Photo by: Rick Graefe

CJ Jones of Cardinal Ritter starts his anchor leg of the 3200-meter relay at the Class 3 Boys Track and Field Championships on Saturday, May 25, 2013 at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. The Cardinal Ritter team won that event and Jones also won the open 800.

 

It had been a long time since C.J. Jones felt this way.

The soon-to-be senior at Cardinal Ritter and Missouri track standout was racing at the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field championships in Iowa the last week of June when something incredible happened.

Jones lost a race.

Not only did the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder fail to win his 800-meter preliminary race, but he also failed to qualify for the final. The reigning USATF Junior Olympic and AAU 800 national champion was beaten and his ego severely bruised.

“I was running against college freshmen,” Jones, 17, said. “I was just trying to get through the prelims as easy as possible. Coming down the home stretch, during the last 100, a kid passed me. He snuck me at the right moment.”

Jones chalks up this defeat as a learning experience going forward.

“Never leave it up to chance,” he said.

It also has given him that extra kick in the pants he was missing as he pushes through a grueling summer training program while preparing to defend his USATF Junior Olympic and AAU national championships.

“Before, I wasn’t really too hot about summer track this season. I usually don’t have any competition. It makes it kind of boring,” he said. “I lost that race, it sparked a fire under me. It just let me know I need to go harder and stop slacking in the meets. I need to be more serious.”

He’ll run at the USATF Junior Olympics in Greensboro, North Carolina at the end of July. The 800 prelim is scheduled for July 24, and the final is scheduled for July 27.

The AAU Junior Olympics will be held in Detroit this season. Jones is set to run the 800 semifinals on July 29, and the final is July 31.

Jones, who currently holds the AAU Junior Olympic meet record at 1 minute 49.78 seconds, said he’s set his sights on breaking the USATF Junior Olympic record this summer. To do so, he’ll have to be under 1:48.

“I want to break the USA record,” he said. “I’m focused on winning AAU, but at USA, I’m definitely going for the record.”

Jones has ramped up his workouts to be as prepared as possible. He does two workouts most days, with his first in the morning. The first workout is the one where he doesn’t do much, if any, running.

“I’ll do a lot of weight lifting, a swimming workout - I do a lot of everything,” he said.

During the evening training sessions, he pushes through a variety of sprints to increase his speed. The 800 used to be viewed as a middle distance race, but with times dropping across all levels, it has evolved into a sprint.

“I do explosive stuff,” Jones said. “I’ll do distance runs on my own time.”

As he prepares to try and defend his championship, Jones is comfortable having a target on his back. A two-time Missouri Class 3 champion in the 800, he knows the field is gunning for him, and he welcomes the challenge.

“I’m used to being a marked man,” he said. “I take it as a tool to train harder and do things other people can’t do so I’ll be ready during the race.”

He believes he’ll have some stiff competition at the USATF Junior Olympics to push him to the record. Antonio Humphrey, Oklahoma’s top high school 800 runner, will be there and should give Jones a good race - for awhile.

“Antonio Humphrey will push me through the first lap,” he said. “That’s all I need, someone to get me through the first lap. I can take care of the rest.”