The unseasonably warm weather forecasted for Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles isn’t ideal for marathon racing, but the predicted 80-degree temperatures really don’t faze Kellyn Taylor all that much.
The 29-year-old firefighter-in-training from Flagstaff, Ariz., will only be racing her second marathon on Saturday, but she’ll be stepping to the starting line wth the confidence of a veteran who isn’t afraid to hold her hand close to the flame.
“I told Ben [Rosario, her coach] that I felt bad feeling as confident as I do,” admits Taylor, who ran 2:28:40 at last year’s Houston Marathon, placing sixth among a competitive international field. “I have no doubts that if I hit a good day that I can run with anyone else out there. The workouts I did leading up to the trials were good. I am both physically and mentally ready.”
Taylor, a 2009 graduate of Wichita State, has thrived since joining Rosario’s HOKA Northern Arizona Elite training group in January of 2014. After a breakthrough campaign that first year saw her place fourth at the U.S. cross country championships and win a national road title in the 25K, Taylor went on a PR tear in 2015, following up her strong Houston debut with personal bests in the 10,000m (32:29.88) and half marathon (1:10:59), not to mention a bronze medal in the 5,000m at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto. That success, combined with a inherently fierce competitiveness, has helped her develop the confidence to butt heads with the best runners in the country every time she takes to the starting line.
“She’s super confident in herself as an athlete,” Rosario says. “And I phrase it that way because she’s super confident in any athletic endeavor she takes on. If you’ve heard of a baseball player bringing a ‘football mentality’ to the locker room, that’s sort of what Kellyn is like. Most runners are humble to a fault. She’s outwardly humble of course but inwardly she’s nothing but fierce.”
In the buildup to the Trials, Taylor, the lone female from NAZ Elite competing on Saturday (teammates Matt Llano, Ben Bruce and Scott Smith are entered on the men’s side), has taken her training to the next level. A rough last few miles at Houston isn’t far from her memory, and both she and Rosario feel they’ve made the necessary adjustments to ensure she has what it takes to go the distance on Saturday. Rosario, a former Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier in his own right who finished second at the U.S. marathon championships in 2005, has bumped Taylor’s mileage consistently above 100 miles per week, while continuing to emphasize the essential elements that made her first go at 26.2 miles a successful one.
“Houston went so well until the last two miles,” admits Taylor. “With two to go I hit a wall and jogged it in with 6-plus minute miles. I felt as though I had adequately prepared but knew immediately that an AT (anaerobic threshold) distance run would be beneficial in my trials buildup. This cycle we did many of the same workouts, and also a 26.2-mile run, and had several other workouts and runs that hit 20-24 miles. My body should hold up for 26.2 miles this time around.”
Rosario, who contends that Taylor is stronger than she’s ever been in the two years they’ve been working together, believes that his athlete simply needs to have the race that she’s capable of executing in order to punch her ticket to the Olympic Games. With forecasted temperatures expected to be 30 degrees higher than what’s considered ideal for racing a marathon, Taylor has been training alongside her teammates in San Diego the past two weeks, bundling up in layers to better acclimate to the dry, oven-like conditions she’ll encounter in L.A.
“It was definitely sports bra weather,” Taylor says of her team’s mini pre-Trials training camp 120 miles south of L.A. “But in order to prepare for the heat we wore tights, long sleeves and jackets. We looked crazy but I feel that will significantly help my teammates and I on race day. I’m not going to go out race day and do something stupid. I want it to be an honest race and I feel it will be. Fluids will be huge and will make or break some people’s races.”
Warm racing conditions aside, the competition in the women’s race will be a deep mix of established superstars and ambitious upstarts all vying for one of three slots on the U.S. Olympic marathon team. All three members of the 2012 squad—Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Linden and Kara Goucher—will be on the starting line when the action gets underway at 10:22 a.m. on Saturday. In addition to Flanagan and Linden, three other women—Amy Cragg, Serena Burla and Annie Bersagel—have qualifying times faster than Taylor’s mark. Despite an experienced field full of firepower, however, Rosario is confident Taylor has what it takes to handle the heat and put herself on the podium.
“She just needs to go out and run what she’s capable of,” Rosario says matter-of-factly. “I really believe she controls her own destiny. I remember going for a run with Kellyn in Palo Alto last year the day before the Payton Jordan track meet (at Stanford) and I told her that exact thing. What I meant was that if she did everything right from that point on, and got in as good of shape as she could possibly be in by the time the Trials rolled around, then there would not be three women that would be able to beat her on the day. My mind has never changed.”