Author and Marathoner Kim Jones

Despite not taking up competitive running until her 20s, Kim Jones became one of America’s elite distance athletes of the 1980s and 90s. In 1991, she was the third-ranked runner in the world after posting a PR of 2:26:40 in the Berlin Marathon.

In her new book Dandelion Running Wild, Jones recounts the stories of her upbringing and how running brought her a sense of peace. I caught up with her by phone from Fort Collins, Colorado.

The Marathon Newbie: How do you feel about running as an avenue of self-therapy?

Kim Jones: I feel like it helped me through a lot of tough times—the running. Back when I first started running, I didn’t even know I was training. I would just go out for a run, running away from my brothers and sisters. Sometimes, I would just run down to the beach. Little did I know as a child, through my adolescence, or even as a young adult that I developed into a marathoner simply because I used running as a therapy.

TMN: Tell me about your early career as a runner. Were you a member of a cross-country team or anything similar, or did that come later in life?

KJ: That came a little later in life. I ran on my high school track team; that was my first foray into organized running. We had some great coaches that didn’t make us run too hard, but gave us just the right amount of work. We kept that joy of running without becoming overwhelmed by it. It was the perfect recipe for me because I had enough natural talent that I was able to take those workouts and really benefit from the CT (cross-training) and the rest days. I was able to use that later in my career.

TMN: I’ve heard a lot of stories about coaches who don’t understand the importance of rest days, especially a couple decades ago. It seems like your coaches were a little ahead of the times in that regard.

KJ: They were. Actually, I just met with my high school coach for the first time in 20 years. He had read my book and was so thrilled that I had credited him for my success and for renewing my running career later in life. I always had that joy of running. I never once felt like it was work.

TMN: One of the things I like about running—and soccer, for that matter—is that it’s suitable for every age and ability level. In addition to the physical, what are the mental and spiritual benefits of running?

Kim Jones on the cover of Running Times

KJ: I feel that anyone can benefit from running for any given reason. I ran in high school, but I didn’t run in college and I didn’t start again until after I had started my family, when I was in my mid-20s. I was a sprinter in high school, so when I went out the door I was training for the Bloomsday race [in Spokane]. My plan was just to run a mile. I couldn’t run a block. I know how people bring themselves into training and how tough it is at the beginning stages. My goal when I started running was just to get outside and have some time to myself.

I think any runner can benefit from that, especially women. Women who work hard and take care of their kids and have hardly any time to themselves, they can just throw on their running shoes and get out the door. You think about your time and your day—the thoughts that you don’t really get to sit down with and relax at home.

TMN: When I first started my training, I really enjoyed the fact that it got me out for 1-2 hours at a time and I could just let my mind wander.  Where do you find your mind going when you’re running?

KJ: I think it’s probably two different things. When I’m training hard, I would always think about a race and put myself in a race situation.When I was on an easy run, I could meditate a bit and think about things that were bothering me.

TMN: I have heard from people that running can be very therapeutic in that sometimes at the end of a run, you’re more relaxed and easier to interact with. When you started training competitively for marathons, did you notice any change in the way you interacted with others?

KJ: I think when I’m training regularly and things are going well and I’m able to get out the door almost every other day, I was much more calm and I could process things easily. I was easier to approach, definitely (laughs).

TMN: Any final thoughts on running and what it’s meant for you in your own life?

KJ: Running is such a natural phenomenon. I think everybody should be a runner – that’s what we were meant to do.

For myself, I know that I ran to the beach because I had to. We had 14 kids in our family and two bikes. Only one of them worked and the other one we used for parts. Running was a form of transportation early on and became my savior when I was an adolescent. I just encountered a lot of dysfunction in my life and it really pulled me out of that dysfunctional pattern that several of my siblings had fallen into. It saved me in many ways and gave me hope.

Of course, later in life with all that enjoyment from running I entered into the perfect situation as an elite runner.  With my background and because of running through trauma, I became a strong and determined athlete. It doesn’t matter if you become a world-class athlete or become an adult who likes to run for pleasure—it’s very healthy.

It’s my way of finding myself and re-thinking things and taking myself out of a situation. It’s probably the best therapy I’ve ever had.

Kim Jones’ book is available through CreateSpace and as a Kindle download through Amazon.

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