Legendary British marathon runner tells Euan Crumley why he sees so much of himself in the young Scot who is making his mark on the world stage
Callum Hawkins’ admiration for Steve Jones is such that he recently turned the former marathon world record-holder into a verb.
“If I go out and race, the time will come, the performance will come. Most of the time, I am Steve Jones-ing it out there,” said the 25-year-old in an interview with flotrack.org.
Hawkins has indeed been doing a fine job of resembling the determined and driven athlete who still holds the British record (2:07:13, set at the Chicago Marathon in 1985) over 26.2 miles – and that is perhaps no coincidence.
Jones, who lives and coaches in Boulder, Colorado, has been helping to guide the young Scot’s development, after all. Thanks to a link-up through Scottish Athletics, Hawkins has become a regular visitor to America for training stints at altitude – and it’s an arrangement which is clearly complimenting the coaching methods of his father Robert rather well.
Jones admits he quickly saw potential when he first observed the youngster who went second on the British all-time half-marathon list after running a Scottish record time of exactly 60 minutes in Japan in February. He did not, however, expect to see such promise being delivered upon so quickly.
As the Welshman points out, Hawkins headed into the IAAF World Championships marathon in London as something of a marked man, given his ninth-place finish at the Rio Olympics last summer and the impressive performances which have followed since. His fourth place on Tower Bridge was another huge message of intent.
“He’s a very quiet guy but he’s very determined and positive about his work ethic,” says Jones, who also still holds the Welsh record for 10,000m. “I, probably like many other people, didn’t quite see the rise to fame that he’s had. I saw the potential there and the first time he came out (to Boulder) he kind of played with the guys in my group, as he’s prone to do sometimes. That really showed me the kind of potential he had if he really focused. Obviously he has done that since then.
“He’s got a very old head on young shoulders and he’s further forward right now in terms of maturity than I thought he would have been. He seems to have fallen on his feet and into the right slot where he belongs.”
In his racing pomp, Jones’ trademark was a belligerent, never-say-die approach devoid of fear. Hawkins, too, has become known for a brave front-running style in which he clearly stretches every sinew to reach his objective. As it turns out, the pair are more than a little alike in many ways.
“The work ethic is very similar,” says Jones when asked if he can see something of himself in Hawkins. “We both seem to have grasped the opportunities we’ve had given to us, and that we’ve earned, with both hands.
“There are a lot of similarities between him and myself. When he’s sitting in my kitchen eating his breakfast or when he’s just come back from a run … he’s very dedicated about what he does and very methodical about what he does, too.
“He’ll be quiet for quite a time and then he’ll just ask me a question that gets me talking. I’m just as quiet as he is – I’m happy for him to be there and not ask me anything – but once we get talking we talk about some of the stuff I used to do or how I prepared for something in particular but it isn’t a million miles away from what he’s doing.”
“We both seem to have grasped the opportunities we’ve had given to us, and that we’ve earned, with both hands”
Hawkins’ preparation came under some intense scrutiny again on the streets of London, the scene of his breakthrough performance during the marathon last year which sealed his place for Rio.
Upon reaching Brazil, he raised a few eyebrows by hitting the front of a field containing the likes of eventual winner and endurance superstar Eliud Kipchoge. The same surprised onlookers were not expecting a top 10 finish from him in an Olympic marathon, either.
“You have to look at how he ran London last year, too,” continues Jones. “Once he’s got his plan in his mind then he sticks to it. He did it in London and it worked. He did it in Rio and it worked.
“He has a very positive plan of where he wants to go and when he wants to go for the fast times. He’s really more concerned now with the major championships, which is really good.”
Another key to the success, says Jones, is keeping things simple in a sport where there can be a tendency to overcomplicate matters.
“That’s putting it mildly,” he continues. “But Callum has simplified it. He and Robert – obviously (Callum’s brother) Derek as well – have got it down to a fine art in terms of where they want to go and how they want to go about it.
“They know there are no secrets about it – it’s about hard work, having that work ethic and being confident about what you’re doing.
“Right at this moment, he seems very confident about what he’s doing.”
That confidence shone through again on Sunday as Hawkins lowered his personal best for the marathon to 2:10:17. Jones can only see that time heading in one direction and towards a certain landmark that the 61-year-old suspects might not be his for too much longer.
“It’s very nice to have it, and still have it but it’s not something you would have thought you’d be able to hang your hat on for 30-odd years,” he says of that national record.
“There are a good crop of athletes coming through now and I can see Callum having that record before too long, once he sets his mind on running a fast race somewhere. It’s just a matter of time.”
» A version of this interview was first published in the August edition of Running Monthly, included in the August 3 AW magazine