Speed walking is his specialty: Truckee’s Barney Jones, 79, to take on Lake Tahoe Half Marathon | SierraSun.com

Speed walking is his specialty: Truckee’s Barney Jones, 79, to take on Lake Tahoe Half Marathon

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunBarney Jones, 79, trains in Truckee for the Lake Tahoe Half Marathon. Jones has competed four times, with a pair of first-place finishes and a pair of seconds.

Quadruple bypass surgery and increasingly creaky knees turned Truckee’s Barney Jones from runner to speed walker ” and a darn good one at age 79.

On Sunday he’ll try to prove just that as he goes for his third age-group win in five attempts at the Lake Tahoe Half Marathon ” one of many events that make up the 13th annual Lake Tahoe Marathon Week.

“Of course, the competition isn’t as much when you get this old. However, if there’s a 70-year-old who can still run it, I’ll be competing against someone nine years younger,” said Jones, who also has a pair of runner-up finishes under his belt.

Last year he walked the 13 miles, starting just south of Meeks Bay and finishing near Pope Beach, in 3 hours, 18-plus minutes to earn second place in the 70-79 age group.

When it comes to the competitive aspect of the race, though, Jones said that is not part of the appeal anymore.

“Three years ago my goal was to break 3 hours, and I did,” he said. “I trained really hard. I pushed and pushed, and I said during about the last three miles, ‘I’m never going to do this again. I’m just going to have fun and not worry about time or place.’

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“I have the same philosophy this year. I want it to be fun, not miserable. If I place, fine. If I don’t, that’s fine, too.”

A total of 710 people competed in the half marathon last year, according to the Lake Tahoe Marathon Web site. Jones, who placed 587th overall, said besides the personal challenge, it’s that social scene and festive atmosphere that keeps him coming back.

“It’s a special event ” a wonderful event,” he said from his Coachland home Tuesday. “I like the atmosphere and all the people.”

About participating next year, when Jones will have graduated to the 80-plus age division, he said to count him in.

“As long as I’m ambulatory I’ll be there,” he said, adding that he’ll likely compete again in the Billy Dutton Uphill and Squaw Mountain Run, in which he was the second-oldest competitor this past summer.

Jones, a native of Wyoming and a former high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, said he began running in his 30s. He abandoned running in exchange for “fast walking” in his 50s because of pain in his knees. He did, however, run in high school, but only as a scatback for his football team.

“All I did in high school was play football, even though I’m small. I’m from a small town where they needed all the able bodies they could get,” he said.

These days, Jones thoroughly enjoys venturing out on long hikes, mostly in Blackwood Canyon, he said. He also bags local peaks ” such as Castle Peak, Freel Peak and Mount Rose ” as a form of training, and swims in the Truckee Pool about twice a week.

“It’s a wonderful alternative,” Jones said of training in a pool. “It’s easy on the joints. And those are wearing out more than anything. Cardio is fine, but joints start squeaking.”