World of Sport

The remarkable story of Britain’s ‘everyman’ marathon record-holder

World of Sport

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He began smoking at the age of just 11; he worked in a sewing-machine shop until he was 16; he ran in basic gym shoes and never wore a watch. Does this sound like Britain's marathon record-holder?

Steve Jones is, in every sense, an unassuming, modest man. He joined the RAF in 1974 and didn't even make their running team until two years later when he was recruited while puffing on a cigarette.

For a large part of his career he trained during lunch while keeping down his day job, just about squeezing in a very underwhelming 45-50 miles per week.

He always referred to himself as simply 'a runner', certainly not 'a marathoner'. Yet this is the man whose British record of 2:07.13 double Olympic gold-medallist Mo Farah was unable to beat in this year's race in London.

This, the Mo Farah who trains with former world record holder Alberto Salazar and the lavishly-funded Nike Oregon Project with every conceivable scientific benefit at his disposal.

Underwater treadmills, Alter-G treadmills, specifically-tasked training partners and pacers, dieticians, physical therapists, sports psychiatrists, custom-made shoes, altitude trips around the world and a seemingly limitless budget - Farah had all of this afforded to him. He finished in a time of 2:08.21.

In a fascinating interview with Sarah Barker of Deadspin, Jones opened up about how different it all was when he was competing off the back of 'very basic training.

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"We didn't have a coach. There was a senior person in the group, with more experience, so we followed him around like a pied piper," Jones said.

"No treadmill, no massage, maybe ultrasound, no heart-rate monitors. It was all about putting your shoes on and going for run.

"I worked split shift—six days on, four days off—and sometimes nights—five nights with three days off. It was tiring; you had to be organized to get your run in. On night shift, lunchtime is at midnight, so I ran at midnight on country lanes or around the base."

Remarkably, besides training part-time when he could just about fit it in, Jones had to take annual leave from his job to run the Chicago Marathon. Incredibly, in 1984 at the event he broke the world record with a time of 2:08.05 in only his second race at the distance.

At the 1985 London Marathon, Jones stopped to relieve himself during the race and still managed to come through and win the event in a time of 2:08.16. "Yes, and I didn't even train for that," he said in the interview with Barker.

So no watch, no pacers, no professional training. What about his diet? "I just ran. Boring, really. As to diet, I had a family with two young kids - I ate whatever they ate.

Jones put it simply when reflecting on his career: "I am a normal guy - I just trained very hard."

A normal guy who still holds the British marathon record when, you guessed it, he did not even care for wearing a watch. This everyman's record could remain for some time yet.

Read Deadspin's full interview with Jones here

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