“The only pressure I have is the pressure I put on myself.”
Jones has perhaps the best gig any twenty-something (or maybe any runner) could ask for — the opportunity to train endless hours in the mountains, travel the world to race, offer input to gear and apparel designers at Montrail and Mountain Hardwear and, generally, live the life.
It hasn’t exactly been a linear path. But for a kid who went from not really enjoying high school cross country and track when he ran for the Durango Demons, to dropping out of Colorado State after two semesters because “college wasn’t working,” to racking up numerous top finishes in both domestic and international ultra-distance races, to stints of living out of the back of his truck, Jones, who now calls Boulder, Colo., home, has found his place and is relishing the ride. Ever humble and appreciative of the opportunities, Jones has learned it’s important to choose opportunities wisely and be careful not to overdo things out of pure zeal.
When asked about the significance of his running career, Jones downplays his accomplishments and refers to his favorite book, “Conquistadors of the Useless,” by Lionel Terray, a French alpinist who was motivated by his love of sport, adventure and the mountains, not by money or glory.
“I’m just another guy,” Jones says. “What I do is cool, but it’s not brain surgery and not something others can’t do. With training, a lot of people could do what I do.”
Yet few have been able to keep up with Jones the last two years. With a win and new course-record at the San Juan Solstice 50-mile race in Lake City, Colo., in late June and a second-place finish at Moab’s Red Hot 55K in Utah in February, Jones has built on a stellar 2012, which included a record-setting win at the Lake Sonoma 50-miler in California and his win at the inaugural Transvulcania Ultramarathon, a 52-mile race in the Canary Islands.
“I run because I want to run, and I compete because it pushes me to be a better runner. Plus, I like to win,” says Jones with a sly smile.
Sometimes, however, the hype and overzealousness catch up with him, like at the San Juan Solstice where there was controversy about Jones’ checking in, or lack thereof, at aid stations. The race implemented a new bar code scanning system that forced runners to stop temporarily for tracking purposes. Although many runners would be thrilled for a mandated reason to stop during a technical, high-elevation, 50-mile run with almost 13,000 feet of climbing and descending, Jones didn’t stop. Instead, he charged through aid stations with the speed and focus of a mountain lion in chase, or someone zeroed-in on a course-record victory. The bravado could have resulted in a DQ, but race director Jerry Gray let it go.
“I’ll always be a part of Hardrock.”
Jones grew up in Durango, Colo., with the San Juan Mountains as his playground, and long family hikes the norm. When he was in high school, one of his teachers, Dale Garland, who also happened to be the race director for the famously grueling Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run, convinced him to volunteer at an aid station. Seeing such suffering and exhaustion through the day and night would have been enough to send most running in the other direction. But it inspired Jones to give ultrarunning a try.
Although most teens give up running after high school — even those who run cross country and track — Jones found his calling in long miles on mountain trails. For him, the secret sauce included a mixture of long hikes, well-honed mountain lungs and boundless enthusiasm, a combination that led to almost immediate success at races from 50K (or 31 miles) to 50 miles.
In 2011, at the ripe old age of 20, he returned to his roots and answered Hardrock’s siren call, placing second in a field that included several of the world’s top ultrarunners, many of whom were almost twice his age. Favored to win in 2012, Jones finished third, but came across the line almost an hour and a half faster than the previous year, a solid display of his growth and potential as a runner.
“I don’t want to be the youngest to do something,” Jones says. “I want to be the best, and, when it comes to running, the fastest.”