Skip to content

Breaking News

Michael Sandrock: Nell Rojas uses dad’s coaching to prepare for U.S. Olympic trails marathon

Nell trains with a long run before Grandma’s Marathon in 2019. (Ric Rojas, Courtesy photo)
Nell trains with a long run before Grandma’s Marathon in 2019. (Ric Rojas, Courtesy photo)

Boulder native Nell Rojas was not yet a “twinkle in her father’s eye” when her Dad, Ric Rojas, won the inaugural Bolder Boulder 10K in 1979, beating Olympic marathon gold and silver medalist Frank Shorter.

Rick Rojas later set the world best for 15K on the roads. When it came time to coach his daughter after she graduated from Northern Arizona University, Ric turned to lessons gleaned from his and Shorter’s careers in preparing Nell for a steady progression. That progression culminated in a breakthrough June win at the Duluth Grandma’s Marathon.

Nell Rojas and her father Ric Rojas celebrate after a race win in Fort Collins in 2019. (Ric Rojas, Courtesy photo)

Nell’s winning time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, six seconds ranks her 10th among the women racing the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Marathon Feb. 29 in Atlanta, Ga. She is among roughly 45 qualifiers from Boulder County. At a recent gathering of local qualifiers at In Motion Running, Nell spoke about her feelings heading into the biggest race of her career.

“I am just starting to feel better this week,” said Nell, 32, a local favorite because of her long ties here and her 2019 Bolder Boulder citizens’ race win. “I didn’t feel any pressure going into Grandma’s.”

Afterward, thanks to Instagram posts from a team of qualifiers saying they were running workouts of 15×1 mile, Nell became anxious and overdid it. That lead to an illness and trail running injury.

Now, rested and ready, she will use the same patient strategy that got her to the Trials and propelled her dad and Shorter to the top of the running world. After the talk, which featured past Boulder U.S. Olympic marathon team members Shorter, Benji Durden and Colleen De Reuck, Nell stayed until well past closing time, listening intently to Shorter and fellow international racer Pablo Vigil talk about training.

“I got a lot of good advice here, same as my dad’s,” said Nell. “Don’t overdo it. It is all about effort. Be smart. My dad always told me he based my training off of Frank’s training, and said we will concentrate on leg speed the final month. It’s good that I don’t have to do 15 by a mile.”

Shorter told Nell he “never wanted to wake up the day of a workout feeling like (expletive) about running the workout, and wondering how to get out of it.”

In a recent interview, Ric explained he and his daughter, owner of the Rise strength gym, are “methodical” about their training. “We don’t run gratuitous/unproductive miles and Nell believes in my training and racing philosophy. Nell is talented, but I am more proud of her for being smart, intuitive, patient, analytical, and coachable than anything else.

“She has a future in marathoning and will hopefully make the best of it. Making an Olympic team would simply be icing on an already great marathon career cake. I was not a great marathoner, so I am happy that someone in the family is good at them.”

Ric added he “would not trust anyone else to coach Nell. The first thing they would do is try to increase her mileage and forsake the high-quality training that has worked so well for her. I told her that Frank Shorter never did more than 5 by 1 mile in training. He focused on quality in both training and racing and became the most successful U.S. marathoner ever.

“Now I see these women posting workouts like 15 x 1 mile and men posting 5 x 5K. This format is not only counter-productive, but dangerous, and the U.S. marathon times bear my observation out. Very few U.S. women are running under 2:30.”

The key is what Shrote told the qualifiers — that only a handful of the entrants will show up on Feb. 29 and run their best race. The runners just have to be among those that do show up 100 percent ready and tell themselves finishing in the top three is all that is needed.

Shorter added later ¨I’ve said for years that 10 could win and usually three will have a good day. So Nell is in the mix.”

One of Nell’s many fans, Henry Guzman, owner of 303Running, agrees with Shorter, saying “Nell races with such tenacity that it just takes over and there is no fear. I think she has a great chance because {the Trials} marathon is a strength course and she is an extremely smart, strong runner.”

Guzman is selling ¨Go Nell¨ shirts at and at In Motion Running, with proceeds donated to Beyond Limits.

However, there will be scores of fit, fast, motivated women racing in Atlanta, and making the 2020 Olympic marathon team that will race in Tokyo is not guaranteed for any of them. Which is why it was so nice to hear what Nell’s mom, Mary Dahlstrom, said as we left In Motion. She said whether the qualifiers racing Feb. 29 make the team or not, their family and friends will care about them and love them just the same.

As Dahlstrom said about her daughter, “I just want Nell to be happy with her effort.”