The Victory Lap: Jessa Hanson 🏆

IMPORTANT NOTE: First off we want to give a big thank you to all of our Victory Lap subscribers for their enthusiasm and support of this initiative. Since the beginning we’ve raised $36,000+ for elite athletes and have been able to pass on that funding back to those whose stories we share. But as of 2023 we are going to open this newsletter up from premium subscribers to any Lap Count reader who is interested. The premium subscription will now continue to fund the athletes that we speak to but is now optional for access this newsletter. There is still a surplus of money that we are going to pass on to athletes in new creative ways and we’ll continue with the interviews.

If you were already a premium subscriber, nothing is changing. If you aren’t a premium subscriber, you can now read The Victory Lap. The proceeds and funds will still go towards supporting athletes!

Joining us this week is NAU alum and new professional Jessa Hanson! Jessa recently joined the Verde Track Club coached by Jon Green and is navigating her first year running post-collegiately while moving up to the roads distances. She chats with us about what made her stick with the sport, what success looks like, and what her goals are for the next two years as she bets on herself. 

What did Jon have you doing out there today?

I did a double T – that’s double threshold – today. So this morning I did seven by one mile, and this afternoon I just finished a two-mile, then two by two-mile 

I’m glad I retired before that became more popular. 

It can be a lot. I feel like Mike Smith kind of brought it back into the spotlight a bit. Training under him at NAU we did quite a bit of it, so I was happy that Jon implemented it too, because I like it a lot. But it can definitely have its days where it’s a grind. 

Jumping into the pro scene can be a bit daunting if you aren’t signing a contract immediately – what are some of the aspects about running that made you decide you weren't done with the sport?

Initially, getting closer to college, I didn't even know if I wanted to run collegiately. But then, you know, the end of my high school career came and I was like, ‘I'm not ready to be done.’ I knew I had so much more to do. 

And it was kind of similar with my college career where I spent some time injured, the Covid year was messy, and then during my last year and a half of college I kind of had the same thought process: ‘I love this and I can be good at this and I'm not ready to be done.’ That last year was when I started to focus on it more and wanted to work for more. 

There are a ton of options for post-collegiate running in Flagstaff – what led you to Jon and Verde Track Club?

Jon and Molly moved out to Flagstaff during my last year of school, and I would see them around the track every now and then. I introduced myself a time or two, and I ultimately knew that I was interested in eventually moving to longer distances. 

The sort of camaraderie between Jon and Molly is not only a coach and an athlete dynamic, but a friendship, too. And that deep level of like trust was something that I think is really valuable and something that intrigued me. And I think also having a younger coach – to a lot of people that sounds like a bad idea or like they feel like a younger coach may lack experience – but I think for me as an athlete, it works well and makes me feel like I can connect better with my coach and have a stronger relationship with them. 

I was the kind of athlete in college where I was solid, I was good. But yeah, between Covid and injuries, I definitely feel like I didn't get to explore my full potential. And because of that, it wasn't like I was an athlete that graduated with contracts being thrown at me and teams all over the place trying to recruit me. That wasn't really my senior year at all. So I was definitely doing a lot of advocating for myself and reaching out.

From having these conversations this past year for this newsletter I think that athletes in your situation generally find the right people more often than not because there’s actually less of a power dynamic in finding a group – that may be a bit of a reach, but who knows. 

What does a successful first year look like for you as you move up in distance and enter the pro scene?

I think for me, just continuing to cultivate a positive experience in general. I want to be able to stay healthy through the year and continue to have a healthy and positive relationship with running and with the people around me. I want to keep working on myself as a person, both in and outside of running. 

I honestly think that’s what has made my post-collegiate experience as successful as it has been so far, just in the short few months of it. I guess I would just say continuing to do that, and not letting the excitement and the distractions that can come with running get in the way. 

Would you say your second-place finish at Manchester has been your best performance so far? And how has it been lining up with pros now?

It's been very interesting. I'm not afraid to say it, I 100% have struggled with imposter syndrome throughout my running career. I get on the line and I look at the people to my left and I look at the people to my right and I'm like… ‘do I belong here? Am I good enough to be on the start line?’ Especially post-collegiate. 

I've got sponsored people all around me and I'm wearing a top that I found at Goodwill, a pair of buns that Molly gave me, and some shoes that I bought with my own money. You know, it's easy to question if you should really be there. But I think I've just been gaining more and more confidence with these races continuing to go well. Manchester and the BAA half marathon were both big steps for me, where I was like, ‘I'm meant to be here. I'm supposed to be here.’ I would say run with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, but I think I prefer it that way. 

If we can zoom out for a second – is it possible to say where you’d like to be in the sport in three years?

When I graduated college and I kind of wasn't really sure what was the next step for me, I told myself: ‘two years. You get to give yourself two years to go all in on running, commit to it, believe in it, and just go for it.’ 

And so that from the beginning it's been those two years. I believe in betting on yourself. But I also believe in making moves to benefit your future self. But I mean, if I could be here three years from now, still as happy and healthy as I am right now, but with a contract to my name so I’m getting paid to do what I love to do most, I think it would be about as good as it can get. 

We've got some big things between now and then. There's the Olympic trials in February for the marathon. I'm planning on racing that so I hope to have a good race there and get that under my belt and just continue to move up in the distance running and get my name out there. 

Last question for you. Why is Flagstaff the best place on Earth to train?

I mean, altitude doesn't lie – that would be the easy answer. 

I used to tell myself as soon as I was done with college, I was getting out of Flagstaff. And that wasn't because I didn't like it here, but because I thought I was going to be ready for a change. 

But when I realized post-college that I was going to keep running, I was like, ‘this is the best place.’ I mean between the trails and the roads and beautiful weather and the altitude, it's just great. But more than anything, Flagstaff has the most amazing community of athletes. And not just runners – there's bikers and triathletes and everything. You're just constantly surrounded by people working hard and people who also care about you, too. 

When I graduated, before I started officially working with Jon, I think I ran with people more than I ever had with people in college. 

I had people from the HOKA group inviting me to their long runs. The Adidas group was out here inviting me on runs. And then you've got the Under Armour group too. And all these people were just so welcoming and inviting to me. I've already formed some incredibly strong friendships because of that. It just doesn't get much better than that.