Matt Llano lined up at the 2016 Olympic Trials with the hopes of making his first Olympic team. With a marathon PR of 2:12:28, he was one of the fastest athletes going into the race. He finished in 6th place on an extremely hot day— but his story definitely does not end there.
Matt currently trains with NAZ Elite in Flagstaff, AZ under coach Ben Rosario. He has a blazing marathon PR or 2:12:28, half marathon PR of 1:01:47 (top 20 U.S. time ever), along with some other speedy times in shorter races as well:
5,000m – 14:00.01 (2011)
10,000m – 28:43.3 (2011)
12k – 34:49 (2013)
20k – 58:33 (2014)*
Half Marathon – 1:01:47 (2014)
Marathon – 2:12:28 (2015)
And his favorite workout? Many many miles at marathon pace! Read on about his training and workout:
What is your favorite motivational quote?
My favorite quote is actually from a movie I’ve never even seen (Vanilla Sky):
“What is any life without the pursuit of a dream?”
I’m not sure what context it holds in the story-line, but I find it so inspiring and applicable to anyone who aspires to achieve any goal, big or small. This quote motivates me to jump out of bed every morning and keep working towards everything I have left to accomplish.
What has been one of your most challenging and rewarding workouts since you began marathon training?
This is a tough question! My coach and I have a stable of challenging marathon workouts, but if I had to pick one it would probably be 16 to 18 miles at goal marathon pace (if we’re at sea level) or marathon effort (if we’re at altitude) plus 3 miles each for the warm-up and cool-down. This long run workout is our most specific to the marathon itself, so it’s one we always want to nail in training.
When we’re able to accomplish the goal paces, that’s when we really know we’re ready for the big day. It usually falls about 3 weeks before the race, and as such, it’s a really good opportunity to treat it as a marathon simulation. We try to emulate whatever we’ll face with that particular marathon, especially the terrain of the course and the weather conditions. In my buildup to the US Olympic Marathon Trials, I averaged 4:58 or 4:59 per mile in this workout (at 1,500 ft elevation on a fairly difficult course). How we do it:
Easy 2 to 3 mile warm-up
20 to 30 minutes of dynamic stretching, drills, and strides
16 to 18 miles continuous at marathon pace/effort (I usually use 4:57 as goal MP, which equates to a 2:10 marathon; marathon effort depends on the elevation of where we do the workout)
Easy 2 to 3 mile cool-down
How do you get motivated to stay strong when a longer workout starts to hurt?
I’m privileged to have a great training group and support network here in Flagstaff with Hoka One One Northern Arizona Elite. While I used to do a lot of my workouts on my own, I was fortunate in my Olympic Marathon Trials buildup to have a few teammates to share the pain with when workouts got tough. The mere presence of other people, whether running or on a bike or in a car, helps motivate me to keep going. I also try to remind myself of my goals as often as possible and use a lot of visualization in training. Chances are that a race is going to really hurt at some point, so it’s a good opportunity to practice how I want my body and mind to respond to that challenge when it presents itself.
How do you prepare for a big workout? (sleep, nutrition, mentality, etc.)
Other runners have said it before, but it’s so true: my life is like the movie Groundhog Day. I do almost exactly the same thing every day, so preparing for a big workout isn’t all that much different from what I’d do to prepare for an easy run. As far as food goes, I’ve been playing around with periodizing my carbohydrate intake a bit to find what works best for me, so typically the night before the workout I’ll make sure to eat something carbohydrate-rich (my go-to options are usually sweet potatoes or rice) along with salmon and some veggies.
For breakfast the morning of, I drink lots of water and take a Red Ace Organics beet shot and then eat some teff pancakes or toast with almond butter. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I’ll usually have a big mug of green tea alongside breakfast as well. Sleep isn’t any different for workout days – I usually try to sleep about 9 to 10 hours a night and get up several hours before the workout to make sure my body has a chance to loosen up throughout the morning.
This is also when my R3 and R8 come into play – they’re two of my go-to modalities for loosening up muscles tight from 10 hours of inactivity. It’s also essential that I prepare myself mentally for the challenges each particular workout will present. I try not to discriminate too much with regard to the difficulty of the workouts, because I’ve found that doing so can make “easier” workouts actually feel more challenging. My thinking is that if I don’t amp myself up for every workout, I sometimes lack adrenaline and feel flat in the workout; whereas, if I respect each workout and the place it has in my training plan, I usually feel better and can get more out of it and myself.
Tell us a little about your recovery routine after a hard workout:
The first thing I do after a hard workout is the cool-down, which is usually comprised of about 3 miles of easy running. After that, my focus shifts to nutrition – I try to get in some carbs, protein, and replacement fluids as close to the completion of the workout as I can manage, which I often accomplish with some kind of smoothie for quick absorption and tasty satisfaction.
While I’m sipping on the smoothie, I’ll drive back to my house and do some more rolling with my Roll Recovery products as well as a foam roller. I’ll typically lie down for a nap shortly thereafter, and I follow that up with lunch and another run later in the day to flush the legs out. That night I’ll probably take an epsom salt bath as well. The recovery process for a marathoner never really ends!
What did you hope to accomplish at the marathon Olympic Trials?
As I stated going into the Trials, my goal was to make the US Olympic Marathon Team. While I fell a little short on achieving that goal (I finished 6th) and was disappointed and heartbroken, I feel as though I competed well and added another notch of experience to my marathon belt. I’m confident that I will be a stronger athlete as a result of the experience.
We are excited to now sponsor NAZ Elite as a group. It seems (via social media) that there is a great team dynamic. How has training in Flagstaff with NAZ Elite changed your training and living (if it has)?
Training in Flagstaff with HOKA NAZ Elite is literally a dream come true, as cliché as that may sound. I moved to Flagstaff in the Summer of 2012 with no coach, no training partners, no financial support, etc. I couldn’t even beg myself into the training group that was in town at the time (but that didn’t stop me from trying!). Then I went for a run with Ben Rosario in the Spring of 2013 and saw a glimmer of hope.
He talked to me about the idea of starting a new professional group in town and asked if I’d want to be part of it. I loved Ben’s enthusiasm, so I thought there would be no harm in going for it. That’s when we started Team Run Fan, which we later re-branded to become Northern Arizona Elite, and then HOKA Northern Arizona Elite. The team is comprised of talented, but more importantly hard-working, athletes who have the potential to make World Championship and Olympic Teams, who believe they can, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
Outside of chasing after ambitious goals in training and racing, we’re genuinely close with one another on a personal level as well. Some might argue that we spend too much time together, but I honestly can’t get enough of my teammates!