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Ilona Mononen

Date of birth: 18. joulukuuta 2003

Home town: Hämeenlinna

Sports: 800 m, 1500 m ja 3000 m juoksu, viestijuoksu



3000 m U-20 European Championship gold, Tallinn, Estonia 2021

3000 m U-20 World Championships 5. place, Nairobi, Kenya 2021

1500 m Finnish Championships gold


Ilona on social media

“Teamwork is the key”


Middle-distance runner Ilona Mononen, the European youth champion in the 3000 meters, is one of the most promising Finnish track and field athletes. The determined and composed young woman has rapidly climbed towards the top of European athletics, summer after summer.

While the journey to the adult elite level is still ahead, so is immeasurable potential. The youngest member of Team Renta enjoys rigorous training but aims to keep running enjoyable, believing that it leads to the best results.

“I have a background in football, and I started track and field in elementary school. Initially, my main events were long jump, sprinting, and even shot put. In some local championships, I tried the 1000m distance, and it somehow felt right. Gradually, I started focusing more on middle-distance running, and training shifted solely to running, leaving other sports behind,” Ilona explains.

Currently, Mononen competes in the 800m, 1500m, and 3000m races, as well as relays. Training for middle-distance running involves both intensity and diversity. Endurance must be at a high level, but speed is also crucial. Middle-distance races allow her to explore and surpass her limits in maximum efforts. Ilona appreciates this combination.

“The feeling after a tough workout or competition is somehow addictive. It feels rewarding when the run goes well,” Ilona states.

In addition to physical fitness, a middle-distance runner needs tactical acumen. In major competitions, it might not be about running at full speed. “You might need to pace yourself, and decisions must be made during the race,” Mononen reminds.


Step by step upward


The last three summers have been significant for Ilona in various ways. In 2019, Ilona moved back to Finland with her family from the United States. In the same summer, she earned her first Finnish championship medals in the U-16 category, winning silver in the 800m and 1500m. After the summer, Ilona joined her current training group, Lahden Ahkerat Nuoret Mailerit, under the coaching of Mikko Rajaniemi.

Her development continued positively, and in 2020, Ilona established herself as a consistent performer at the national level in adult categories. She won silver in the indoor Finnish championships in the 1500m. In the 2020 Kalevan Games, she secured silver in the 1500m and bronze in the 800m.

In July 2021, in Tallinn, Mononen ran her way to the title of the European youth champion in the 3000m with a new personal best, gaining more recognition in Finland. Later that summer, she scored in the Kenyan youth World Championships, finishing fifth in the 3000m and eighth in the 1500m, the best European in both events.

“Both experiences were unforgettable and educational in their own way. Tallinn taught me that when you believe in yourself, anything is possible. Kenya was full of events; the competition schedule changed, and the conditions were very different. It taught me that athletes need to be flexible and adapt to changes. However, the most memorable aspect of the trips was making so many new friends among my competitors,” Ilona reflects.

Although endurance runners are sometimes called “lone wolves,” Ilona feels that the Finnish endurance running family is a tight-knit community.

“When you get to know these friends on trips, you can start calling them sisters. We are like-minded people, and teamwork is the key,” Ilona emphasizes.



Cool-headed competitor


2022 promises to be an interesting year for Mononen. Next summer, the under-20 World Championships will be held in Colombia. In addition to these, Mononen dreams of participating in the European Championships for adults, scheduled to take place in Munich.

“I need to set high goals. I don’t rule out the possibility of making it to the European Championships based on time or ranking. Through consistent, upward-trending training, the goal is to reach the international level in adult competitions. I also dream of running in the Olympics someday,” says Ilona.

Ilona lists determination and tactical composure among her strengths. “If I want something, I don’t easily give up on it. In competitions, I’ve learned that I can trust my strengths and make decisions at the right moment.”

She emphasizes that training for middle-distance running requires resilience and a persistent personality. The global competition is fierce. Sometimes you just have to go for a run, even if it doesn’t always feel pleasant. On the other hand, patience and balance in training are also crucial. One should train hard but still stay healthy. Trusting one’s own approach is essential because the same training methods don’t suit everyone.

So far, Mononen seems to have found a good balance in her approach—evidenced by the consistently improving results achieved in collaboration with coach Mikko Rajaniemi. Ilona expresses confidence that their partnership will continue to yield positive results in the future.




Goal-Oriented Training and the charm of nature


Rest weeks are a rarity in Ilona’s discipline. The year is divided into different periods, each with its own purpose for recovery, building fitness, and achieving the required sensitivity for competitions.

Following the summer competition season, Mononen undergoes a two to three-week period known as the “transition phase,” aimed at both mental and physical recovery. This prepares the athlete’s body and mind for the high training volumes and stress of the upcoming base training period. During the base training phase, as the name suggests, Ilona focuses on building the foundation of her fitness – the physical base upon which her specific event training is built. In addition to running, her training during this phase includes strength exercises and activities like stair climbing.

During the indoor season, the training load lightens slightly, and sharpness is sought by incorporating race-paced exercises. Between the indoor season and the summer competition season, there is another base training phase. The most important competitions fall in the summer, during which training volumes decrease, and the focus shifts to maintaining competition-specific skills and preparing for upcoming races.

In addition to sports, Ilona’s daily life currently includes high school studies. Her free time is spent with family and friends. Outdoor activities, swimming, cycling, and casual sports, such as playing soccer, are among Ilona’s favorites. She also enjoys cooking and baking, with the TV show Modern Family being a perennial favorite.

Ilona highly values Finland’s nature and is interested in environmental conservation. Time spent in nature is precious to Mononen, whether it’s for training or relaxation. Some of her favorite places include the trails in the Konttila area near Janakkala and the landscapes around Lake Kallavesi in Kuopio where her cottage is located.


Hard work pays off, but it has to be fun too


When it comes to athletes, Ilona looks up to the American middle-distance runner specializing in the 3000m steeplechase, Emma Coburn. Mononen admires Coburn’s strong work ethic and fearless approach to competition. As a person, Coburn’s warmth and philanthropic work have left a lasting impression on Mononen. She believes that an athlete’s values contribute to their respectability. In addition to Coburn, Ilona cites her parents as role models.

“Outside of sports, I look up to my parents – basically in everything.”

From her parents, Ilona has learned the principle that hard work is rewarded, but the effort must come from one’s own desire. Results come when running is enjoyable, and forcing oneself doesn’t work.

Mononen enjoys traveling and is eager to explore new places and meet new people. This broadens her worldview and brings a fresh perspective to life. With the current trajectory, there will be many more competition trips in the future, and the support from Renta helps Ilona in more ways than one.

“Renta’s support enables me to invest in sports in a completely different way. In the future, I want to compete professionally. Renta also supports Lahden Ahkerat Nuoret Mailerit, which is a significant thing for me – there I find training partners and a coach. I highly appreciate that!”

In addition to financial support, Mononen finds similarities between her values and those of Renta.

“For me, it’s important to keep sports positive and enjoyable, which is why I like the similar, positive attitude of the people at Renta. I feel that it’s a shared value – aiming to keep our activities enjoyable,” Ilona explains.

Trust stands out as a common value both at Renta and in Ilona’s life. The most trustworthy person in her career, according to Ilona, is her coach Mikko Rajaniemi. A certain measure of trust is that both parties feel comfortable being open, and both can rely on each other’s word.

“In my sport, 100% trust is crucial, in a way that it’s mutual. It’s important that I can trust Mikko, but Mikko also trusts me. Being honest and sharing my feelings is crucial. Mikko has learned over the past couple of years what kind of training suits me, and I have learned to trust that we are doing the right things. However, I can also say if I feel that I haven’t recovered properly after intense training, and Mikko trusts my word. This way, we can optimize my training program together,” Ilona explains.