When Taylor Roe took the starting line for Oklahoma State University’s first women’s cross country race this fall, she didn’t know what to expect.
The Lake Stevens High School graduate had a legendary prep distance-running career, but her first season in college fell short of her goals. With the coronavirus pandemic playing havoc with her sophomore campaign, forcing a condensed racing schedule and upsetting training routines, Roe had no idea how she would perform.
But one thing that wasn’t on her radar of expected outcomes was a major breakthrough thrusting her into the All-American conversation.
Roe busted out in a big way this fall, placing second at the Big 12 Cross Country Championship. That came as a surprise, even to someone who’s used to running at the front of the pack.
“I performed way beyond my expectations coming in,” Roe said when reached via cell phone from Stillwater, Oklahoma. “I did not expect this at all. I couldn’t be happier or more thrilled. I’m really grateful to have had an improvement.”
Roe is among the greatest distance runners ever produced by Snohomish County. The 2019 Lake Stevens graduate was a nine-time state champion in cross country and track and field, and she was named The Herald’s 2019 Girls Athlete of the Year for her accomplishments.
But being a star in high school didn’t give Roe a ticket for having an immediate impact at the college level. Last year Roe ran in four of OSU’s cross country races, earning the Cowgirls points in just two of those. Her best result came in last year’s Big 12 Cross Country Championship, when she placed 16th.
“I was definitely disappointed, but I think I needed that because that set me up for just having more fire and working harder and understanding what it takes to be good,” Roe said.
So Roe got to work. Hard. She began putting in 60 miles a week in training, which was double what she did during high school.
“I was running more miles than I’d ever run before in my life,” Roe said. “It was week after week of training and consistently working hard.
“It was hard,” Roe added. “It was an adjustment. But the coaches have been so great. I definitely had to take my freshman year as a stepping stone, not jump right into the mileage I’m doing now, but gradually get there. I would not have been able to handle it last year.”
Despite ramping up her training, Roe didn’t know how that would translate into races. Especially since a scrambled-together three-race schedule didn’t allow runners to work themselves into top form over the course of a full season.
OSU’s first race of the season, the Cowboy Jamboree on Oct. 3 in Stillwater, was the eye-opener. Facing a strong field that included most of the Big 12, Roe finished second in the 6-kilometer race in a time of 20 minutes, 50.1 seconds. The only runner who finished ahead of her was Iowa State senior Cailie Logue, the two-time defending Big 12 champion.
“I was pretty nervous about the first race because last year I really struggled with cross country and racing a 6K,” Roe said. “So me and the coaches decided to just play it more conservative for the first half of the race, and once I got to the halfway point I’d see how I felt and see if I could move up a little bit. I started to gain on the leader, so after that race I knew I was more fit than I thought and I was excited.”
Roe followed up with another second-place finish at the OSU Invitational on Oct. 17, also in Stillwater, which reaffirmed Roe’s improvement. Then at the Big 12 Championship on Oct. 30 in Lawrence, Kansas, Roe stuck with Logue through the first half of the race before Logue pulled away late. Roe finished the race in 20:07.8, which was 7.3 seconds behind Logue and 40.6 seconds ahead of her teammate Gabby Hentemann, who placed third. The time was more than a minute better than her best 6K time from 2019.
“After racing the first two races I decided to stick with (Logue),” Roe said. “There were definitely places in the race where I thought I had it, but she’s a good competitor and it was a great race.”
Roe expressed gratitude for even being able to compete at all, given that schools in large swaths of the country have yet to resume most sports because of the pandemic. Indeed, Roe said the winter’s indoor track and field season is likely in jeopardy. However, there’s the possibility of a second cross country season in the late winter as a lead-in to nationals, and Roe’s performances this fall have her readjusting her goals.
“It’s definitely shifted my goals and pushed me to look farther and not set limits on myself,” Roe said. “I’m not sure how qualifying for nationals will be, but I would hope to qualify — hopefully we qualify as a team and we all go, but individually otherwise. And my goal is to be an All-American.”
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