By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission. 

HONOLULU (08-Dec) — In the most important race of the year, an unexpected snafu forced Dani Jones to re-calibrate her entire season. But that crushing setback ended up fueling an inspired –and inspiring– summer of racing, including a long-overdue personal best in her signature event.

Less than 200 meters into the final of the 1500 meters at July’s USATF Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, a competitor stepped on her New Balance racing shoe, forcing it off her heel. Seconds later, she kicked the shoe off completely, sending it flying to the infield. In an instant, Jones, an NCAA champion in cross country and indoor and outdoor track while at the University of Colorado, found herself up against impossible odds in her bid for a spot on Team USATF at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

“I couldn’t believe the U.S. final was the first time this had ever happened to me,” she told Race Results Weekly in an interview here where she will be racing the seventh annual Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Saturday. “I said to myself, I don’t think I’m going to make this team without a shoe. This field is too good, and there is more to a season than making a team.” She made the heartbreaking decision to step off the track shortly after the 600-meter mark, calling it the “worst feeling ever” in an Instagram post the next day.

With her primary objective for 2023 now off the table, she quickly had to adjust her goals. “I think I spent a week being a little down,” says the 27-year-old Jones, who trains in Boulder, Colorado, as part of Joe Bosshard and Emma Coburn’s Team Boss group. “But I knew after I was over it, I was going to want to get going again. We knew I just needed races to get to where I wanted to be. I had spent the earlier part of the year in sit-and-kick races, and now I wanted to get in some faster races.”

Dani Jones, photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly, used with permission

Quickly she put together her own personal “revenge tour” — a playful concept popularized in 2021 by her training partner Kate Grace after disappointment at the Olympic Trials led to a breakthrough summer of astonishing results. “It was definitely in the back of my mind,” she says of Grace’s rebound campaign. “My teammate has done this before, and instead of sulking, you get up and you go kick some ass.”

Over a three-week stretch from late July to early August, Jones raced four times on the track and the roads. At the end of that gauntlet, she won the 1500 at the Ed Murphey Classic in Memphis and was rewarded with a personal best of 4:02.83, well under her previous best of 4:04.26, set two years earlier.

Two weeks later, she lowered her mile best to 4:24.17 at the Falmouth Track Festival in Massachusetts, finishing a close second to Emily Mackay. But she wanted more.

Jones enlisted her agent, Hawi Keflezighi, to get her a spot in the 1500 at the Diamond League meet in Xiamen, China, on September 2. After organizers added her to the start list, she took a 12-hour flight and arrived fighting a cold. But having traveled that far, she wasn’t about to pass on the opportunity. In a fast-paced race, Jones was rewarded with another PR, clocking 4:01.66 for eighth place.

“Obviously, 4:01 is not anywhere near where I want and need to be at this point,” she says, “but it cracks the window a little bit, and I can see my goals a little clearer now.”

Now, she is taking a short pause from her fall training in Colorado for Saturday’s unique road mile along world-famous Waikiki Beach. The mixed-sex pursuit format gives the elite women’s field a 30-second head start over the men, who will seek to chase them down for prize money, which is awarded on the combined order of finish of men and women.

Though most professional track athletes are far from peak form at this time of year, Jones expects it to be an intense battle. “I always get competitive no matter what,” she says. “And road miles are always hard from the start. No one can help themselves [from going out hard] on the roads. And this one especially, because once the men catch you, it’s kinda over. We’re going to have to run fast to hold them off.”

After the race, Jones will stay a few more days in Hawaii, where her mother is joining her, and then she’ll return to Colorado to continue her preparations for pursuing a spot at the Olympic Games in Paris next summer. “Every year is more competitive than the previous, so you always have to be ready for that,” says Jones, who has now made three straight national championships and 1500 finals.

And thanks to her resilient turn this summer, Jones is feeling confident. “The last couple of years, USA’s was exciting, but it almost felt like I had this little pocket of fear in my chest when I would think about it,” she says. “And this year, that has gotten way smaller, and I’m feeling more excitement and motivation than fear. Having a good end to this season is going to help me build momentum going into the new year. That’s the best favor I could have done for myself.”