In 2006 I had my big breakthrough when I ran my marathon debut, 2:15:28. The reactions from those who were close to me were all very positive but beyond my small circle of friends many of the things I heard were far less positive. Unfortunately I think a big part of our culture is to tear down others and I was experiencing some of that.
I had run my debut in February and I was able to get added to a few high level road races around the country thanks to that performance and a good run at the 3M half marathon a few weeks before it. One of the races that was willing to bring me in was the Steamboat 4 mile. I was really pumped because this race was the highest caliber I was able to get to. It was under distance for me for sure but it was generally a very hot day for the race and I handle heat well so I hoped it would balance out.
When I arrived a couple days before the race the elite athlete coordinator told me he had roomed me with Jon Brown because he knew I was a young marathoner and he thought I might be able to get some pointers. Now Jon Brown may not be a house hold name to everyone but to me he certainly was. Jon was 4th at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. He ran in the very low 27's for 10k and had some other monster road runs. I don't know how to describe the excitement and nervousness I felt to get to meet this guy, never mind share a room with him for a couple days.
Jon is a very quite and understated man. I got very little out of him over the next few days in the way of answers to direct questions. For example when I asked Jon about marathon training he said "I run 2 hours at a solid effort every day for a while." thought a moment and said "that doesn't sound like much but it really is." Full conversation right there. I'm not kidding.
You may have picked up from all my blogs that I talk a lot… a real lot. Really I never shut up. So I probably was driving Jon nuts. That said he never showed it. In fact each day we were in town he invited me to go run on some trails in the next town over. We would go out and rattle along at 6:00 pace, Jon's easy jog- which can start to give you a sense of what "2 solid hours" might look like. I would spend my time basically saying in my head "holy shit I'm running with Jon Brown"and trying not to talk his ear off too much. I wasn't too good at that second part.
On a couple runs it was just us on a couple others Olympian Kathy Butler joined us. Kathy and Jon were old friends and she had a way of bringing him out of his shell a bit.
In the race I ran fairly well. I think I was 11th in a pretty decent field. I got some big scalps. They pay time primes and I was fast enough to make a couple hundred bucks. All in all I had a great time got to meet and race some heroes of mine and gain some real good experience. I had no right to be in a race of that level at that distance and honestly the elite athlete coordinator knew it but he was doing a young guy a favor and I really appreciated it. Then and now.
What I really remember was what a class act Jon was. He had no reason to put up with me. He owed me nothing and he was in a tough spot coming back from a bad illness and trying to get ready for the world champs. He couldn't be blamed for not being too nice. Instead he went out of his way to invite me to run and to join him going out for meals and the like. It was more than that though.
Some of the things he said have stuck with me for years. He asked what my marathon time was and I told him and almost apologized telling him how the course was fast and conditions were perfect. He stopped me and said "I know a lot of reasons why someone might be better than what their PR is but there is no one in the world who is worse than their PR." I had been torn down by so many who had done so little and here was a guy who had done so much and he refused to do that. As a rule almost all the top athletes I have met since have been the same. They show nothing but respect and kindness to others. Rather than tearing them down.
Other things that stuck with me were how calm he was about big and little performances. He was obviously highly invest in being great. His whole life was wrapped up in training and racing and had been for a decade but when I asked him how he would run that weekend he was honest. It would not be good he wasn't fit but it was fine it was a stepping stone. When I asked about some of his great runs he would simply say something like it went well or yes I was fit. He oozed the idea that you needed to work as hard as you could every day but that you would still have bad days and great days but the key to survival was to be a pro. Lay it out there on the roads, leave nothing in the tank, but regardless of the result good or bad you are still you. No better no worse.
I guess what I was hoping to convey with these little tidbits is that Jon was to me a super human a two time Olympic 4th placer surely robbed of a medal by dopers a man who at his best could go toe to toe with anyone in the world, one of the super elite and yet in a few days with him you quickly realize just how normal and average he really was. The only two things that were exceptional about him other than his running resume was how supportive and positive he was to others and his calm unmistakeable will power. You could see his success was clearly a function of that will rather than some physical gift.
post script- I'll edit this tomorrow, it is getting late and I still need to do the dishes. Sorry if it is real bad. I just wrote it and haven't read it yet for edits.