Book review: Elite marathoner, Kim Jones’s, autobiography “Dandelion Growing Wild”


20131231-204638.jpgI started reading Kim Jones’s autobiography, “Dandelion Growing Wild”, while traveling to a race. I was so captivated by the introductory story of all the tragedy and life changing moments in her first 20-25 yrs, that I couldn’t put the book down. I cried and laughed repeatedly. I hadn’t even gotten into her running career yet!

Then, I hurt my toe in my race that weekend and was limping thereafter. Being an emotional mess from both reading the book and being hurt, I stopped reading the book for a few months until the “tide turned.”

I since picked up the book again to read on our trip to Ireland. I started right where Kim Jones’s road racing career began. What a great place to re-start!

This book is a must-read as a marathoner, esp. for elite marathoners. It would make for a great movie!
She overcame a dysfunctional family full of tragedy and mental disorder, which makes her running career even more remarkable. It really is mind-blowing everything she and her family went through. When things would start to be going great, tragedy would strike.

What’s even more remarkable is the fact she was twice a Mom, before she even became a road racer in her mid-20s. Stories about her family and daughters is a common theme throughout the book. I’m around the same age as her youngest daughter, so I could relate to the many stories about her, including her speech impediment, quirky 80s fashion, and love for New Kids on the Block.

Kim is very much a normal person/Mom and stayed the same person even when she became an elite runner, including her love for wine, beer, and having a good time after races. She sounds like someone I’d hang out with! She told hilarious stories about being the “Montana Chug Upside Down Champ”, drinking wine while lifting weights, and winning the New Year’s Eve 5 miler in NYC after wining and dining that evening on champagne, lobster, steak and cheesecake (which included drinking champagne at an aid station!). Her love for wine even led her daughter to name her stuffed animals after wines!

She was remarkably “found” by a chance encounter at Bloomsday, when the great Anne Audain sat next to her in the gutter and gave words of encouragement. With her youngest starting pre-school, she had time to train, get a part-time job at the running store (owned by the great Don Kardong), and developed the right relationships to help fuel her running career. She talked about the numerous healthcare people and training partners she had that made up “Team Jones”. She was motivated to win her hometown race (which she did), because it gave a trip to run the Honolulu Marathon. Not fully prepared and just becoming a road racer, she debuted in 2:48, running perfectly even HM splits in the hot and humid conditions. Don K. told her that was unusual, and she must have the natural gift for the marathon. Soon after she went to run a 10K in Florida and found herself fatefully sitting at the post race dinner beside marathoning great, Benji Durden, whom Don K. had suggested as a marathoning coach. Her future was sealed!

I could relate to so many of her running stories and dealing with the marathon, her competitors, and different situations. It seems as marathoners we’re always chasing that perfect race where everything comes together– Kim raced A LOT in her 15+ yrs, and even though she consistently performed GREAT, she still had to overcome many obstacles en route. It shows that you don’t throw in the towel when things aren’t going as planned… unless your shoe literally gets stuck between cobblestones in Rome!

She had some personal quirks that were blessings in disguise. As an Exercise Science person I thought these quirks were interesting in showing the adaptability of the human body, which included: her lifetime of asthma, which taught her to run more evenly paced in races and not push beyond her threshold; her asthma was theorized to have made her body react like she was always at high altitude, causing her to naturally have higher than normal hemoglobin and hematocrit but a lower max heartrate; and, her crooked toe, which led to her running on her toes and allowed her to run faster.

I would say my favorite story was after she won Twin Cities (2:31), an American ran faster at Chicago a week later. She believed she could go faster (and wasn’t satisfied to have not broken 2:30), so she contacted NYC. Everyone thought it was a bad idea to race so soon after Twin Cities and doubted she could go and run faster. She proved them all wrong, finishing 2nd in a new PR, 2:27. Kim became notorious for finishing 2nd many many times, but she was a consistent performer, running 17 times under 2:33! As she points out, she was the “second winner.” She also pointed out the parallel of how her family came first and her running second.

As a women’s running history geek, I loved learning about her generation. She talked about things like how in the early prize money days, their money was put into a “TAC fund” and used towards running-related expenses. I was amazed she earned $25,000 for her victory at Twin Cities in 1986, which is still the same amount offered today, 27 yrs later. She also earned another $10,000 for making the World Champs Team. From talking to other runners from this generation, prize money was lucrative, plentiful all over the country, and often times deeper than it is today. They also had a mass start at many of the major marathons (NYC and Boston for example), which meant some of the women had their own male “entourages”, including being handed drinks/pace makers/wind blockers.

I’m on the USATF Women’s LDR Committee, and she talked about decisions that are still relevant today. Whereas the marathoners today mostly loved racing the Trials in Houston and thought the timing was good so they could recover for track season, the marathoners back then didn’t like racing in January during the winter, when proper training was more difficult. There wasn’t a women’s 10K on the track, so I’m guessing most were marathon specialists and bouncing back for track season wasn’t a concern. Also, they had 10K (33 min) and HM (1:16) standards to make the ’88 Olympic Trials (meaning some may have “never” run a marathon). This impacted the dynamics of the race, as the shorter speedsters were guaranteed to go out too fast (which they did) and die. She talked about how she and the other marathoners had to be disciplined enough to follow their own race plans, which as she found out was difficult (and the faster start led to her having an asthma attack). I’ll get to be in on the decision making for the 2020 standards, and IMO it should be required to qualify with the marathon-only, given the poor “success rate” of 10K/HM qualifiers at the 2012 Trials.

There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the book, except the fact I’m a slow reader, so it took me forever to read the 400+ pages! However, it was hard to put the book down- I read for a few 4+ hr stretches (basically until I got tired/hungry!). It wasn’t until 150-160 pages into it that it got into her road racing career, so prepare yourself for a roller coaster of life highs and lows the first 1/3 of the book.

The book gives perspective on the fact that we don’t always know what people, and even elites, have endured in their life and what fuels them for the future. It’s rarely a straight line to the top. She talks about how she always had hope and believed something positive was around the corner. I liked how she ended the book with this quote,

“If you can endure bad luck, good fortune is right around the corner.”

Overall, I highly recommend Kim Jones’s book- bless her and her family! I’d love to meet her some day!


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Comments

  1. Awesome, this sounds like a great read! I put it on my list of books on goodreads. “The Silence of Great Distance” has been my favorite running book so far. I am working on writing a running book soon, but I won’t speak too much about it, as I still have to finish and hopefully get it published … ;)

    • runcamille says:

      Silence of Great Distance is another AWESOME book, with a lot of women’s running history! My favorite books are of people overcoming adversity. Kim overcame soo, soo much! I think she learned to cope better than most, because she endured so much. She didn’t dwell on it, but remained hopeful through grief. I think her sense of humor helped her cope. :)

      Good luck with the book writing! Hope it has a happy ending!

  2. A wonderful review of a fabulous book. “Dandelion Growing Wild” is one of those rare finds that I couldn’t put down, either–and didn’t want to end. Everyone–runner or not–should read Kim’s story and prepare to be inspired. Kim is an inspiration to us all, & “Dandelion Growing Wild” is definitely a must-read.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I will be reading this book for sure! Always love hearing about good reads :)

  4. I’m delighted to see such a wonderful review of Dandelion Growing Wild. It is well deserved.

  5. Yes it is an awesome book. As an 80s runner I was lucky enough to witness some of what happened.

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