Frances Koons runs her own race and vaults from PA
to national radar screens
by Don Rich, PennTrackXC
"I didn't even look around to see who was here."
Frances Koons had the feeling she was good enough to become a Foot
Locker finalist after running within nine seconds of a 2002 Finalist
September. She gained the confidence to become a Foot Locker Finalist
after a tough Mid-East Regional race in mid-November in Ohio. But on
Saturday at Van Cortlandt, she not only had the perfect plan to get a
ticket to San Diego, she had the perfect attitude. She did everything
right, before and during the race.
Koons has been on a lot of radar screens in PA for several years,
finishing 22nd in 2001 at States in 19:54, 3rd in 2002 in 19:12, and
winning the title in 2003 in 18:37. But she didn't appear on the
national screens in a big way until this fall. In September, she went
the Spiked Shoe Invitational in State College hoping to race against
Nicole Blood of Saratoga. Saratoga wasn't there. But Bay Shore was,
complete with 2002 Foot Locker Finalist Laura Cummings, who finished
near the top of the Finals. Koons remembers passing the mile running
stride-for-stride with Cummings, and hearing someone say directly to
her, 'who are you?' That someone turned out to be Cummings' coach, who
congratulated Koons on her race after she had finished second to his
star by just nine seconds.
That experience was a big confidence booster. She followed that with
easy wins throughout Pennsylvania, until the heat and expectations of
the state meet on November 1 in Hershey. She followed her usual plan,
out fast and maintain. Although junior star Marissa Umbel of Indiana
gaining on the final stretch, Koons was in control of the race from 400
meters on. Two weeks later, she experienced the flat, but twisty and
saturated Mid-East Regional course, getting 7th in a field that would
include several eventual Foot Locker Finalists. She planned to work on
turnover, and to be ready for the Regional race on November 28th.
As is the case with any athlete achieving at this level, the mental
aspect is as important as the physical. Koons stresses that the
experience of running the Van Cortlandt course is vital to success at
the elite level. She has raced the course once each of the past four
years, starting as a freshman in the NYRRC Championships, and racing
Seeded race as a sophomore, getting 26th as a junior, and this year
breaking through to the top eight.
Leading up to the race, the experience enabled her to visualize every
aspect of her plan. "Coming out of the woods my first year, it was
a surprise that I was done. But now I know the first mile, exactly, and
everything through the woods."
And race day preparation was key, too. Koons focused on her race, and
hers alone. "I think knowing the course and knowing what you're
to do, like your splits - and not so much who was going to be there with
me, I didn't really care about that. I didn't even look around me to
who was here. I was just going to go and run my own race. I just said
whatever I am going to do, I'll do, and it will be my best. I was
nervous, but confident."
Everything she visualized happened, including being at the front, but
not in the lead (I didn't want to lead"), coming through the mile
5:30 ("exactly what I wanted."), letting others push her through
hills, and then flying off the downhills. ("And I was flying.")
And she's still visualizing. "Qualifying was definitely the goal.
I'm not settling for this either. It's going on to Nationals and doing
Foot Locker Northeast