If you know Jono O’Loughlin, you’ll know the deep irony that exists in this title. I’ve known him for some years now, he lives in my suburb, we train together (when he’s unfit) and we both like a beer and to talk shit. I’ve resisted doing any profile on him up until now because he’s a mate of mine and I don’t want any accusations of favouritism. But the fact is that he’s started to get good, so he deserves a bit of limelight because this fella could go very well at TNF100.
The big difference between Jono and I is talent, as well as he drinks VB and I drink Guinness. He has bags of it and I don’t, but that doesn’t bother the former champion rower in the slightest and is a reflection of the type of guy he is. Down to earth, level-headed and just interested in enjoying himself and seeing where running can take him.
You see, it’s a misconception that the top end ultra runners are these guys and girls massively dedicated to the sport and focus on nothing but running. Jono is the anti-runner, but the anti-runner who does exceptionally well in his running endeavours. He’s all about balance, but balance in extremes. His life isn’t about running. He has a demanding job as a lawyer, while also making sure he spends quality time with his kid. He’s a man of extremes that smashes the hell out of his body on the trails, or smashing down a six-pack in under half an hour after a race with his mates.
But it’s this frank honesty and love of beating himself to a pulp that endears him to others. For those unaware of his trail running prowess, Jono has been around for years. In fact he’s run every single TNF100 since it started, plus if I’m correct also, he’s finished in the top ten of each one too. I would say that he probably has the best and most consistent record among any athlete to have ever started this race. But while he has bags of talent, he’s always been on the fringes of the leading pack.
“I love my food and I love my beer”, says Jono with an honest smile. He also loves his training, and if I’m honest, probably likes it a little too much. Many runners who know him, may not also know that he was a pretty ‘nifty’ rower too. There are rumors that his VO2 max hit 88.5 back in the day as a pretty prolific rower. That ranks as one of the highest in Australia, but that talent hasn’t quite turned into the results he probably should be getting – until now that is.
The tide started to change somewhat last year when he finished fourth at TNF100, only just losing out to the podium and Brendan Davies by a mere 30 seconds. He’s then followed that up with a course record at Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker, before really coming of age with a barnstorming run at Six Foot Track this year to also finish fourth in a time of 3:23. If you look at the results of Six Foot Track over the years bar this year and Stu’s record run, that time would have won the race. Then just last weekend, he held off an inform Mark Green to win the Mount Solitary Ultra in a time of 4:39. So what’s changed?
“While my training is still pretty unstructured, the main thing is simply a shedding of the weight and laying off the cans. While I’m not precious about how much I weigh in general, when I’m racing I know I need to be as light as possible. I’m not the smallest guy in the pack if you compared me to the likes of Blake Hose, Brendan Davies and Dave Byrne, which can make a huge difference in this sport. What I lack in being light, I try to remedy by training the uphills. Particular the long uphill fire trails and stairs that the TNF100 course is notorious for.”
“One of my regular runs, in fact a run I pretty much run every single week in preparation for TNF100, is the Mount Solitary loop. I work hard during the week and I love nothing more than to hit those amazing trails in the Blue Mountains, living for that final climb up Kedumba. It hurts like hell, but I love it in a perverse kind of way. I love seeing just how hard I can push myself.”
And it was this pushing of himself that led to a massive blow up in Hong Kong recently at the Asian Skyrunning championships. ‘Buoyed’ by his new found form, Jono decided to take the ultra race hard. In fact he went so hard that up the first climb, he was leading some of the world’s best skyrunners in the shorter sprint 26km race that started alongside that. Here we had an 80kg ‘unit’ smashing himself up a steep climb with some of the world’s leading lightweight runners looking on in disbelief. Of course this didn’t last long. Before he knew it, Jono was left somewhere on a Chinese mountain, two hours from anywhere looking for a cab back to the start after a huge blow up.
“Yeah that race didn’t quite go to plan,” he says with a wry smile. “I kind of bit off more than I could chew in that race and it was a good lesson in knowing when to hold back and keep the ego in check. I blame it on my love of hill climbing and I just got carried away with the moment. But, it’s a great lesson in life to go out there and put it all on the line. I do it in all walks of my life, be it my running or my job, or spending time with my kid. It’s all nothing with me.”
And it’s this approach to training that probably tells us why Jono hasn’t quite reached the heady heights of where he should be. I’ve had some pretty honest chats with him, discussing when to go hard and when to ease back, and the fact that his training is so unstructured makes his achievements in running perhaps a little more astonishing.
“I have some fixed, regular sessions that I will do each week, like some stairs training and my Mount Solitary loop. But apart from that, I tend to just go with the flow. Running, like life shouldn’t be taken too seriously. You have to enjoy what you do, and while I do tend to be a little extreme in my approach, I like to think that I get a good balance. I don’t let my running define me. Running is just something I do, and if it weren’t running, it would be something else instead.
“I think part of the issue with why people get too caught up with things in life is that they let the thing they do become them. It then becomes really hard to disassociate yourself from whatever it is you choose to do. Running is after all, just running. When it comes down to it, your health and your family are the most important things you should focus on, and if the running starts to overtake that, then you’ve got issues. I know I tend to throw my all at something, but I do know when and how to shut myself away from it all too and move onto what really matters.
“I do think I probably have more to give in terms of my running results, but the one thing I ask myself is, ‘do I really care?’ Having been at the top end of rowing previously, I’ve been through the whole ‘slave to the training’ thing. I’m at the stage now when I just want to do what I want, when I want, while still giving my all.”
So what of TNF100 in a few weeks time? Will he go one better and hit the podium this time? “It’s a tough one to call. There are so many talented guys and girls coming over from the International scene this time. Last year we had some big names come over and the Aussies smashed them, which was great. I’ve been training with Andrew Tuckey a little recently and the man is in great form. He’s probably our leading runner for this event and it will be huge to see how we all go against some of the big guns like Francois d’Haene. Then there’s Dylan Bowman who is massively quick, but it’s no use being quick at TNF100 if you can’t climb stairs. We’ve seen some really quick guys before get smashed on this course.
“As for myself, I’d like to think a 9:30s-9:40s could be on the cards, but racing can be such a lottery at times. The main thing is that I just love running in the Blue Mountains and then sharing a beer after. That’s all you need in life, yeah?”