Jordanna Cota knows what it takes to have success as a cross-country runner.
The Red Deer native had a solid high school career at Hunting Hills and then spent five years with the RDC cross-country team, winning the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference title in the 2017 season and finishing fourth at nationals.
She finished in the top 10 all five years at RDC, now Red Deer Polytechnic. She opened her college career by finishing eighth in the 2013 ACAC finals, then seventh, fourth, second and finally first.
“I’ve always been one to set goals and try to push the bar higher every year,” said the 27-year-old. “Even if I was having some success, I try to challenge myself to run faster and to see how better I can be.”
Now she has a new goal — marathons.
“When I was in college everyone I knew said I would never run a marathon but after college and when things were opening up after the pandemic I wanted to challenge myself … to compete in elite races and see how much I could push myself.”
And push herself she did. She ran the Edmonton Marathon in August and just returned after running the New York Marathon, finishing in an impressive three hours and 45 seconds. She was 20th out of 1,000 Canadians and 706th out of 47,000 runners.
Even then, Jordanna would have liked to do better.
“My goal was to finish under three hours,” she said. “But it was a tough course, one of the toughest among the top six marathons in the world. And it wasn’t a normal fall day. It was 24C and 90 percent humidity.
“I think I can reach my goal on a cooler day and a different course.”
Competing in the marathon wasn’t something Jordanna jumped into immediately after graduating with her nursing degree from RDC.
Her work and the pandemic took its toll.
“It was definitely a huge transition leaving college, and being in that team environment,” she said. “It was a real shock in that you suddenly are at work then home and there was no group to be part of. You felt a bit lost and then the pandemic and it was a lonely couple of years.”
But running was never far away.
“It was a definite outlet from the physical and mental stress of being a nurse and adding the pandemic into it. The time at the college taught me some of the foundations of stress management and I still ran five to seven times a week … that was important to do.”
When everything was opening back up and there were races to be run, the desire to be part of that culture once again got to Jordanna.
She was in contact with former RDC coach Kari Elliott, who coached Jordanna for two years after three years with Brian Stackhouse.
“I wanted to run some fun races, but I’d run a half marathon while in college and enjoyed that so when Kari left the college (to coach in the States) I reached out to her and she thought it would be a good idea if I trained for a marathon and see what i could do.
“She gave me a plan and the idea was to run a half marathon first.”
She competed in the Millarville Half Marathon, winning the women’s title and finishing second overall in 1:27.49.2.
In the Edmonton Marathon, she finished in 3:02.38. She won the 20-29 year-old age group and was fourth on the women’s side.
Less than four months later, she had finished her second marathon.
“I never dreamed of running a marathon while in college now I’ve done two in four months, it’s a real eye-opener,” she said.
‘This is a hard sport on the body, way do I always pick the hard sports,” she said with a laugh.
“It’s time-consuming, especially with the job I do and being on my feet all day, then running, I should have picked something else to do but I don’t think I can steer away from this.”
The hardest part was mentally not knowing if she could run the 42.2-kilometre race.
“You never train that distance, so not knowing if you could run at that pace and for that distance was tough,” she said. “Running makes you mentally tough and it was good to get that first one out of the way.”
Jordanna has already qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon in April, although she’s not sure she will compete.
“I have Plantar Fasciiitis, so I’ll have to take it by ear and see how it goes. I do want to run that race for sure one day.”
She will also one day run the Red Deer Marathon, but first would like to run the top six marathons in the world — Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York.
“I love to keep pushing myself and see how far I can go. To compete in the major marathons. travel and see the world before I settle down and have a family.”
Jordanna, who along with Jodi Sanquin were two of the biggest names to run for RDC, would love to give back to the institution and the cross-country team.
The fact her sister, Myah, is now with the team, which is coached by her former high school coach, Doug Spicer, gives her even more incentive to help.
“It’s exciting to see the program progress as much as it has and watching my little sister is cool. She also is in nursing and I feel I can help her with some of the dos and don’ts.”
Jordanna will talk with Spicer about helping where she can possibly next season.
“I’ll reach out to Doug and see if I can help … just run some laps with the team or run with them in the morning and show them the trails we have in the city. I definitely want to coach one day and even teach at the college … I see that in my future.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at email@example.com