- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

Running

Dana Coons enjoys traveling nearly as much as she enjoys running.

Lately, the 26-year-old from Vienna has been enjoying both. Reached at her current home in Minneapolis, Coons still was shaking off the jet lag from competing for the U.S. team in the Ekiden Relay in Chiba, Japan, on Tuesday.

“They were all really nice,” Coons said of the hosts. “It was a neat trip.”

Coons, a 2001 University of Virginia graduate, is a rising star in distance running who was chosen to participate with five other women in the popular relay event. Coons was the team anchor, after legs of 10K, 5K, 10K, 5K and 4.767K.

She had to run 7.248 kilometers, which was the first, and perhaps only, time she will ever run that odd distance.

“When I finished the race, I thought I did all right,” she said. “Then I found out I was 13th out of 15. I was disappointed. But [my time] was about what the American gals have done in the past. I’m not in the best shape of my life.”

That’s because Coons has been struggling to regain her form after a rough 2003, when a knee injury forced her to the sideline for five months. She said the injury coincided with her transfer from Charlottesville to join the Team USA Minnesota training center in September 2003.

“I probably just went too hard,” she said, of ramping up her distance and intensity with top-notched training partners.

With a modest monthly stipend, free medical support and free use of a gym, six women and five men comprise Team USA Minnesota. Coons said she just needs to work part time at a local running store to cover living expenses while she trains. Prize money also helps pay the bills.

Coons is trying to advance her running career after modest success at James Madison High School and as a walk-on in college. Since graduating from Virginia, she has qualified twice to run the 10,000 meters at the USATF outdoor championships (2002, 2003).

In 2002, she won the 10,000 meters at the Penn Relays and was selected to represent the United States at the Seoul Ekiden International Road Relay. Her 2002 races put her on the “Track & Field News” top 10 U.S. list for the year in the 10K.

The Seoul trip whet Coons’ appetite for overseas travel, especially when somebody else was paying for it.

“I like world teams and travel in foreign lands,” she said.

In 2003, Coons placed 10th at the USATF Winter Cross Country Nationals in the 8K and lowered her 10K best to 33:07 in May at the Cardinal Invitational. She moved to Minneapolis in September.

And this year, despite the injuries and inconsistent training, she managed to train well for three months prior to the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in July in Sacramento, where she was 15th in the 10,000 meters.

Her second-place effort at the USA 20K Championships in New Haven, Conn., on Labor Day (1:09:13) qualified her for a spot on the U.S. team for the 2004 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in New Delhi on Oct. 3.

Still plagued by the knee injury as well as a sore hip, Coons had to cancel that trip the day before she left when she couldn’t complete a workout.

The consolation: a trip to Japan for the Ekiden Relay.

Within days of her return to Minneapolis, she was back on a plane home to Vienna, where she arrived Thanksgiving morning. While she was in the air, her course record at the Alexandria Turkey Trot, set in 2002, was being broken.

“I heard about it yesterday from a friend of mine, Chris Farley from Pacers,” said Coons, who flew back to Minneapolis a day later.

She plans to come to Charlottesville on Dec. 17 for two months to avoid the harsh Twin Cities weather, as the first snow already had fallen yesterday as she prepared for her run.

Coons hopes to run competitively until at least the 2008 Olympics, with the focus right now on the cross country trials in February for the Worlds in March.

She plans to run her first marathon next year at Twin Cities or Chicago. “I want to see if the marathon is my best event,” Coons said.

After that, the former assistant track coach at Virginia intimated that “Some day I would like to end up coaching again, at least that’s how I feel right now.” Or maybe a career utilizing her art degree from Virginia.

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