Tuesday, March 26, 2013

GO! St. Louis spotlight: Matt Llano would love some company

Matt Llano
Matthew Llano wants to be alone at the finish, but he'd sure appreciate some company along the way. Thus, he joined the elite field for the GO! St. Louis half-marathon, April 7, thinking that runners of similar abilities will bring out the best in each other. He hopes he's just that little bit more than the others.

A native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and former resident of Chesapeake, Va., Llano was an All-American at the University of Richmond. He graduated in 2011 and moved to Flagstaff, AZ, last June. 

Llano finished seventh in the 2012 U.S. Half-Marathon Championships in Houston, where he set his PR of 1:03:26 at the distance. Most recently, he placed 25th in the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Fla., which doubles as the U.S. 15K championships.

We caught up with Llano, who shared his thoughts on the coming race:

What drew you to the GO! race, other than the prodding of Ben Rosario, director of the elite racing program?

"It seems like what the race is doing is providing a great opportunity for athletes like myself to have a chance to win prize money and change the trajectory of a career. He mentioned all the things the race was doing media-wise. That's a good thing, too, for someone like myself, trying to get my name out there. When you're trying to do this on your own, it's a different world."

You've never raced in St. Louis, so what have you heard and what do you know about the elite field?

"The only things I know are the Cardinals and the Arch. Ben mentioned a little, that it's hilly. I prefer a hilly course. It helps keep you mentally engaged. Some of the races I run are pancake-flat, and you can see for miles where the race is going. You can lose touch with your goals. 

"The hotter and more humid, the better. That goes against what most runners will say."

The race is unique in that it's offering so much prize money: a $40,000 purse, with $10,000 each for the first-place man and woman. Do you think is a sustainable niche?

"I've not seen anything like this before, which is what I like about it. A lot of races have money that goes to the top, established, elite runners as an appearance fee. Or, they are decreasing prize money. I think this is a great way to encourage athletes to stay in the sport. With the way contracts are, it's very difficult for people coming out of college to stay in it. If I saw more races doing it this way, I'd be thrilled."

What did you learn from your first half-marathon in Houston?

"I had mixed feelings about the race. It was my first half-marathon, so I was happy running 1:03. But for a lot of the race, I was on my own. I think if I was able to stay in contact with the lead group, I would have run faster. I came away knowing that I'm able to run much better than that for a half.

"Having other people around me of similar ability will help make it a race in St. Louis, rather than a time trial. We'll all know that we have a chance to win. Whereas in Houston, we had guys who had run under 60 minutes, so you knew it wasn't likely that you would win."

What are your goals here?

"The main goal is to win, but it's also to compete hard. I've been on a little bit of a hiatus from racing since June. (Injuries hampered his training until December). "

Follow Matt on twitter.

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