Since 2004, inaugural year of the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon & Half Marathon, runners have come to Phoenix seeking to qualify or tune up for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
The January race has not always lined up ahead of the trials, which were held in November 2007 for the men and a day before RnR Arizona in 2012 for men and women.
This year, though, RnR Arizona on Sunday coming six weeks before the trials, Feb. 29 in Atlanta, makes it an ideal destination for last-chance qualifying and a slew of high-profile runners in their final race before trying to make it to the Tokyo Olympics.
Four of Northern Arizona Elite’s trials contenders are entered in the RnR Arizona half marathon with the other running in Houston instead. NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario expects one or more to be on the Olympic team, three men and three women for races actually being held in Sapporo (500 miles from Tokyo) due to heat concerns.
“There would be major, major level of disappointment if we did not make the marathon team,” Rosario said. “There’s inherent pressure from making a statement like that, but it’s just the truth. It’s kind of a cool thing we’ve gotten to that point. The numbers weren’t there (in 2016) and these folks weren’t in the same place in their career they are now. Now we really should make the team in my opinion.”
On paper, Scott Fauble and Kellyn Taylor are NAZ Elite’s top Olympic contenders. But Scott Smith, Stephanie Bruce and Aliphine Tuliamuk are in the hunt too from the pro running group founded in 2014. Sid Vaughn of NAZ Elite also is qualified for the trials and running in the RnR Arizona half.
Rosario believes Fauble, 28, can make the Olympic team by replicating his performance at the 2019 Boston Marathon, when he was the top American and seventh overall in 2:09.09. The Atlanta trials course has even more uphill and downhill sections than Boston.
“The terrain in Flagstaff is such that we can find really hilly sections of road to do workouts on and simulate Atlanta but at 7,000 feet,” Rosario said. “What we’re trying to essentially do is run on courses that are a little bit harder and more dynamic so Atlanta can feel familiar.”
Taylor, 33, has a recent body of work that rivals other trials contenders in what her agent Josh Cox sees as a “golden age” of U.S. women’s marathoning. She ran 2:28 and 2:29 at London and New York in 2017, a course record 2:24.28 at the 2018 Grandma’s Marathon then 2:26 at Prague and New York (seventh place) in 2019.
“She’s right up and the short list with any American female distance athlete,” Cox said. “Grandma’s wasn’t plan A, but we had to find her another race after Boston,” where Taylor didn’t finish due to rain and frigid weather. “She went there (to Grandma’s), blew the doors off and ran the kind of race she knew she was capable of.”
Smith, 33, and Bruce, who turned 36 on Tuesday, ran personal bests 2:11.14 and 2:27.47 at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. Smith has been suffering from the flu this week and might be forced to scratch from Sunday’s race. Bruce grew up in Phoenix, attending Xavier Prep, and won the 2018 RnR Arizona half.
Two-time Olympian Desiree Linden, an Arizona State Athletic Hall of Famer, is in metro Phoenix training for the trials but will not race Sunday. Sara Hall of Flagstaff is running in Houston. Both also are represented by Cox.
Those entered in the RnR Arizona marathon trying to qualify for the trials include David Marley, Brendan Sage, Matt Hazel, Steve Hallman and James Stevenson. They must run 2:19.00 or faster, which would be the fastest winning time since Cox’s 2:17.32 in 2011.
The women’s marathon field includes Heather Laptalo, Emma Ulmer, Tara Kaur and Susie Duke among others trying to make the women’s trials B qualifying cut of 2:45.00 or faster.
Bailey Drewes and Kate Landau, the 2017 and 2018 RnR Arizona marathon women’s champions, are qualifed for the trials as is Tanaya Gallagher of Sedona coming off her 2018 runner-up time here.
More than 16,000 participants are expected in the 17th RnR Arizona, including 10K, 5K and Kids Rock events, the latter two on Saturday. The race expo is Friday and Saturday at the Phoenix Convention Center. The Gin Blossoms are performing at the post-race concert at Tempe Beach Park.
Where: Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe.
Expo: Phoenix Convention Center, 12-7 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
Marathon start: 7:50 a.m., Van Buren and Second Street, Phoenix.
Half marathon start: 7:50 a.m., University Drive and College Avenue, Tempe.
Finish line (both races): Rio Salado Parkway and Ash, Tempe.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-444-8053. Follow him on Twitter @jeffmetcalfe.
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