Jan. 31, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - One of the most impressive performers of the indoor track and field season for Stanford has been junior distance runner Jessica Tonn, who followed an all-conference cross-country season with an outstanding start in track.
Competing against a strong 3,000-meter field at the UW Invitational in Seattle last week, Tonn finished seventh in the fast section of the invitational race, running a personal record of 9:10.16. She is scheduled to run the distance medley relay on Friday and the mile on Saturday at the Armory Collegiate Invitational in New York City.
Tonn, of Paradise Valley, Ariz., won 14 individual state titles in track and cross country while at Xavier Prep of Phoenix. She was the No. 4 runner on Stanford's third-place team at the NCAA cross-country championships last fall, missing All-America honors by less than a second.
She recently talked about training under her new coach, Franklin P. Johnson Director of Track and Field Chris Miltenberg, and how a new approach has helped her this season:
Q: How has the new coaching staff helped your running the most?
A: Until now, I've been focused on the outcome of every race, and really put a lot of pressure on myself to make it to these big-caliber meets and get a certain time. Coach Milt and Coach (Mary Jo) Pruitt are really focused on taking each week at a time, and taking each workout 100 meters at a time -- it's about the process. I think that's a huge change for our team, to really enjoy what we're doing, and being excited to race and not being scared of doing great things. Focusing on the process has helped the entire mentality shift to a more positive outlook.
Q: Coach Milt stresses running when you're uncomfortable. Can a coach make an impact in that area when you already have an idea of what you can and can't handle?
A: I think so. The runner is such a Type A person. We always want to feel good and have everything go smoothly. We want to feel great in every workout and every race, and that's not going to happen. Practicing, and staying composed and relaxed when we're under pressure and not feeling great, will really help us in an intense race situation.
I have not felt 100 percent going into the past two races, but that didn't freak me out. Trusting in my training has really helped me. Even when I don't feel good, I know I can race well and run well. That's been a big change for me.
Q: You're a sophomore in outdoor track eligibility. Do you see yourself running through your fifth year?
A: I would love to. If Coach Milt will still have me, I would definitely love to get an extra year. I know I'm planning on running all four cross-country seasons. The next indoor season is kind of up in the air. Coach Milt and I are still deciding if I should take that season off and come for a winter and a spring season. I really want to come back for an outdoor season after my senior year.
Q: Is it challenging to have many outstanding freshmen come in and still feel like it's your team?
A: Every season we need to reevaluate who we are with each new group that comes in, because the dynamic totally changes with each new class. There is such a broad range of personalities on this team, but that's what makes it work, because it's become our own team each year. The freshmen have as much as say in what happens as Kathy Kroeger or myself, or Emilie Amaro, or the so-called veterans on the team.
It's on ongoing process. We see ourselves as a heart -- the new blood pumps in, the old blood pumps out. It's forever evolving.
Q: Was finishing third as a team in the NCAA cross-country nationals surprising? Were you ahead of schedule?
A: I don't think we were surprised. What Coach Milt has really focused on is just competing. We really wanted to podium (top six). But if we compete and race to our own abilities, and focus on ourselves, we'll be where we need to be. It's not about a time or a place. You can't plan a race, especially over 6-kilometers. You don't know what will happen. I really wanted to be an All-American, but I got 43rd and was super happy with my race. I would have been awesome to get top 40, but I'd much rather take third-place as a team over an individual finish or All-American title.
Q: If someone described you as a runner, what would they say?
A: I hope people say I'm adaptive to whatever race situation is unfolding. All the way back to when I was 11 or 12, composure is something I go back to. I like to think I remain composed and relaxed during races.
Q: Is it hard to stay positive if a race doesn't go well?
A: No. It's upsetting when you don't race as well as you planned to, but you really can't dwell on those moments. I can't count how many races I've run in my lifetime. If I focused on the ones that didn't turn out as well as I wanted to, I'd probably be taking steps backward. That's not a great way to approach it. Even with workouts, it's the same way. If a workout isn't so great one day, it's not going to affect the rest of the week, or my next race.
Even on days where running doesn't sound like the thing I really want to do ... I love running, but on certain days it's really hard to take that first step. But these teammates, that support group, really helps.
Coach Milt has really instilled this idea of encouraging each other, really building a positive vibe on the team. It becomes a natural thing to say, `OK, you might not be feeling great today, but, you know what, go run and have fun.'
Q: What is your main event? What is your focus for the track season?
A: Last year was an interesting season. I ended up racing every other weekend in an event that was different than the previous race. I went from doing the 800, to the 5K, to the mile, and the 10K at Pac-12s. I would love to think that I'm a 5K runner outdoors, but I think it's really great to be able to run a great 1,500, just to know that you will have that speed work built in.
I could definitely improve upon my 10K time. I think I have a lot of work to do. But I think the 5K will definitely be my main focus outdoors.
Q: You did the 5K last year, but struggled at Pac-12s.
A: The end of the season last year was definitely disheartening. I'm definitely a higher mileage person. Having those longer runs on Saturday is something that really helps me, and I think that was something I was missing last year. I think I actually ran faster in high school on some cross-country courses than I did on that 5K.
Q: What's a good Saturday run for you?
A: It depends on if we race that weekend, but I typically like to run 80-85 minutes, which comes out to anywhere from 11-12 miles. That's a good solid long run for me. But Coach Milt really focuses on those runs, not as a workout, but as a recovery run, but on the longer side.
Every run is building up resistance to you. You're getting stronger with every run, so it's another opportunity.
Q: You haven't run at nationals in track yet?
A: Last year, I traveled to indoors as an alternate to the distance medley relay, but I have not run in the national meet in track yet. So, I'm definitely hoping that happens this year.
Q: How encouraged were you after last week's race?
A: I was so happy. There was a possibility I was going to run the DMR the night before, but I went to Coach Milt wanting to run a 3K fresh, because I really hadn't done that in previous years. Last year, I did at the Last Chance Meet, but that was a hard situation because I put so much pressure on myself. That's a personal thing I need to work on.
This past race, there were amazing girls in that race - Jordan (Hasay of Oregon) and Abbey (D'Agostino of Dartmouth) and a couple of pros. I didn't think about who was on the line with me. It was more about being competitive, and really trying to be aggressive, and trying to be composed and relaxed and just having fun kicking off the season.
Going in with that relaxed laid back mentality really helps for me. I'm not someone who needs to go through the race plan or visualize in my head how it might turn out. When I get on the line, that's usually when I start thinking about the race. I do better when I approach every race like a workout. Because when we're working out, we don't think about it. So, it's why I approach it differently.
Q: What was the pace like?
A: I actually felt really comfortable pretty much the entire race, which was new for me. I went in thinking, this is going to hurt. In the past during a 3K or 5K, I would kind of fall asleep in the middle of the race. I would sometimes lose contact with the group in front of me or I would kind of zone out.
I knew the girls up front would be going out pretty hard. Coach Milt and I planned to stay in contact in the middle or the back of the pack, knowing that some of the girls would come back to me, and definitely keep the momentum forward.
In terms of the pace, I was hoping to out in 4:56 for the mile, and I ended up 4:55. So, almost perfect. I really focused on just staying focused the last mile and putting in a great effort. There were about four girls in the same pack the entire time. I made sure I stayed in contact with those girls and kept my head up and looked in front on me, knowing that I could catch them if I needed to. Hearing the bell lap, I felt really great. I just went after it. It was really encouraging because we hadn't done much speed work. Knowing I have a lot of work to do is a good thing.
Q: Do you like indoor track?
A: I do. I love indoors, especially the way Coach Milt approaches it in terms of being a great tool to get us ready for May and June. I don't think it's necessarily where you need to improve every race or PR. That can be exhausting. But if you look at it, it's a growing stage for outdoor track. I feel like that's a really healthy and good way to approach indoor, because it's so quick - it's over so soon. There are not a lot of opportunities to run a certain time. But I think if you approach each meet as another opportunity to run fast and compete, you'll land where you need to land.
Q: What will you be racing this week in New York?
A: We're trying to knock down our time in the distance medley. Hopefully, get a good race so we don't need to worry about qualifying in these later meets. I'm anchoring the mile, which is the fourth leg of that. I'm really excited.
Q: You're from Paradise Valley, Arizona. Did you do a lot of your running at Piestewa/Squaw Peak and Camelback Mountain?
A: Surprisingly no. For our long runs in high school, we would meet at Arizona State. There are a lot of good trails at Papago Park around there. To beat the heat, we would meet at 4:50 or 5 a.m. We would typically run on a lot of canals or golf courses.
I went to school in central Phoenix, so our coaches would pick out spots throughout the week that were relatively close to campus. We all carpooled and stuff like that. If I did runs on my own, there are definitely trails around my house that I can get to. So, I would take advantage of that, definitely.
Q: Did you become a morning person because you were so used to getting up early to run?
A: I did. I was definitely a morning person in high school. And when I got to college, it was like, `OK, 9 a.m. classes don't sound bad.' So I signed up for a Monday-through-Friday 9 a.m. class my first fall quarter as a freshman. It was a horrible mistake. The definition of `early' definitely changes in college.
I actually think a lot of my improvement is the amount of sleep that I've gotten in comparison to high school. I would be living off of, some nights, six hours of sleep a night. That was not sustainable for what I was putting my body through. I think that's one positive aspect of college that has definitely helped me the past three years. Keeping that continuous nine hours of sleep a night has been great.
Q: Most freshman runners have to reinvent themselves when they get to college because things aren't as easy as they once were. Did you go through that?
A: Oh, definitely. I think the hardest part for all of us is coming from our high schools and being the No. 1 girl on the team. We were the leading force of our high school teams and come here and are surrounded by all these girls that you're running with on every run. My high school teammates were awesome, but there were so many runs per week where I was running by myself. That's something in college that definitely opened my eyes - coming to practice and having these girls run with me. Having the constant company was definitely something I was not used to.
But one thing I want our recruits to know: For me, I was wondering, `How am I ever going to keep up with these Stanford girls? They're so good. They can balance academics, social lives, and running all at the same time. I just don't know if I can keep up, or even put a dent into this program.' But, you definitely can do it. I think a lot of girls sell themselves short coming in. It's really not hard once you are in this atmosphere.
You got here and you're surrounded by all these people who are doing amazing things, but you're definitely one of those people too.
It's not so much that you're reinventing yourself, it's adjusting, and trying to make that adjustment as smooth as possible and taking advantage of all the resources we have here. That is something that took me a while to really grasp.
My transition was fairly easy in terms of the physical running part, because I had done the same amount of mileage that I was doing my freshman year. But academically and balancing everything out was the hardest part of reinventing myself coming in. It was more about reinventing everything I did outside of running that made running work.
Q: What is your major?
A: I'm majoring in communications. I'm deciding on a minor, but creative writing is something I have a passion about so I'm hoping to pursue that.
I'm interested in the impact of social media and all of that, so communications is a perfect thing for me. I gave human biology a shot my sophomore year, but we did not get along well.
Q: Are some days difficult to find the motivation to keep going?
A: There are definitely some days where I want to run more and some days where I want to run less. It all comes back to trusting your coach and your training.
For instance, I came in taking Sundays off, because I felt my body needed it. And a lot of us had that mentality, where, `I really don't want to get injured.' Coach Milt has really shown me that going out for three-mile really slow run on Sunday is going to help me. You're building resistance with every run and you're building strength. Sometimes, a slow 9-minute mile pace on Sundays will do that. Just trusting what he's putting on the paper keeps me going.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics