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Onto The Radar: Interview with Kellyn Taylor

The 28-year-old from Flagstaff emerged as a contender for the 2016 Olympic team with a 2:28:40 marathon debut this past Sunday.

The 28-year-old from Flagstaff emerged as a contender for the 2016 Olympic team with a 2:28:40 marathon debut this past Sunday. 

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon is just over a year away with three highly coveted tickets to Rio up for grabs in Los Angeles next February. While the 2012 U.S. team of Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Linden and Kara Goucher will all be vying for a return trip, a number of new contenders have emerged since the last trials in Houston three years ago.

At last Sunday’s Houston Marathon, Kellyn Taylor, a 28-year-old member of Flagstaff-based Northern Arizona Elite, came on the radar of potential ticket punchers with a sizzling 2:28:40, sixth-place finish in her debut at the distance. Taylor’s time, which ranks as the sixth-fastest American debut ever, would have made her the fourth fastest female marathoner in the U.S. last year behind Flanagan, Linden and Amy Hastings, who finished a heartbreaking fourth at the 2012 Trials.

RELATED: Northern Arizona Elite Beginning to Make Its Mark

Taylor, who ran collegiality at Wichita State, has a 4-year-old daughter and is currently studying to be a firefighter. She is coming off a solid 2014 racing campaign that saw her finish fourth at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in Boulder last February, and win the U.S. 25K title on the roads by nearly two minutes last May. She also nabbed a 5K personal best of 15:21 on the track, finished fourth at the 10K national road racing championship in July and won the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon in October.

“We’ve said that 2015 is all about putting yourself in position to make the team in 2016,” her coach, Ben Rosario, said in a press release. “Kellyn still has a lot of work to do of course, but she can now feel confident that she’ll be standing on that line next February with a real shot.” caught up with Taylor a few days after her impressive debut in Houston and got her thoughts on the race, her prospects for 2016 and how she juggles the demands of being a mom and student with the grueling schedule of an elite athlete.

Kellyn, congratulations on an outstanding marathon debut this past weekend in Houston. Looking back at your performance a day or so later, what are your thoughts on how the race played out and did the end result line up with your own and coach Ben Rosario’s pre-race expectations?

Thank you! Looking back on the race I don’t think there was anything I would’ve done different. Although I hit a solid time, I did fall short of the goal [coach] Ben [Rosario] and I had set and that is disappointing. It may seem silly to say I’m disappointed with a 2:28 but I really hate not meeting my goals. My training was all based around running between 5:36 and 5:38 per mile, so that’s what I set out to do on race day. Thanks to the help of Carlos Trujillo, who paced me to 24 miles, I was able to stay on pace until the last two miles, and then came the beginning of the end. Cardiovascularly the pace felt relatively easy but my body broke down completely at mile 24. With those two miles my overall time increased by about a minute, making my mostly 2:27 effort a 2:28. Such is the marathon I suppose. I learned a lot. I now have a base time and an idea of what I need to do to improve.

You’ve had some good success at a variety of other distances, including cross country. Would you consider yourself a marathoner now, and how does this past weekend’s performance change your approach as we get closer to the 2016 Olympic year?

I have never really considered myself anything but a runner. I have never been good enough at any particular distance to allocate myself a specialist in any particular field. I kind of like being a jack of all trades but I do want something that I can be great at and the marathon has given me more promise in one race than any of the other distances have in my whole career. I still refuse to call myself a marathoner solely because I love track and I have actually improved every year. I feel confident that I will continue to develop in track and that will only help to make me a better marathoner.

Your 2:28 on Sunday is the sixth fastest U.S. debut ever and would have ranked you fourth in the U.S. in 2014 behind Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden and Amy Hastings. Obviously anything can happen in a race like the Olympic Trials, but what kind of effort will it take for you to make the team in the marathon a year from you?

I’m not sure what its going to take but I do know that I am going to do whatever it takes to be on that team. There are a lot of great women that will be lining up at that starting line and the reality is that anyone who is on that line has a chance.

Heading into the marathon this past Sunday, did you have any workouts, races or breakthrough moments that gave you the confidence to know you were ready to run sub-2:30?

I went into marathon training with the goal of running sub 2:28. Maybe I was naive because I had never done actual marathon training or anything that would make it seem I was capable of that but I just thought I could. I think that in order to do anything great you have to be bold. You have to put yourself out there and you may fail but you also leave yourself with the possibility of succeeding. I didn’t quite hit my goal but boy was I close. We started off with training for just sub 2:30—this was more Ben than me. I was ready to hammer 2:28 work and I made it apparent after the first few workouts. He adjusted my workouts to be 2:27-2:28 pace. I don’t think I could’ve had a better training cycle. I had a couple of good workouts and a lot of great [ones] but I didn’t have a single bad workout. The workout that gave me the most confidence was a 16-mile steady state at 5:33 average pace—too fast but still a confidence booster.

Your story is an interesting one, as you’re an elite level athlete and a mom who’s also studying to become a firefighter. How do you juggle the demands of all three of these full-time jobs?

You learn to prioritize or else you miss out on things. Being an elite runner requires you to be selfish and being a mother requires you to be completely unselfish, so they clash in that sense. I often have to compromise and I certainly don’t get to live the runner lifestyle. I don’t have the luxury of naps after hard workouts but instead have to “race” with my 4-year-old. I often don’t get to go to bed early because I’m studying or doing homework. Most of my second runs are done on the treadmill at 9 p.m. because my husband works second shift and my daughter is sleeping. Fortunately I have an amazing husband who supports me and everything I aspire to do. You really just have to do your best because nobody has it perfectly figured out. At times it is exhausting but I truly love being a mom and a runner and I can’t wait to become a firefighter.

Your training group, Northern Arizona Elite, has seen many of its athletes experience success in the past year. What does it mean to you to be part of the group and how has the group training dynamic, along with its collective successes in the past year, impacted your own career as an elite athlete?

I am so grateful to Ben and [his wife] Jen for letting me be a part of this awesome group a year ago. I have never had a coach who has invested so much into his passion and vision. It is so clear to see that he wants it as bad as we want it and he truly believes that we have what it takes to get to Rio in 2016. Our sport needs more coaches like him. Our group dynamic is amazing. We all get along and are at a similar caliber. I think that we feed off of one another’s success. I can honestly say that I am genuinely happy for my teammates when they do well, even if it means they beat me. We continually push each other to get better. I don’t think I would be where I am right now if I didn’t have them. They are the best and I consider myself very lucky.