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A Year Stronger, Dani Jones Finds Her Groove

She’s taken the lessons of her early season races and is improving her race tactics.

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Dani Jones is among a group of athletes who moved into the professional world during the pandemic. The upside? More time to figure out how to live and train like an elite athlete. The downside? Fewer opportunities during a time of major uncertainty.

Jones graduated from the University of Colorado a four-time NCAA champion, but the COVID-19 outbreak pushed promising young athletes to make choices about their remaining eligibility. Many, like Jones, left some behind as track and cross-country seasons were canceled and rescheduled.

Jones signed a contract with New Balance at the end of 2020 and joined the Joe Bosshard–coach group based in Boulder. The extra time to adjust to the new expectations and routines has been beneficial, she says.

“It was helpful to have been with Joe and the team for a full year before racing in the competitive meet,” she says. “I do feel one year stronger and I think that was the attitude that a lot of people had, but it didn’t change our goals.”

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This season, Jones has jumped back into racing feeling like she needed more practice with tactics and strategy. She clocked her personal best in the 1500 meters in May (4:04.86) and was second at the Portland Track Festival later in the month (4:04.26).

The event is stacked at the Olympic Trials, which begin on June 18, in Eugene, Oregon. Her qualifying time currently stands 13th among those who are eligible to compete. But she has faith in her training and in the people who are in her corner.

“I definitely would say that I’m in a good place, fitness-wise,” she says. “I’ve been training well and I’ve been really happy with my decision to run the 1500.”

Age: 24
Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
Event: 1500 meters (4:04.26)
Training tip: Graduating from the University of Colorado and signing a professional running contract during a pandemic could have been a rocky start to a career, but Jones found a group of experienced athletes and a coach who made the transition almost seamless. Now a member of the Boulder-based group coached by Joe Bosshard, alongside 3,000-meter steeplechase world champion Emma Coburn, has set the rising middle-distance runner on the right path. She gives credit to the experienced athletes she trains with, like Cory McGee, Kate Grace, and Aisha Praught-Leer.

“Having a training group has been important—being surrounded by people who are better than me or who have experienced more than me, I think that’s just been a big part of my growth this past year.”

Favorite workout: While those strength-based workouts that develop the aerobic system are key, Jones really relishes the chance to just fly.

“I really love just speed work,” she says. “I like a speed ladder or fast 200s. I like going fast and it’s especially fun when you have teammates like Cory McGee and Kate Grace. It’s a lot of fun.”

The worst part of race day: We all know that feeling of choking down a bowl of oatmeal before a race. Nobody really wants to eat it, but we force it down anyway. Jones is no different.

“I always have oatmeal before and I usually eat it on the way to the meet,” she says. “And I really don’t feel like eating it because I’m getting really nervous. But I do like the fact that on race day you can just eat breakfast for every meal and it’s totally acceptable.”

The best part of race day: There’s this moment between when you’re standing on the start line and the gun goes off. It’s the best part, Jones says.

“You’re really, really nervous and slightly unsure, because you can’t control everything but then the gun goes off and that all melts away,” she says. “I love the feeling of just finally shaking out those nerves you’ve been holding on to all day.”

Trials success (aside from the obvious goal of making Team USA): Jones listened in on a workshop put on by the Athletics Association, an organization that represents the interests of athletes in the sport. The speaker talked about how nobody should become so fixated on one particular goal, like making the Olympics.

“You can’t let one result define you as an athlete, and that’s an important reminder because we all have one very specific goal in mind,” she says. “I’ll feel good about my race if I run well tactically, if I don’t make mistakes that I could have prevented.”

RELATED: Emma Coburn: “There’s an Endless List of Ways to Improve an Athlete’s Life.”

Last words to herself on the starting line: While she doesn’t have a specific phrase or word she tells herself before or during a race, she reflects on something her college coach Heather Burroughs told her when she was a freshman at the University of Colorado.

“She was walking me to the tent area and said, ‘I want you to go in there and act like you own the place,’” Jones says. “And she said, ‘I want you to be really confident and I don’t care if you’re the youngest one in there. I don’t care.’ I try to tell myself that before races and say a little prayer.”

Sage advice: Jones’s other college coach, Mark Wetmore, always reminded her that “courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it” (a Nelson Mandela quote).

“Joe has said similar things to me,” she says. “And I always loved that quote a lot.”

Pandemic pastimes: During the quarantine, Jones and her sister and mom got really into watching The Gilmore Girls, which she had never seen before. After her college classes were over she also rediscovered reading for fun.

“I normally don’t stray away from New Girl and Friends, because in college I didn’t really have time to watch anything,” she says. “I was really committed to getting through Gilmore Girls and then [the follow-up Gilmore Girls movie] A Year in the Life.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series leading up to the 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials, highlighting many of the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team. You can find all of our coverage here.