I love to run! As early as I can remember, my parents did not deliver me to school/athletic events; my choices were to either run, walk, or ride my bike to these events. In P.E. classes, I was possibly the only kid that did not mind when the other kids screwed-up, and the teacher would yell, “run a lap!” I had a paper route and a stopwatch, which meant everyday was a new opportunity to deliver papers to my clients faster than previously done. I pre-date the movie Forrest Gump; I was affectionately known as the Forrest Gump of Clinton, IA before there was a real Forrest Gump. My first opportunity to participate in track was eighth grade. Most kids went out for track to get the matching cotton hoodies and pants, I went out because I could not wait to compete in running. I wish I could say that I was a superstar on day one, but I was not. Like most activities, it takes ten years and/or 10,000 hours to master a craft--let the practice begin!
My parents recognized that I loved to run, they saw me steadily improve over two years, so they decided to add an accelerator to the process. For my 16th birthday, they purchased a week at the Jim Ryun Running Camp. In 1980, Jim Ryun was the LeBron James of the running world. Most notably, Jim will forever be known as the first high school boy in the world to break the four minute mile barrier. Jim was a three-time Olympian (he earned a silver medal at the 1968 Olympic Games), his American mile record stood for fourteen years, he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated three times, and since 1968, he is the only American to be ranked number one in the world for the mile.
I vividly remember the moment I met Jim Ryun; he was tall at 6’2”. I was 6’2”at the time, which was unfortunate as distance runners by nature are not tall. He was humble, I have always admired humility in athletes. He was a Midwest native from Kansas, I am an Iowan. He is a devout Christian not just in title, but in everyday practice. I quickly knew why of all the running camps my parents could have chosen, they chose Jim Ryun. Instantly I knew there was something different about this camp. Fast forward three years--I attended several other running camps throughout high school, and those camps taught running while the Jim Ryun camp also taught much more. Jim taught us about excellence, but not just about excellence in running, excellence in every area of your life. Jim taught us that there is a difference between what you are (runner) and who you are (Christian). Jim taught us that at some point in our life our running flame will flicker out while our Christian flame can still burn bright. What I witnessed in one week of camp with Jim is summarize as the three components to developing excellence; large knowledge base, commitment, and practice (consistency and deliberate).
Large Knowledge Base- Jim stressed the importance of learning your craft by reading as much as possible. It was 1980, so there was no internet. To gain knowledge meant to subscribing to every running magazine possible. Running Times, Runner’s World, and Track & Field News started to arrive monthly at my house. I eagerly awaited my magazines and I gobbled up all forms of running literature to be found. Jim also stressed finding a running mentor, someone to learn from, someone who could teach the foundations of running. That person became Greg Dennis, my high school running coach. Greg invested his love for running into my life. Jim was more than just a runner, Jim was also a strong follower of Christ and he emphasized that the qualities that make a great runner can easily transfer over to our Christian walk. Those qualities included, but were not limited to, reading The Bible daily, involvement in FCA, attending church regularly, and finding quiet time to reflect on the day.
Commitment- Jim’s quote that resonates still in my head is “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” I was blessed to run for an extremely successful high school team, from 1979-1988 my high school won eight state titles, two runner-up finishes, and one third place finish. Our coaches had us believing that if you outwork everyone else before the State meet, that when it comes time to compete at the State, all that hard work will pay dividends--and it did. I believed I had endured some brutally tough workouts in high school. Workouts with the intention of breaking my spirit--until I heard of some Jim’s favorite workouts. There will be more on Jim’s actual workouts later, but what impressed me the most was how committed Jim was to his craft. Jim ran everyday regardless of the weather conditions. He ran for miles on ice-covered gravel roads. Jim’s running pre-dated tech fabrics and specialized running shoes; he ran in cotton tops and shorts, socks for gloves, and whatever shoes he could find in Wichita, KS. Jim was just as committed to his walk with Jesus. Jim did the work but he believed he was given the gift of running from God. He was fully committed to using that gift.
Practice- Under the guidance of legendary coach Bob Timmon’s, the intensity of Jim’s workouts were mind-blowing. As a high schooler, he was running twice per day, and as much as 90-100 miles per week. In comparison, the best high school runners today may reach 60-70 miles per week. Jim preferred a ratio of 70:30 quality:quantity running miles, while today that ratio is completely flipped to a 70:30 ratio of quantity:quality. Jim’s favorite workout was a lap of the track in 67 seconds (4:28 mile pace), followed by a rest of 90 seconds, and then repeated the run & rest fifty times. In my best running days I could do twenty laps of the track. His workouts were deliberate; train the body to train the mind, which ultimately helped train the mind for racing. At the ripe young age of seventeen, he was competing against the best runners from all over the world. He was the best runner in the United States, and no one could challenge him in workouts or in high school races; he could only get faster by finding new ways to challenge himself in practice.
To this day, I still follow the life and career of Jim Ryun. Jim served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1996-2007, and he still runs at the age of seventy three. But, the most important thing is that he has continued to hold the Jim Ryun Running Camp at various locations across the United States. I am happy to say that many of the traits of excellence Jim shared with me as a sixteen year old are still in place in my life today. Thank you Jim for living a life of EXCELLENCE!