Recently minted New Zealand Cross Country champion Jono Jackson is one of the leading endurance runners on the New Zealand domestic scene. Steve Landells chats to the Aucklander about his life and time in the sport and his hopes for the future.
Jono Jackson is quite simply the "Mr Versatile" of New Zealand endurance running.
Whether on the track, road or cross country he is consistently in the mix at leading domestic events and has racked up a glut of national medals on all surfaces over the past five years.
Yet the one big questions mark facing the red-haired Aucklander - up until very recently - was when would he finally find the Midas touch and convert his string of silver and bronze medals into gold.
Jono himself jokes that he was often "the bridesmaid and never the bride" at New Zealand Championship events only to finally shed that tag last month when he secured a seven-second victory from Canterbury's Daniel Balchin to clinch the long awaited national cross country crown at the Auckland Domain.
"It had become a bit of a bogey," he explains of his length period waiting for either a cross country, road or track national title. "People often remember only the title winner rather than the athlete, who finished second or third. When I cross the finish line first, the emotion is often either elation or relief and winning that national cross country was definitely a feeling of relief."
It was richly deserved moment from one of New Zealand's hardest working and more prolific racers.
Born in Wellington, Jono admits he was an "energetic kid" whose natural stamina translated well to the soccer pitch. He was good enough to make national development squads in the 11-a-side game, but never made the final cut. Frustrated, he quit the sport aged "14 or 15" to focus on running.
He had been a primary school cross country champion and he continued his running success winning Auckland middle-distance titles after he moved north to relocate in the "City of Sails" aged ten but had never trained seriously for the sport.
Yet after kicking football into touch he was determined to see how far he could progress as a runner.
Living next to Cornwall Park in Epsom at the time, it was his good fortune that he spotted a group of boys training in the park - some of whom Jono had previously raced. One day he asked if he could jump in a session and quickly realised they were coached by former Olympic marathon bronze medallist and Arthur Lydiard disciple, Barry Magee.
It was to prove a pivotal moment in his athletics journey.
"From the age of 15 I went headlong into (Arthur) Lydiard training and I thrived in that environment," says Jono. "I responded well to the new training and started to win more races."
As a schoolboy he went on to notch national club titles over 3000m and on the road and also claimed 1500m bronze at the National Secondary Schools' Championships.
A gifted academic, Jono was excelling off the track too. He left Glendowie College a year early to start a degree in Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Auckland. He later then managed to successfully condense a four-year degree into three years and graduated in 2011 aged just 20.
As he focused on his academic development his running career took a back seat. However, after taking up a full-time job as a mechanical design engineer with Compac Sorting and working more regular hours allowed Jono more time once more to devote to his training.
Fresh out of the junior ranks he made an instant impact winning a silver medal at the 2011 New Zealand Road Championships behind fellow Aucklander Stephen Lett to announce his arrival as a major player on the domestic scene.
"I found transitioning straight into the senior ranks wasn't such a bad switch," he explains. "As I come from such a high mileage background, which is often what you lack coming out of the juniors, I adapted quickly and found I could run with the big boys."
Since then Jono has established a reputation as one of New Zealand's most consistent athletes winning a flurry of national senior medals. In 2012 he landed national bronze in the half-marathon and 10,000m. In 2014 and 2015 he won further 10,000m track bronzes and last year a New Zealand Marathon silver medal in Auckland. Earlier this year he secured his fourth 10,000m bronze and more recently added to that collection with a 10km bronze.
His garnered a reputation as the eternal second or third place finisher, but does Jono have any explanation as to why this was the case?
"I'm quite a generalist, I think I can pick up any form of running and be fairly good at it," he explains. "I suppose I don't have a specific best event. I'm quite consistent, I'll be good the whole season but then I'd often find someone would just peak at the right time and the title would slip out of my hands."
The "jinx" was finally broken at the Auckland Domain in August, although strictly speaking this was his second national title having secured the New Zealand Mountain Running crown in 2014 when "the generalist" once again showed his impressive versatility.
"I won my national mountain running title off track training, so I think I've got a good natural ability in mountain running," he explains. "In future, I might do more (mountain races), they are very tough, but rewarding."
Yet his immediate focus is on the marathon. Last year at the Auckland Marathon, Jono scalped more than three minutes from his lifetime best to clock 2:27:32 for second and he is seeking to go one better in October's race.
In the long-term Jono, who describes himself as a "strength horse," believes his best hopes lie over the 42.2km distance.
"I enjoy marathon training, it suits me and I believe you get out of the marathon what you put in," he says. "While I am young and still believe I can run faster, I would like to focus on marathons and give myself the best chance of maybe making a qualification time for a major championship. I believe the marathon times are more attainable than the track standards, which are fairly fast and rely on natural talent and speed."
Training around between 160 to 200km per week he fits in his training as part of his work commute to and from his Lynfield home to Penrose - sometimes adding an extra few loops around Cornwall Park to up the mileage - he is certainly not one to shirk the hard work.
The 35km Arthur Lydiard Waiatarua Run - which he starts from Arthur Lydiard's former home in Mt Roskill is also part of his regular Sunday training staple.
Yet there is far more to the Auckland City AC athlete than simply hard work and long runs and he believes he has developed a smarter edge to his training in recent times, which has been reflected in his results.
"I've started to listen to my body a lot more," he explains. "I have a huge platform of strength which Barry's training gives me, but because I am now so comfortable with his schedules, I am quite intuitive now. I don't need him to tell me to ease back or go harder, I have the schedule and I'll adjust it on the fly. When I was younger, I would follow the schedule to the letter, but I've become a bit smarter."
Which brings us to Barry Magee - Jono's solo coach during his ten-year career. As a committed disciple of Lydiard, Jono believes his octogenarian coach is the perfect man to teach the principles of the legendary coach and the Aucklander feels lucky to have him in his corner.
"He's so passionate about the sport," says Jono. "He was running sub-three-hour marathons up until he was 65 and he doesn't coach for monetary compensation, he does it for the love of the sport. He feels like his passing on the favour given to him by Lydiard but because of his experiences he is not only a great athletics coach, he also passes on some great life advice, too."
Yet after ten years of running, why does he love it so much?
"It's my quiet time and an escape from work stresses and everything else," he says. "It is nice to drop everything and go for long run and get that endorphin release," he says. "I would go crazy, if I didn't have that outlet."