at the NCAAs proved to be a much tougher challenge.
“Nationals was the first race having girls that were fast, so you can’t just lead the pack,” said Taylor, who won many of her races during the indoor season without much of a struggle. “It was tough to get around them, and on that 200 indoor track, the corner came up so quick. So you have to tuck in real quick and you try to make a move, but everyone is trying to make a move on that straight and they are all fast too. So it’s tough, you have to be very strategic.”
With the 400m hurdles leaving runners in lanes throughout the race, the fight for position with some of the fastest women in the nation came as a new experience for Taylor.
“You are running with the other girls, but it is almost like the other girls are the hurdles, that’s what I kind of think it’s like,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot more to think about in the 800-meter because you never know what is going to happen.
“Hurdles are consistent, they are in the same place every race. In the 800-meter, you never know when someone is going to block you in or cut you off. It was definitely a tough transition,” Taylor added.
Still at the back end of the field as the pace picked up on the last lap, Taylor came off the final turn with just 50 meters remaining and made her push. Breaking off the line of women and into the middle of the track, the senior picked off runners one by one as the group neared the finish line.
“Going into the last 200, I knew I had enough energy. It was just kind of like working around the girls because everyone was trying to make a move,” Taylor said. “Honestly, the last 50 was when I started to catch them. I knew I was going to catch them, but it was just how many can I catch. I was just cranking away through the line.”
While Taylor’s time placed her fourth in the NCAA’s 800m indoors, it also ranked her third among Canadians this year. Just 22 years old, Taylor’s time would have barely missed the 2:02.00 standard for the IAAF World Indoor Championships and trails the Canadian indoor record of 2:00.19 by roughly three seconds.
Now moving into the outdoor season, Taylor said she has no plan to move away from her newfound love with her traditional race available.
“I’m all in on this 800,” Taylor said. “I enjoy this race a lot, I really do. And that’s a weird thing to say about the 800, but I just love it. It’s an awesome, thrilling race.”