Kelly Allen McLay, Marathon Tours

July 8, 2015

Kelly Allen McLay | Marathon Tours

“Hakuna matata!” – Kelly Allen McLay running the Outback Marathon in Australia.

Kelly Allen McLay is the Director of Sales at Marathon Tours & Travel, a company offering travel services to runners and their travel companions, and has completed 37 marathons since 2005! Kelly’s career story is inspiring and personal, so when she agreed to participate in our Career Series, I jumped on the chance to ask her some questions! Here’s her interview…

Kelly running in the Italy Coast to Coast race.

1. After high school I wanted to…go to a southern, sorority school with a Division I football program. My grandfather always took us to College Football Bowl games for Christmas, so I wanted nothing more than to spend four years of my college Saturdays at the stadium. I ended up at Bowdoin College in Maine–little did I know then there could not have been a more perfect place for me that would forever impact my life.

2. My first job after college was…a high school English teacher at my former high school and a Springboard Diving Coach at Regis College. I was excited and nervous–especially being my first job out of college and my students were almost my age–it was a huge year of learning.

I loved the job and would have stayed, but at the end of the year, I decided that teaching was a great profession for when I was ready to settle down. At that time, I was more focused on experiencing life and exploring the world than becoming the teacher I wanted to be in the future. I felt confident that in the future with my passion for teaching and my academic background there would be several opportunities to embark on a teaching position. I wanted the opportunity to try something else. This led to many job changes, but many amazing opportunities including working at EF Educational Tours and bringing teachers and students abroad on international tours, working the night maintenance shift at a camp in New Hampshire, and landing a brief stint guiding surf tours up and down the east coast of Australia. Along the journey that took me to Marathon Tours, I always followed my heart. In the professional world this is not the best advice. However, I have never been able to work in a place where I was unhappy. So I tried several different careers until the perfect fit presented itself in a coffee shop, in Charlestown, MA, on my way to run the Boston Marathon…


“Antarctica–what a place. So absolutely pristine. You don’t know environmental purity like that; it is amazing, refreshing, brilliant. It is a bit of a bittersweet destination for me. I have run a marathon on 6 of the 7 continents and have travelled to Antarctica twice, but since my company owns the race, I have to work the event. Someday I hope to complete a marathon on all 7 continents and join the Marathon Tours’ Seven Continents Club.”

3. My job responsibilities at Marathon Tours include…just about everything! Marathon Tours and Travel has a global presence and includes an office of 10 people. While my title at the office is Director of Sales, when you work in a small office you assume many hats. My day can begin with talking to clients about an upcoming tour to Africa and connecting with the sales staff for updates on the tours they are selling. It can then transition to negotiating contracts with vendors in Alaska on a future program and confirming space for a post-race celebration with a cello and piano 42 floors above the city of Tokyo, and end with scheduling a cab to Logan Airport for an overnight flight to run across Italy. I travel about 40 percent of the year to marathon events to sell our 40 destination tours. I am also the lead guide on the tours that we sell, and I typically run the marathon with the clients on my tour. Next week, I leave for a month for Australia and Africa. I help with training, administration duties, mailing, marketing, research and more. My days are very interesting, very fast, and the diversity of my daily tasks appeals to my need to multi-task.

Kelly Allen McLay | Marathon Tours

Kelly’s most recent race was from the East Coast of Italy to the West Coast of Italy and this is one of her favorite pictures from the race.

4. My favorite part of my job is…I love my job. I was able to find a profession where my two passions are melded into one, and it’s perfect for me. From designing the next destination marathon to talking to clients about the tour they are about to journey on to actually guiding them on these tours to Easter Island, Tokyo, Antarctica…it is great to experience running the world. Our clients are also so unique; I’ve been so privileged to spend time in remote areas of the world with such wonderful clients! The best way to explore a destination and interact with a new culture is on foot–especially when the roads are closed to vehicles and you have access to all of the city!

5. The most frequent question I hear about Marathon training is…”How have you been able to run so many marathons?” I’ve run a total of 37 marathons since 2005. While I am competitive and want to do well running, I never let running take over my life. It is a part of what I do and what I love, but it does not become my life. So many people when they are training lose sight of the passion and the desire for the race because they are so focused on the number of miles they need to run and the time they need to hit. They miss dinners to keep on schedule. But, for me, I run when I can and I do not force it. I put in my best effort and I commit to running the event. But I enjoy it–all of it. There is something so freeing and cathartic to me about getting outside for a long run. The ebb and flow of a pace. A friend’s supportive clip next to you. Conversation for miles.

Kelly Allen McLay & John McLay | The City and Us

Kelly with her husband, John, running their first marathon together: “He’s such a great partner in life and in running. We have enjoyed so many days running together and finishing races together. The last bit of my vows was about our marriage being a marathon and that when we could no longer run marathons we would run half-marathons. My colleague Patrice Malloy caught this picture of us in the Chicago Marathon. We had been engaged the month prior. Originally, John thought that he would propose at the finish line, but since this was his first marathon he worried that if he got down on one knee he might not get up again. Plus, that’s a lot of stress to carry for 26.2 miles during your first marathon! As you can see, we had a blast running! I was so proud of him and so happy/choked up to cross the finish line with him on that day and finish a first of many races together. Since then, we have run 4 more full marathons together: Boston, New York, Dublin and Singapore (for our honeymoon)!”

6. I first got hooked on running marathons in…2004. I had recently found out that I went through menopause. I was devastated. I had always wanted a family, so this transition felt like a part of me had died, and at such a young age, I couldn’t relate to any of my peers. Since the menopause was caused by an underactive thyroid problem, by the time I found out, I was out of shape due to the slow metabolism and extremely depressed. I needed a goal. My sister was running the Boston Marathon, and I asked her if I could join her and her friends and the rest is history. Thirty seven marathons and a career later, I couldn’t be happier. I always say that things happen for a reason. While I wish I hadn’t gone through menopause–I would not be where I am today without that life changing event.

Kelly Allen McLay running in Africa | Marathon Tours

7. My favorite marathon was…Nothing compares to my experiences in Africa on safari and running through a wildlife game park and running with the Kenyans. The land has such a vibrant heartbeat–it is mesmerizing. There is nothing like running through the safari with elite runners speeding by like gazelles as the sun sets over the land. But most recently I ran across Italy with three colleagues. We ran 240 miles from the East Coast of Italy to the West Coast of Italy in four days. We ran over mountains and through the Tuscan fields in 80-90F weather on remote paths through the Italian countryside. It was a runner’s dream. It was one of the most difficult and most rewarding experiences of my life.

8. The happiest moment of my life was…This is really hard to answer. I really try to love life daily. I always say that I can have fun in a paper bag. But there have been many moments. Meeting John…I will never forget that moment.

The City and Us | Kelly Allen McLay

“Cheers to a life filled with warm weather, sand in your feet, sun in your hair, a smile on your face, an escape vehicle with ooommph, a corona in your hand and your best friend at your side. Aruba…one happy island – perfect place to get married!” Kelly and John in Aruba, 2013.

9. I never thought I would…be running marathons around the world!

10. I’m the most productive when…I’ve just finished a workout and get to work with an ice-coffee in my hand. Working out really gets my endorphins going so I can tackle the day, and I’m extremely focused after a workout. Also, moving throughout the day and getting outside for a some fresh air is so helpful!

11. The last vacation I took was to…run across italy! We stayed in some of the smallest, most remote places through Tuscany. I have been to Italy several times but this experience surpassed them all; the authenticity of it was beautiful. We stayed in small homes and 3-star properties where the cook was the mom of the family. We traversed beautiful countryside and interacted with locals; the tourist aspect was removed and I love genuine travel so such. We even stayed at Il Albergoil Monastero, a former monastery, for one night. So, whenever you travel, step off the beaten path, and challenge yourself by immersing yourself in what is different, that is when you find the greatest growth within yourself.

12. I’m currently reading…In the Garden of the Beast by Erik Larson. It’s about the United States Ambassador in Berlin when Hitler took power. It is very interesting and a bit intense. I was introduced to the book by our local guide in Berlin during the Berlin Marathon Tour.  Their commentary and history lesson of Germany, specifically of Berlin, left a lasting impression on me, and I went and bought this book. I cannot wait to tour with Boris again this September to learn more!

Kelly Allen McLay | Dublin Marathon | Marathon Tours

Kelly has completed six straight Dublin Marathons! And she has a tradition of taking a photo in her “Dublin Hat” each year. She’s headed for #7 this October!

13. My tips for packing and traveling…Always take a window seat, especially on long flights because you get an extra 1.5 inches of space and you get to rest your body against the wall. I always bring a travel pillow, I have a small hippo pillow from Africa that is my good luck charm for flying because I am petrified of flying. I also pack my laptop (1.5 lbs–very travel friendly), Bose noise canceling headphones, warm socks (inevitably the flight is cold), and an eye mask, which helps when the airline turns on the lights and you don’t want to wake up! I always pack  my running clothes in my carry on and wear my sneakers–I can’t lose those or I won’t be able to run the marathon! And, it’s always smart to arrive with a bit of currency in hand for the destination you are travelling to.

14. For date night, I like to wear…Right now, I mainly wear this blood orange shirt with pants and heels–that is when I make a concerted effort, and always black eyeliner and a bit of mascara. But more than likely you can find me in my Havaiana flip flops, Lululemon pants, a white tank top and a large praNa or Athleta sweatshirt with my Life is Good hippy beanie!

15. My beauty routine is inspired by…comfort and efficiency. I practice yoga, spin, run, and attend classes at Iron Village to get some serious core training in. I believe that a healthy body fosters a healthy mind and an inner confidence for outward beauty.  Movement for me is so important, so it’s less of a beauty focus and more of a health and life choice focus!

Kelly Allen McLay | Marathon Tours

Thank you so much, Kelly, and happy running in your upcoming races!

If you’d like to learn more about Marathon Tours & Travels, check out their website here and their Facebook page here (their Facebook page has some amazing photos!).


PS. Some tips for starting and maintaining a running routine.

PPS. More Career posts!



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