Former Minneapolis Washburn and current University of Minnesota freshman got a hot start to his 2024 with his 4th place finish at the USATF Cross Country U20 Championships this year, booking himself a trip to worlds in the process.
Here we caught up with Jones to talk about his XC Championships, his freshman year at the University of Minnesota, his future, and more!
What was your race strategy going into the USATF Cross Country U20 Championships and what were your personal goals for the race?
I went into the race with goal of being able to make the worlds team rather than shooting for a time goal so I'm really happy that I was able to meet those hopes. As for race strategy, there was a lot of emphasis from my coach on not making a big move until the very end and just being absolutely sure that I didn't get dropped from the pack as well as tucking into the crowd since there was a bit of a strong wind.
What was it like racing against some of the best young runners in the country?
It was probably one of the most fun races I've ever been in! It was cool getting to race against a lot of names I had heard of in high school as well as seeing how I stack up against some familiar faces and new people. Definitely a really great group of runners and a good showcase of what's coming as I progress to higher levels of running.
You finished 4th, just behind Noah Breker. What was it like racing again against one of your main competitors from high school?
It's always great getting us together in a race, he's very talented so we do a good job at pushing each other to race better and this was just another iconic result with us two in the race and seemed very fitting that after all this time we're still finishing that close together.
With your 4th place finish, you qualified for the World U20 XC Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Do you plan on attending?
Yes, my coaches and program directors are super supportive of this opportunity for me and think that this will be a great racing opportunity without cutting too much into the outdoor season as I was already planning on redshirting.
If you plan on attending, what are your pre-race training plans and what are your goals for the race?
I'm taking a down week this week to recover since I had been building up since October but after that I'm back into a full training build with the plan being to peak at worlds and any other races I can get in after that being an added bonus. I'm not sure what my goals are at the moment because I don't know how I'll stack up to the competition but I'm definitely hoping to meet a bunch of new people and have fun above all else while also representing my country and Minnesota.
How do you plan on using this momentum and translating that onto the track for this indoor and outdoor seasons?
I was able to carry my fitness to a 14:29 5K on a flat track just under a week after my race and hope to get a couple outdoor races in this spring. Ideally, I'd like to go under 14:10 for the 5K and put together a good 1500m but that will all depend on how good my next training block goes and what kind of competition I go against.
You are nearing the end of your true freshman season at the University of Minnesota, how has your first year in college been?
It's gone by so fast, it's hard to think that outdoor season is coming up already but I have absolutely loved my first year here. I had a bit of a rocky transition since I came from a low mileage program in high school but my trainers and coaches have been fantastic at getting me back to running when I had problems come up. Above all else I love my teammates the most and my class especially gets along so well with each other and we're constantly finding different activities to do as a group. The Men's and Women's sides get along really well too which is a good change from some of the other places I had visited that didn't have that cohesion.
You and several other prominent Minnesota boys runners have committed and competed for the U of M in the past couple of years. How important was it to you to stay in state and what would you say to those future potential recruits about the U of M?
Our last two recruiting classes have been incredibly strong and the class of 2024 looks to be our strongest yet and all that credit has to go to Coach Wick. Since he's taken over the recruiting classes have gotten better and better and he knows how to develop athletes. I committed to the program knowing that there were going to be some downs for the first year or two but since day 1 I have not regretted my decision. Everyone on this team is so dedicated to being better and the team culture has taken a complete 180 since Wick has taken over. I truly believe that with one more talented recruiting class in 2025, this team will be a powerhouse in the Big 10 and NCAA as a whole in the years to come. On the track side, our director, Matt Bingle, has a great vision for this team and is making smart and deliberate moves to help us make a push to win Big 10s next year. Staying in state shows that we can make a great team from developing in-state talent rather than being in guys from overseas and this is definitely the place for you if all that is something you value.
What goals do you have for the future as a Gopher?
Making nationals as a team is definitely at the top of my list in terms of priorities. Other goals of mine are finishing All-American in cross country and running 3:45, 13:30, and 28:30 in the 1500m, 5K, and 10K respectively. However at the end of the day my biggest priority is representing the University and the state as a whole as well as I can.