The California-based runner has big plans for 2015 after a strong 2014 season.

Kim Conley has a flair for dramatic finishes.

At the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., she went past Julia Lucas in the final step of the 5,000-meter final, finishing third and surprising herself with an “A” standard qualifying time of 15 minutes, 19.79 seconds and a spot on her first Olympic team. In 2013, Conley qualified for the world championships in the 5,000m after clawing her way back into contention at the U.S. Outdoor Championships with less than a lap to go. And last June, the Sacramento, Calif.-based Conley earned her first national title in front of the hometown crowd at Hornet Stadium after re-claiming the lead from Jordan Hasay in the final stretch of the 10,000-meter final.

We caught up with Conley recently to look back on her whirlwind year and chat about 2015 plans, which will include her first appearance at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships on Jan. 19 in Houston.

Congratulations on a successful 2014! How do you feel overall looking back, especially getting your first national title in the 10,000 meters at the U.S. outdoor championships in front of a hometown crowd?

Pretty happy. Since it wasn’t a world championship year, there were two things I wanted to accomplish—most important was I wanted to win a national title. I felt no world championships made a U.S. championships the pinnacle of the season. That was a really big, special moment to me—and like you said, with it being in Sacramento, that was really exciting. With family and friends being there and cheering me on, it was a cool moment. And the other [goal] is we wanted to use the winter to experiment with my speed and run some indoors and drop down—just hit a good mile and 3K. That went really well too; I was really happy to run a solid PR in the mile. (Ed note: Conley ran a 4:24 indoor mile at the 2014 New Balance Games, a 3-second PR.) So that puts a really good card in my hand for future races over 5K and 10K.

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You won the 10,000 meters in a similar fashion that you qualified in the 5,000 meters back in 2012—in a thrilling final stretch to the finish. These were two very different races, so how would you compare those last two finishes?

Yeah, very different races, even if that last 50 meters looks similar! In the 5,000 meters back in 2012, late in the race I kind of thought, because of the time, there was no way I was going to hit the [qualifying] standard, so I wasn’t even thinking about trying to make the Olympic team anymore. So I was really just trying to get on the podium because I would have been proud of a podium finish there. It was all about re-gaining composure after falling off the pack and getting back into that third spot. So I guess you could say it was all about looking ahead and seeking spots ahead of me, whereas I was a lot more nervous at the end of the 10K. I was doing all the leading, and Jordan [Hasay] was just sitting there. I knew at some point she was going to go around me, so I was waiting for that moment and trying to keep one last gear in reserve for when it happened. And when it did happen, I was telling myself over and over that I had to maintain contact so when I got my moment back I could try to squeak by her right when I needed to.

Your career has been on this upward trajectory of shaving seconds off and maintaining an underdog status at many races. It seems very methodical—is this success part of a larger goal? How do you build off of past performances to continue getting faster?

I’m very process-oriented, so I really try to take things one step at a time and improve upon what I’ve done before. That way, I can keep climbing the ladder one rung at a time. After [the London Olympics], I was pretty bummed to not make the final, even though I was really happy to be there and get a PR. There were a lot of positive takeaways, but it left me really hungry to get back to that level and continue to move forward. So then in 2013, my big goal was to make the final [at the world championships] and redo what I hadn’t been able to finish in London. I did make the final, but then in a similar fashion to London, I finished 12th in the final and I felt like I had better than that in me. So I was disappointed in that. So winning the national title this year was a step I needed to take and a goal I needed to accomplish. I’m certainly not stuck on the 5K or the 10K—I’m going to wait and see I guess when we get into the spring. Whatever I decide, the goal will definitely be to improve upon the 12th-place finish [at the Olympic Trials].

Do you have any thoughts on Molly Huddle’s 5,000-meter record (14:42.64)?

At this point, I have to take things one step at a time. My PR right now is so far off that, so I just need to focus on breaking 15 minutes. I don’t even like to say that because I don’t respond well to chasing times. My best races happen when I stop chasing times and just compete. I would like to just focus on beating people I haven’t beaten before, and hopefully fast times will happen also.

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Last winter you focused a lot of training energy toward the mile. This winter you finished second at the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon, and you’re competing in your first U.S. Half Marathon Championships in January. What are you hoping to gain from racing 13.1 miles that will help with your pursuit of the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in 2015?

It’s kind of going toward the opposite end. We developed the bottom end of my range last winter, so we decided to extend my range beyond the 10,000 meters to the half marathon this winter. I ran Healdsburg just as a tempo when I was coming down from altitude. We actually did it as a 12-mile tempo, so I just used the first mile to warm up into it. I wasn’t trying to hit a pace, and I ran the last 12 at a pace that was pre-designated. So it wasn’t really a race, it was just a workout. But then Houston is definitely going to be a race, so that’s what we are gearing the whole winter around—doing well in Houston.

What are you looking to do in Houston?

Getting on the podium is the most important outcome goal for me there, but obviously if I can run fast in the process, that would be even better. It’s just so hard to know at this point what the field will look like, what the conditions will look like. So I’m not sticking myself to a time goal, but we’re training to be around a 70-minute time.

There’s been talk that you’re looking at the marathon in the future. Will we see you in any marathons next year?

It will definitely be in the next Olympic cycle sometime, but beyond that there’s nothing specific planned.