Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Right before the gun, Iowa State miler Maggie Gannon toes the starting line and moves her hands from her legs, to her lungs and to her head, repeating “composure”. The Cyclone junior keeps that in mind throughout the race, reminding herself to stay present, mentally. The mantra reminds her to focus on the moment at hand, and not worry about outside factors that could distract her.
“I try to enjoy the race and try to be in that moment, not thinking about finishing and just being present in the race,” Gannon said. “I look forward to that pain setting in, knowing that I’ll be able to get through it and get to that feeling of accomplishment on the other side.”
This season, Gannon has emerged as one of the top middle-distance runners in program history, breaking personal records seemingly every time she steps on the track and cracking the program’s all-time top-10 list in both the mile and 1,500-meter run. The Burlington, Illinois, native attributes a lot of that success to Iowa State women’s middle and long-distance coach Andrea Grove-McDonough.
“Coach McDonough brings a vibe to the team that takes a lot of the pressure off of us,” Gannon said. “She’s one of the best, if not the best, middle-distance coaches in the country. It’s been great for us middle-distance girls because she bring the attitude of ‘I know what I’m doing, and if you buy in, you’re going to succeed.’ That swagger that she brings to mid-distance has been great for myself, as well as the other girls on the team.”
In her first year under Grove-McDonough, Gannon has set personal records on a meet-to-meet basis, breaking or improving her marks seven times this season. Her consistent improvement has her climbing the Big 12 leaderboards as well, claiming the conference’s fifth-fastest time in the 1,500m at 4:22.16, a mark that ranks sixth in program history.
Grove-McDonough describes Gannon as a “tenacious” competitor, whose confidence seems to grow every time she laces up to race.
“Our relationship has really clicked and that’s allowed us to do things that we couldn’t have done otherwise,” Grove-McDonough said. “She’s learned to trust herself this year and she has realized that she’s capable of running with the best. That has really boosted her confidence.”
Teammate Katy Moen echoed Grove-McDonough’s comments on Gannon’s growth in confidence.
“Maggie has really been a leader for us this year,” Moen said. “Through our workouts, she has really started to embrace the ‘pain zone’ and push through it. It’s been good seeing her have that success and it’s given her a little bit of a swagger this season.”
The bigger the stage, the better Gannon has performed. The Cyclone trackster has a knack for big races in big regular season meets as well as conference showdowns. Gannon took fourth in this year’s Big 12 Indoor Championships, despite entering with a seed time outside of the top-10 in the event.
When asked about Gannon’s ability to perform and succeed in important races, Grove-McDonough said that it was hard to put it into words, as simple adjectives fall short of explaining her pupil’s ability to shine in high-reward situations.
According to Gannon, a lot of credit to her success in those races comes from her mindset.
“I look forward to big races,” Gannon said. “I embrace tougher competition, and I look at it as an opportunity rather than something to be scared of. This year, I’ve done a better job mentally preparing myself, that I’m ready to race and I’m going to perform my best in that race, regardless of where I’m ranked in that competition.”
The day before a race, runners typically have a favorite meal to load up on nutrients. Gannon is no different, and there’s nothing she enjoys more than an American classic.
“Burgers,” Gannon said. “I get the balance of carbs from the bun and the proteins from the meat, so that’s my perfect pre-race meal. I love a good, juicy burger.”
Gannon will look to add another personal record to the list this weekend, as she, and the rest of the Iowa State track and field team, returns to the track Friday, May 16, to compete at the Big 12 Championships in Lubbock, Texas.