Kim Conley probably isn’t the first elite runner to transition from 10,000 meters to 5,000 meters to 26.2 miles. On the other hand, she might be the first to do all of that in a span of four months.
Conley, a Santa Rosa native and two-time Olympian, will run her first marathon in New York City on Nov. 6. It’s a major change of pace for Conley, a Montgomery High graduate, but she has done this sort of thing before.
Conley qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in both the 5K and the 10K this year, but for months she targeted the longer distance. Then she was knocked out of the 10,000 at the trials in late July when a competitor inadvertently spiked her in the foot. Conley immediately refocused on the 5,000 and finished third in the final eight days later, earning her second Olympic appearance at that distance.
Conley didn’t make it out of the first round in Rio de Janeiro. Four years earlier, after running at the London Games, she had almost too much time for reflection. This time there was no time for self-pity.
“In 2012 I felt like I had a lot to prove still,” Conley said. “Because I was afraid a little bit that people thought that making the team had been a fluke, just because it was such a surprise to the entire world. So coming off of this Olympics, it’s helped a lot to have something to immediately transition to.”
That something is more than 26 miles long. As most of her Team USA peers took a little time off and caught their breath upon returning from Rio in August, Conley went right into marathon mode.
That was the plan all along, but it was devised only after a lot of soul searching by Conley and her coach Drew Wartenburg, who also happens to be her husband.
“Bridging the gap between track season and the marathon debut and track season, and even more so, extending what has been a long year probably constituted the biggest area of concern, in terms of the physical demands,” Wartenburg said.
He was also worried a bit about what he calls “the physical-emotional or the psycho-social blend” of training that intensively for that long.
But Conley sounded upbeat about her never-ending track season as she spoke by phone from Sacramento, where she lives and trains.
“I’m feeling really good,” she said. “I feel like I’ve taken really well to the training. And it’s different enough from what we do in a track season that I kind of felt like I’d turned a page on the track season and was starting something new, even though I didn’t physically take the break.”
Conley went straight from Brazil to Flagstaff, Arizona, for four weeks of running at high elevation, and returned to Sacramento at the end of September. Her marathon training has been a new level of effort, even for an Olympian. Conley said she has averaged about 105 miles per week, pretty much every week since she returned from Rio.
In adapting to the marathon, Conley has been forced to slow her pace by as much as 40 seconds per mile, while increasing the mileage.