One of the fringe benefits of writing this column is that I get to meet so many great people. Some are ordinary people who are changing their lives, or the lives of those they care about, through running. Some are among the sport’s true elites. Of this latter category, one runner I’ve met stands out: Steve Jones.
Jonesy – as he is known by many – was the marathon and half-marathon world record holder during the mid-1980s, and he’s still the British marathon record holder. Even though the pinnacle of Jonesy’s career is well behind him, he is still one of the most popular characters in running. And I can’t emphasize the word character enough.
The hard-driving Welshman ran only one way: all out. That’s why it’s hard to imagine a less likely pairing than Steve Jones and me. If, for example, we had both been running the Chicago Marathon either year he won it (1984 and 1985), he could have run it twice and still been waiting for me at the finish.
Regardless of our odd-couple status, I’ve had the great privilege to share the stage with Jonesy at many seminars. The insights he has provided are remarkable. Jonesy is dead honest all the time. In one clinic, a young man asked for a six-month plan to compete at the international level. Jonesy bluntly replied that it would need to be a six-year program. He said it was going to take everything the young man had, and there were still no guarantees. The runner left, discouraged. But he’d been told the truth.
Of all the seminars I’ve worked with Jonesy, there’s one that stands out. He was asked to define the difference between winning a marathon and setting the world record. His answer was simple.
To win a marathon, Jonesy flatly stated, you only have to beat everyone who shows up that day. To set the world record, you have to beat everyone who has ever shown up.
The room went silent. None of us had ever thought of it that way. And no one, except a former world record holder, could have explained it as such.
To break the world record, Jonesy went on, you must train with a singleness of purpose. These are no cross-training sessions, easy days, or cutback weeks. You find your limit, then push against it – every day of your life.
One day in his life – October 21, 1984 – Jonesy was the best that had ever lived. He ran a world record 2:08:05, in Chicago. His relentless focus had paid off. But knowing Jonesy, I’m sure that even if he had run a 2:20, he would have still found satisfaction in the pursuit of absolute excellence.
It’s hard for me to imagine the courage it takes to pursue such a dream. Yet, having stood next to Jonesy, I believe the rest of us just aren’t asking enough of ourselves. We are limited most by our imaginations – or more precisely, our lack of imagination. We tend to see ourselves only as we are, not as we might be.
Most of us will never be the world’s best anything. But we could all be better at something if we had the drive to push beyond our comfort zone, whether it be a 30-minute 5-K or a step up the corporate ladder. If Jonesy taught me anything at those seminars, it’s that we’re all capable of seemingly unattainable goals.
Waddle on, friends.