A lifelong love of running began when Jones was called up for national service in 1951. When he joined the Metropolitan Police in 1955, he became a member of the Orion Harriers running club in North Chingford (which still operates as an all-inclusive club for all ages today.)
“I loved cross-country running, and the people I met said to me, ‘why don’t you come along and do a marathon?’ My first was good fun, and I enjoyed the company, so I just kept doing more and more of them, and started to get quite fast.”
Jones set his fastest time of two hours 41 minutes in 1967, at the Polytechnic Marathon from Windsor Castle to London. “Then the London Marathon in 1981 came along and I thought, ‘I’ll give that a go’.
Five or six of us went together and year after year we kept encouraging each other. After a time, I was the only one of my initial group still doing it, but I carried on. To finish outside Buckingham Palace after going through Greenwich Park and all of London – what a feeling.”
So what’s Jones’s secret? In part he credits tai chi with keeping his body supple and injury-free. “There was a period in my 50s when I became a Taoist tai chi instructor. It’s terrific for keeping your joints and knees in good shape. It involves gentle movements, which stretch the body from the toes to the top of your head, and it’s very relaxing because it’s all done silently.”
Medals aside, Jones lists two primary motivations for continuing to run. “First, running keeps you healthy. Secondly, you make a lot of friends.” Simple as that.
Unsurprisingly, Jones is often asked: how can the rest of us train our bodies to be marathon-fit into our 80s? Lifestyle is important, he says. “Many men of my age have big bellies and sit around smoking and drinking; I’m the opposite. I avoid all alcohol and caffeine. When you drink, it takes a while to get it out of your system.
“Because I was running so much, I didn’t want to feel sluggish, so I stopped altogether. I haven’t had a drink for 50 years. I don’t have a special diet – I’ll eat anything – but the key is not to overeat.”
Regular training is vital, Jones says. “I get up at six in the morning and meet my neighbour, and we go walking or jogging on country lanes for three or four miles, five or six times a week.
“I walk a lot more than I run these days, and I find that it keeps my body in excellent condition. Then once a month, I do 20 miles, usually on my own, as my neighbour can’t manage it.
“My advice to anyone would be to start very slowly when you start running. As you go along, you’ll get quicker. Bingo, that’s it.