Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Catching up with former Stanford runner/coach Dena Evans...

Today we chat with former Stanford runner ('96 grad) and coach (2003 NCAA Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year), Dena Evans. To save me the embarrassment of missing some of her accolades during her time on the Farm, here is her coaching profile on the Stanford site.

Dena is now involved with Focus-N-Fly (Business Dev and Coach). You can check out her profile here:

Dena is also now coordinating the New Balance Silicon Valley Club (formerly Peninsula Distance Club - Brooks).

So without further ado (it's ado...I looked it up), Dena Evans...

1) What sports did did you participate in during your youth?
I played a lot of sports informally with my dad and with friends. Where I grew up (on Mercer Island, WA), we spent a lot of time in the water in the summer, and I would torture my friends with impromptu triathlons and the like. I turned a lot of things into competitions. My first soccer team was in fourth grade, and for basketball, it was sixth. We sometimes played tennis at the park as well. Tennis is kind of a family sport on my dad's side. Once I started with the team sports, it was pretty much some form of soccer, basketball, and running until I had to come to the realization that Tara VanDerveer was never going to call!

2) When did you start getting involved in xc (not sure if you did xc) and track and field?
I did an alternative PE program in middle school called Outdoor Fitness. Our teacher, Miss Call, was a local legend who had been leading kids on some amazing adventures since the 70s, including taking 7th and 8th graders across the country on bicycles during the summer. In the class, we ran most days, although you had the option to bike twice a week. Then, on the weekends, there were all sorts of hikes and other adventures she would organize, from surviving overnight in the wilderness with a coffee can of supplies, to whitewater rafting, etc. There were several major challenges to do throughout the year, some of which I couldn't do because of weekend soccer commitments. However, I did do some of them, like the Mercer Island Half Marathon, a "Run to Tacoma" (29 miles in one day), and the walk around Lake Washington (55 miles in 22 hours). Sounds crazy, but we all did these, and some of our parents even joined in.

Miss Call taught all of us in the program a great deal, some of it the hard way, since a few of us (myself included), were fairly headstrong and stubborn. For instance, barring pregnancy, I don't stop running to walk up hills, even if I am going "grandma pace." She used to hide along some of our running routes and bust people who walked. It was a major rule - you had to carry on, even if you had to slow way down to do so. On the other hand, it was also a rule that every time you passed another person in the group, you gave them a high five and told them good job. Without exception. Generally, she taught us to look out for each other and push ourselves mentally, lessons which have been very fruitful for me later in life. In eighth grade, our middle school had a fundraiser 5k and she said she was betting on me to beat this upstart 6th grader who had been ripping it up in age group track (and later was a high school track teammate). I was quite sure she literally made a wager, and that she didn't tell me for nothing. So, I was compelled to compete for the first time over 5k! All in good fun though. Soccer conflicts with cross country during the fall in the state of Washington, so I figured I'd do track in high school as there was no way I wasn't doing soccer in the fall.

3) When did you first realize you had the talent to do well in running?
In elementary school, we had a fundraiser called the "Metra-Thon." It was during and just after that Jimmy Carter time when everybody was supposed to embrace the metric system. Anyway, over the course of an in-service day at school, we could earn money from neighborhood sponsors by completing 1 kilometer laps around the school. A lot of schools have these lap-a thons - I'm actually working on one for my daughter's school this year. However, my friend Katie and I were pretty crazy about this thing, and my final year of elementary school, we did over a marathon in 6 hours, fueled on Tang and hot dogs. It was all about getting the trophy and your name in the paper as your school's top lapper. Also, I seemed to do well with the 600 yard run in the Presidential Fitness Test. Yes, I suppose I was a wee bit competitive.

4) What sports did you do during high school and what were some of your highlights?
Soccer, Basketball, Track. Had so much fun - too many highlights to recount, but a few were...

Soccer: we were pretty good my senior year, ranked in USA Today and all that. Unfortunately, there was another high school in Washington which was ranked above us and cleaned our clock in the state final. However, in our round of 16 game, the tournament made us trek all the way down to near Portland to play this team that just talked so much trash and had such rowdy fans before the game that it was one of the singularly distinct pleasures of our time together as a team to score three goals in the first five or ten minutes and leave them speechless. For some reason, that game always sticks with me. Maybe it was the long bus ride.

We also wanted to have cool, but expensive sweatshirts which we designed and paid for ourselves. Well, how to do it? We just did a car wash at Albertson's, raised all this money, ordered and screened the shirts, and then got in trouble with the school board because we didn't get it approved. Who knew you had to get such things approved?

Basketball: we made it to the state tournament my senior year, which was the first time for MI. We lost early, and I cried like a baby in the hallway because I knew it was the last basketball game I would ever play, although my dad periodically tries to goad me into one on one in the driveway. I also had a goal to average 10 rebounds a game my senior year. I had this poster of David Robinson in my room as motivation. I think I finished with 10.1 per game avg or something. Skin of my teeth. My husband still laughs at me about this, and I'm like, "What? What's wrong with rebounds? Have something against hard work or something?" Its like a running joke for him and I'm not sure why....I loved basketball though. Played with a lot of outstanding women.

Track: My sophomore year, I pr'ed by a big chunk and won the state meet 800m. Huge surprise. Out of nowhere. I then laid under a tree for about 2 hours completely out of it, after which I needed to get up and run the mile, which predictably, did not go as well. Senior year, our 4x4 team won state in a school record, and because the rest of the team were sophomores getting their first taste of the podium, it was particularly sweet.

5) Describe your training during high school (ie miles per week, favorite workouts, longest run etc.)
I did not work as hard as I should have during high school, in part because the meets were like workouts, and I often used those to get in shape. I should say that I did what I was asked and ran as fast as I could, but I didn't take the initiative I probably should have to do the extra things to be that much better. I kind of treated track practice like another team sport practice, instead of a lifestyle, which to be good, it probably needs to be. I had to learn about some of that. My coaches switched in and out a couple times through my high school years, which was interesting, because I got some different perspectives. I also usually only had a week or two after basketball before the first meet, so there wasn't much time for a base. My senior year, I got these new spikes from Eastbay, tested them out right out of the box at our first meet (11 days or something after our last basketball game), and was so sore afterwards that I couldn't depress the clutch on my car for three days following! Dumb stuff like that would sometimes hold me up. A workout which was fairly indicative of what we did were: warm up to the middle school track from our high school (force us to run 2.5 miles), 8x400 at goal mile pace on 4 min start to start, jog back. As I mentioned earlier, I definitely had run long in middle school, but in high school, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to run a 3200. It was 1600/800/4x4 every week, rain or shine.

6) Tell us a little about your Stanford experience and what were some of your highlights there?
I had a wonderful experience at Stanford. I ended up majoring in American Studies, then sticking around for my Master's / Teaching Credential in the STEP program while my (now husband) boyfriend did a fifth year co-term Master's in football (ha ha, I'll get in trouble for that one, it was actually Sociology). I roomed with another two sport athlete for all four undergraduate years, Maureen McLaren. Normally, that doesn't happen - it was kind of a freak thing to have two athletes randomly assigned freshman year. Anyway, we were and are totally different in so many ways, but similar in a lot of others, and the experience really defined a lot of how I remember those years. I had the chance to get to know and learn from a lot of amazing student-athletes, including those on the teams on which I participated, as well as the teams she was on (swimming and volleyball). I was involved with the student-athlete advisory committee, was active with the Stanford Athletes in Action group, and even joined a sorority, though in those days none of them were housed. Those activities also allowed some opportunity for service, along with the fun.

As for sporting highlights, I would say in soccer, our trip to the Final Four was pretty exciting, although heart wrenching as well. It was 1993, Stanford's first trip, and we lost in the semis to George Mason, on penalty kicks. I had been injured for much of the year, so I was glad to at least be doing well enough to participate and play in that bittersweet experience, especially as we didn't end up making it back my junior or senior years. During my time at Stanford, it really was the golden era for many sports - for example, my roommate Mo won 6 team NCAA titles (four in swimming, two in volleyball), which I believe is still a record for one person. Our soccer team was strong, but our track team was really not achieving too much at first. As Coach Lananna started getting some better and better recruits, we got to the point where we were fairly decent. My freshman year, we were next to dead last in the 4x1500m at Penn, and by my senior year, we were pretty much in the lead the entire way and just got nipped at the end. That race really stuck with me, because it reflected the growth of the program. Sure enough, the other three women on that relay ended up playing a big role as Stanford won NCAA's in cross the following fall. When we won the 4x1500 finally in 2004 when I was coaching, it was fairly emotional for me as it symbolized the trajectory of the arc our program had been traveling, although the Penn Relays 4x1500 is kind of a random race. I was honored to still be contributing in some way.

7) You played soccer and track and field while at Stanford. How did you work that out with both coaches and what was the most difficult part in juggling both sports?
Well, I knew I wanted to do both from the beginning, so it was always a part of the deal. It was different then - we had spring practice for soccer, but not nearly the intense schedule they keep now. So, both coaches were open to it, as were coaches at other schools. I would show up at the track office the Monday after my last soccer game, and would show up for pick up or to kick around the week after the last meet. My junior year, I did a bit of spring soccer practice as well. I suspect I would have been better at either if I had not done the other, but I learned so much from both experiences that I would never trade the path I took for another. The other huge difference from then to now is that there are so many more participation and scholarship opportunities in soccer - back then, there were several great track schools with strong academics that didn't field a women's soccer team, and that I might have otherwise looked into if they had.

8) Biggest differences for you between high school and collegiate running and racing?
The other 22 hours of the day. Nutrition, sleep, stretching, weights, etc.

9) When did you first become interested in coaching? What have been some of your coaching highlights?
I had done a bunch of camp coaching in all the sports during college summers, and had worked part time in the track office during my grad year, but had not considered it seriously until Coach Lananna brought it up to me. However, I had always been a pretty vocal person on teams even as an underclassman, and not afraid of that type of role - organizer, rabble rouser, etc. For me, the thing about coaching at Stanford was as much about the school and the program(and my feelings toward them), as the coaching itself. For Coach, I am sure that knowing me as well as he did - knowing that I knew him, the program, the school, the people involved, etc played a huge role in why he approached me. It was just timing and the particular relationships involved.

10) Who do you consider your coaching mentors? What did you learn from those coaches?
Well, without question, Vin Lananna changed the trajectory of my life by encouraging me to start coaching. From him I would say that I learned to think of solutions to challenges in terms of "how" instead of "if." Jeff Johnson taught me the value (literally and figuratively) of date pace vs. goal pace. Like I alluded to earlier, there is a little bit of Miss Call that affects what I do every day, and there is a really long list of people - coaches and non-coaches alike - that I have learned from....including each person I get a chance to coach. You learn something new every day.

11) What would be your advice for high school runners who have hopes of running in college?
Not necessarily with regard to running in college specifically, but for females in particular, I would encourage frank and frequent conversations between high school athletes and whoever is guiding them about menstruation, bone health, nutrition, and body image. Too often those conversations get shelved until a problem or an injury forces them, or people are skittish to talk about those issues, even as they spend hours talking about mileage, intervals, or race strategies.

For runners themselves, I would encourage them to relish every opportunity they get to take part in a team goal while achieving their individual aims. It always piqued my interest to see someone who was unstoppable with a baton in their hand or who obviously was a positive contributor to their team atmosphere in cross. That kind of person usually has a good chance of finding themselves on a travel roster or a meet lineup sheet even if all other things are equal.

Thank you very much for your time Dena! AJC


Anonymous said...

This is probably the best interview you've had that I've read. Primarily because Dena is a gifted writer and who knows how to interest her reader. Too often your subjects answer the question but give little else. Challenge them to show their personality and a little creative flair!

Thanks also to Dena for mentioning the tie in for nutrition and menstruation/bone health. Our girls still need to be reminded their running training won't let them get fat! The key is eating the right foods.


Albert Caruana said...

Thank you Otamom (College Park super mom)! I totally agree about the interview.

Anonymous said...

Great responses, and it was really great to see her describe her childhood in detail and what led her up to coaching. Quite the athlete too... I also remember 2-3 years ago at a press conference for runners where Sara Bei (Hall) praised Dena Evans a lot as a person who had a lot of influence on her life and a great coach as well. That 2003 Stanford team was amazing, so many stars there (Sara Bei, Alicia Craig, Arianna Lambie, Katy Trotter, Teresa McWalters, Lindsey Flacks, etc). Excellent interview, I would agree, easily the best on this site.

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