She’s learned a lot since placing sixth at the 2016 marathon trials—and Kellyn Taylor has gotten a lot faster since then, too.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series leading up to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, highlighting the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team. You can find the rest of our coverage here.
In 2016, it was Kellyn Taylor who made the first surge under the relentless Los Angeles sun at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. It was bold and unexpected at mile 12—and while it splintered a big group and defined the race, she ended up in sixth place, outside of making the Olympic team.
Should Taylor decide to make big moves on February 29 in Atlanta, she’s now at a point in her career where it could end in her favor. She’s coming to the 2020 marathon Trials with a 2:24:29 personal best—the fourth-fastest on the list of entrants—and a wealth more experience at the distance. She also placed an agonizing fourth in the 10,000 meters at the 2016 track Trials, which can be a blessing and curse for any athlete, depending on how they utilize that chip on their shoulders.
As a member of Northern Arizona Elite, Taylor has trained all the big miles with fellow contenders Stephanie Bruce and Aliphine Tuliamuk. Though they’ve spent years on the same team, it’s rare for everybody’s racing schedules to align, so the trio has taken special joy in sharing nearly the entire three-month buildup together.
In her most-recent 26.2-mile performance, Taylor came in seventh at the 2019 New York City Marathon in 2:26:52, just steps behind Desiree Linden, who returns to the Trials attempting to make her third Olympic team. Taylor also took a few people by surprise at the U.S.A. Track & Field Outdoor Championships during the summer, finishing third in the 10,000 meters for her first appearance on a national championships podium.
Taylor, a trained firefighter, mom to daughter, Kylyn, and a foster parent, is known as one of the toughest athletes on the U.S. pro-running scene. She’s also one of the most self-critical. So when she says she’s ready to contend for the win at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, it’s easy to believe in her confidence.
“We’re all very fit. We hit all of our workouts. Nothing was bad. I had days where I didn’t feel great, but could still do the work, so you can take some good from that,” she said. “The days where you really have to grind are the days you can get a lot out of it from a mental standpoint.
“I just have to show up on the day and do the work.”
Olympic Trials Qualifying Time: 2:24:29 (2018 Grandma’s Marathon)
Marathon PR: 2:24:29 (2018 Grandma’s Marathon)
Peak weekly mileage: 120 miles per week
Favorite workout: A four-mile tempo followed by 10 miles that alternate between 50 seconds slower than tempo and marathon effort, followed by another four-mile tempo run. The group did the workout once during the last eight weeks of training.
“You’re getting a really solid 18 miles of work with 11 miles actually at marathon effort,” Taylor said. “The other miles aren’t slow by any means—it’s a good [race] simulator with those four miles at the end on tired legs. That’s how it should feel at the end of a race.”
Best part of training for the Olympic Trials: Taylor reflects fondly on the latter half of the training block, when it seemed that she felt better during the harder efforts. She and her husband, Kyle, are foster parents and had a baby in their care during the first part of the block, along with some illness coming through the household.
“The first seven weeks of the segment were a little bit rough for me—not because I wasn’t hitting the paces, but they didn’t feel how I wanted them to feel. I hit everything, but it didn’t feel normal,” Taylor said. “Later in the segment I felt better from a cardiovascular standpoint. That’s not normally how my training goes. Usually my segments are really great early on and I feel fantastic, then I get sick and I’m kind of hoping to make it to the race and stay put together.”
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15 x mile with my crew. We crushed. Alternating pace & leads with 1 min rest 5:33/5:19/5:28/5:25/5:34/5:23/5:32/5:24/5:29/5:24/5:30/5:21/5:34/5:19/5:31 3 mile warm up and 3 mile cool down plus an evening 4 miles Today was a tough day…our foster babies left us early this morning 💔. One we have had 6.5 of the 7 weeks of his life and the other was adjusted, happy and thriving. The system is broken and it makes me sad for these kids but that’s a novel for another day. I made it through the workout without incident but discussing it in the first half mile of our cool down I found myself unable to breath and choking on tears (That’s a first). We stopped, had a group cry and hug and we were on our way to finish our run. It was a tough moment but one I am grateful for. Thankful for these ladies and for a body that allows me to do these silly workouts. Onward
Worst part of the training for the Olympic Trials: No one day was a disaster for Taylor this time—just that lump of time in the beginning of training.
“I just didn’t feel like myself,” she said. “But it was nice to get through that and feel like I’m on the right side of things now.”
Best piece of advice or encouragement given: Taylor doesn’t allow herself to be constrained by expectations—her own or anybody else’s.
“Part of the reason I’ve gotten as far as I have in running is because I don’t put a limit on myself,” she said. “I think it’s important to constantly believe in yourself and the things you think you can do—and not necessarily what people think you can or can’t do.”
Taper tantrums: Just like the rest of us, the taper brings on the niggles for Taylor. With reduced mileage and less intensity, the legs hurt. Or the back hurts. Or whatever it is—it hurts. In the end, if she survives the recovery time, she admits to enjoying that refreshed feeling.
“Usually I hate the taper—I could have a whole training segment where my body was 100 percent and then I wake up the day the taper starts and I’m like, ‘What the heck just happened? My leg hurts,’” Taylor said, laughing. “I think Coach Ben [Rosario] thinks it’s all mental. I think it’s because our bodies are used to doing a lot of work and all of a sudden we’re not doing that much work anymore and we spaz out.”
Pre-race superstition or good luck routine: Taylor doesn’t have hard-and-fast rules for pre-race routines or good luck charms, but she likes to watch some television or a movie the morning of the race.
“It can be any genre, but I feel really calm and I don’t get super nervous either,” she said. “It’s insignificant in regards to what I watch, it’s just to kill the time. I get up four hours before a race, so what else am I going to do?”
Race-day shoes: A new Hoka racing shoe that hasn’t been released to the public.
Looking forward to most on race day: Executing.
“Getting it done. The focus of the race is to put yourself in it and do what I came to do, which is make the team,” Taylor said. “The idea is to win the race. You want to get from point A to point B faster than anybody else. That’s what I’m going to try to do—if I take second or third, I don’t know if I’d be disappointed in that.”
Dreading on race day: Usually Taylor doesn’t love the early wakeup calls for races, but because the Olympic Marathon Trials don’t start until 12:20 p.m. (Eastern), she can’t think of one thing she’s not looking forward to on February 20.
Impressions of the Olympic Marathon Trials course: After running on the course in the fall, Taylor agrees with the consensus that it’s tough and constantly rolling. But she doesn’t fear it.
“It doesn’t intimidate me,” she said. “It never really did. I know we’re prepared for it. We did a lot of things that were up and down hills. We were at altitude, so that amplified it. We’re prepared for whatever it throws at us.”
Support crew in Atlanta: Taylor’s husband, Kyle, their daughter, Kylyn, and Taylor’s parents, sister, her sister’s fiancé; Kyle’s aunt and uncle, sister, and mom.
“My high school coach will be there as well, so it’s a nice little crew,” she said. “One of my high school friends said they’re having a viewing party for me, too.”
Morning routine for a late start time: She’s going to try to sleep until 8 a.m., but as a natural early bird, Taylor isn’t hopeful she’ll make it that long. She’ll just relax in the hotel room, sip coffee, and get her breakfast ready while she finds something entertaining to watch on TV.
Olympic Trials breakfast fuel: Nothing fancy for Taylor—she keeps pre-race fuel simple and bland. Coffee and white rice with butter and salt.
Race-day mantra: She has a mantra for every marathon and it differs from race to race. Sometimes it comes to her during training and sometimes it comes to her on the day. Taylor bought a small message board from Target during the buildup where she spelled out, “I can, I will.” She also has said, “watch me,” to herself often.
“Basically, I’m saying, ‘Watch me do what you don’t think I can do,’” she said.
Walk-up song, if you had one as a pro runner: A true indication that she’s spent a lot of time with her training partner Stephanie Bruce, a devout “Rocky” fan, Taylor also (independently) chose, “Eye of the Tiger,” by Survivor.
Slow and strategic or fast and furious: Taylor’s preference is somewhere in between.
“You don’t want it to go out blazing fast to where you’re not going to make it,” she said. “But you also don’t want to be crawling along. I think I’d prefer faster rather than slower, only because it would weed out a lot of people.”
Post-race plans: She’s dreaming of hobbling back to the hotel room (after press conferences, because she’s made the team, of course), crawling into bed, and eating a pizza delivered by her husband, with lots of cheese and a glass of wine. Longer-term, she thinks heading down to Disney World might be in the cards instead of going straight home to Arizona.
“My daughter’s spring break is also a few weeks after the race, so we’ll do something really fun,” she said. “We’ll take that time because whether you make the team or not, you need a hard reset to either get excited for Tokyo training or ramped up for track.”
How she’ll know that she did everything she could, even if she doesn’t make the team: Taylor is usually quick to recall something she could have done differently or better. She may even do that if she makes the team.
“I think if I hit my goal, I’ll be content. If I don’t, I won’t be and will have something in the race where I can say, ‘I should have done this or that,’” she said. “I’m pretty critical of myself.”
Celebration beverage of choice: Red wine. But if she can muster the strength to keep going, she and her teammates are dreaming big.
“We were out on a run talking a big game—we’re all making the team, then we’re all going to go out and have shots,” Taylor said, laughing. “You know that we’d be on the ground after two shots, but it was still fun to talk about.”