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Cooney runs to surprise victory at Tucson Marathon in Arizona

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In late-October, Kathryn Cooney signed up for the Holualoa Tucson Marathon on a bit of a whim, leaving her roughly six weeks to prepare for a 26.2-mile race in the desert.

The 23-year-old Chelmsford native had spent most of September enjoying an extensive hiking excursion in Arizona, and when she finished that she took about three weeks off from running. So her decision to take on the Tucson Marathon was certainly ambitious, or perhaps even impulsive.

“I went into it not really expecting anything,” said Cooney, who now resides in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Yet somehow she delivered a performance to remember as the top women’s finisher in the race with a final clocking of 3:02:59, good for 22nd place overall.

Maybe Cooney should run with that calm, no-expectations disposition more often?

“Yeah, I think it definitely worked out for me,” she said with a laugh, still clearly surprised by her impressive showing.

According to Cooney, the temperature was in the 30s when the race started and was in the 60s when it finished. But she called the conditions “perfect.”

“I kind of stayed back a little from the start and then picked up the pace about halfway,” said Cooney. “There was a tailwind at the end that really helped.

“I was talking to a woman at the starting line and she asked how many marathons I had done. I said ‘this is my fourth.’ Then she said ‘what’s your goal?’ And I said ‘oh, I don’t know, around 3:10 I guess.’ She said ‘wow, it didn’t take you long to get the hang of this.'”

Cooney has also completed the Boston Marathon, the Manchester (N.H.) City Marathon and the Vermont City Marathon. She ran four years of track and two years of cross country at Chelmsford High School, but did not run at UMass Amherst, where she was a 4.0 student majoring in environmental science.

Cooney’s father, Mike, is one of the top-ranked runners for ages 50-54 in New England, while her brother, Quinn, was the Massachusetts Gatorade Runner of the Year as a senior at CHS. Quinn is now at Dartmouth College.

You can add Kathryn’s effort in Tucson to the family’s stellar running résumé.

“It’s amazing,” said Mike. “I wish I could’ve been there for it.”

After graduating from UMass in December of 2015, Kathryn accepted a job with the United States Geological Survey and moved to Laurel, Md. She has since lived in California — about 90 minutes north of San Francisco — and now in Flagstaff with a friend.

“The West Coast has my heart for now,” she said.

As for her next race? She said there’s nothing planned at the moment.

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