Danica Newon: An Introduction

Danica Newon's running life has changed dramatically over the years. Photo: Danica Newon

I don’t know why I joined the cross-country team in eighth grade, but I vaguely remember running around a park and receiving a medal at the finish line. It was fun because the team was small and the coach had just the right mix of humor and encouragement. After that race, high school came and I signed up for cross-country. Besides it being my “sport,” I can’t really pinpoint a specific time in my life where all of a sudden I laced up my shoes and ran. It just seemed to naturally evolve.

Unlike the majority of athletes, I enjoyed running in high school but never saw it as the outlet that it actually was. Between cross-country, soccer and track in high school, I was always running. It was fun to be on the team and to belong to something—and to be somewhat decent at it. I never realized it also helped me organize my thoughts, prioritize everything that was going on in my life and release a lot of energy.

Fast forward to college, where I was planning on running and had a nagging knee injury. I made the decision to just quit cross-country and it’s honestly one of my biggest regrets. I’ve learned a lot from looking back on that decision. I ran for exercise in college, a few miles here and there. It was great to get out and keep running, but I didn’t realize that I needed to do it.

My mom passed away after a four-year battle with breast cancer just shy of my 21st birthday, and I completely stopped running. I don’t know why, but I felt like I couldn’t do anything that made me happy when she was alive. When I coached a small high school cross-country program, I cried when the gun went off to start the race at one of the first meets I attended. As I quickly wiped away the tears, I was shocked because I am not an emotional person. I then realized how much I loved running and that I missed it. When I started running consistently again, things began to fall back into place. I was happier!

After college, I stopped coaching for five years but resumed in 2013 and I love it just as much as before. It’s something I am so passionate about. I love coaching to see my team improve and to really make the connection that running can be a part of the athletes’ lives long after they graduate.

I realized something important while coaching last season. I am constantly telling my athletes that they need to work harder, push themselves, get uncomfortable and race with everything they have. The words started to sound empty to me because I realized that I wasn’t running with that same intensity. With them pushing me to run harder, I have improved my own running over the past six months. I do run with my team for about 75 percent of my training runs, so it’s great to have this relationship with them and to be able to have them push me.

My cadet, Andi, is my best friend’s little sister, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. Since I live in Southern California, we will train remotely for the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon on November 2. I am finishing up her training plan and it’s somewhat scary because I’ve never “trained” anyone to run a full marathon. I make my own training plans and I coach the team to run 3 miles, but this will be a completely new experience for me. I’m really excited because her sisters will be running the first half with us and her entire family will be waiting for us at the finish line. We decided to stay local for her first marathon because I think it’s so important that her family will be there to see her cross the finish line and celebrate with her.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.

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