BY WILLIAM LOBDELL
OCT. 17, 2000
The comment Tom Jones gets from anyone who crosses the path of his well-worn running shoes is almost always the same: Are you nuts?
For the last three months, the Huntington Beach man has been on a foot race across the United States. Every day, he has run 26.2 miles--the distance of a marathon--and he won’t cross his proposed finish line for three more weeks.
“People think I’m out of my tree, but in a good way,” the 37-year-old said when he was outside Pittsburgh.
Jones hopes his 120-day journey will raise $250,000 for needy children. So far, he has received about $40,000.
His journey over America’s purple mountains and across its fruited plains--not to mention the 111-degree deserts and truck-clogged roads--began July 4. He ran the Independence Day parade route through Huntington Beach, he said, and “just kept running.” He completed his 106th consecutive 26.2-mile day on Monday in Aberdeen, Md., outside Baltimore.
Jones has worn out nine pair of shoes and used 200 bandages. All 10 of his toenails have fallen off, at least twice. He said he has stopped counting.
Nobody knows how he does it.
“Once I ran 26 miles for 13 days in my own training,” said Amby Burfoot, executive editor of Runner’s World and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon. “On the 14th day, I couldn’t get my body out of bed.”
Burfoot, and many others, have asked, “Why’s he doing this?”
Jones said God told him to.
Three years ago, the born-again Christian who sleeps with his Bible, prayed he would find a way to raise money for needy children. Jones spent 10 years of his own childhood, from age 8 to 18, in a state-run boys home in Covina. As an adult, he said, he did not adjust well to life on his own.
“I had significant problems,” said Jones, a 10th-grade dropout who became a professional kick boxer. They included his temper, cocaine and police. He was jailed only briefly, he said, because “I didn’t get caught for a lot of the stuff I did.”
Turned Life Around
One day, about five years ago, he recalled, “I finally looked up in the sky and said, ‘Help me!’ That was the point things changed for me.” He kicked his drug habit, went to church and met Brandi, who is now his wife.
After his conversion, he became a world champion kick boxer in 1996 and 1997.
Then, he said, he sensed God telling him to run long distances. Though he had never run a marathon, he sought corporate sponsors. “A few kicked me out, a few laughed at me, and most of them said I was out of my mind,” he said.
A friend agreed to give Jones money for living expenses during his runs, enabling him to give all other donations to charity.
Jones began by running the length of California--1,500 miles--in each of the last two years, raising more than $120,000. It was a warmup for this year’s run, which will cover 3,144 miles in 120 days. After a four-day rest, Jones plans to run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5.
Jones, whose expenses will total less than $35,000, travels with two men--a driver and a physical therapist-cook. The 5-foot, 8-inch Jones has lost 20 pounds from his normal weight of 160 pounds despite a diet of 6,000 calories a day.
He splits his mileage into two 13-mile runs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. When he crossed the Mojave Desert, he started at 3 a.m. When it snows, Jones runs on a treadmill or local high school tracks. It takes him about four hours to finish 26 miles, a good time for an average marathoner.
“People don’t believe you can do it up front, and they don’t believe it when you did it,” said Jones, who videotapes his runs and has witnesses for every mile.
He also updates his progress during “Extreme Run 2000" on a Web site (www.run4kids.org).
Jones donates to organizations that help neglected and abused children, including Orangewood Children’s Home and the Masonic Home for Children, where he grew up.
A lot of people have asked Jones, What’s next?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll have to go back and pray about it.”
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