Rono was born in Nandi Hills, Kenya, into the Nandi tribe. He started running while at primary school. Starting in 1976 he attended the Washington State University, along with his compatriot Samson Kimobwa, who broke the 10,000 meter world record in 1977. He was coached there by John Chaplin. More Kenyan runners would later enroll at the Washington State, including Bernard Lagat, Mike Kosgei and Patrick Muturi. While at Washington State, Rono became only the third person in history (after Gerry Lindgren and Steve Prefontaine) to win the NCAA Men's Cross Country Championship three times, doing so in 1976, 1977 and 1979. His winning time of 28:07 in 1976 remains the fastest 10,000 meter cross country time in NCAA history (although in 2008 Galen Rupp ran 27:41 at the NCAA regional meet on a course that was said to be 80 meters short of the regular measure). He was also NCAA steeplechase champion in 1978 and 1979 and NCAA Indoor Champion in the 3000 meters in 1977.
The peak of Rono's running career was the 1978 season. In a span of only 81 days, he broke four world records: the 10,000 meters (27:22.5), the 5,000 meters (13:08.4), the 3,000 meters steeplechase (8:05.4), and the 3,000 meters (7:32.1); an achievement unparalleled in the history of distance running. He lowered the 10,000 meter record by almost 8 seconds, the 5,000 by 4.5, the steeplechase by 2.6, and the 3,000 by a full three seconds. In the same year he also won the 5000 m and the 3000 m steeplechase gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Among his other performances was a steeplechase / 5000 m double in one day during qualifying at the NCAA championships at the University of Oregon at Eugene's Hayward Field. He set meet records in both events, turning in an 8:18 and 13:22. The former took 6 seconds off the NCAA meet record for the steeple. When he ran the steeplechase final the next day, he won in 8:12.39, taking another six seconds off the steeplechase mark. He won 10,000 metres and 3000 metres steeplechase gold medals at the 1978 All-Africa Games.
Although he was never quite as dominant as he was in 1978, Rono continued to run and compete at the same high level for the next four years, running the world's fastest 5,000 meters of the year (13:19) and winning the NCAA cross country championships in 1979, running one of history's fastest 10,000 meter races in 1980 (27:31.68), having a strong year in the 5,000 meters with several high quality races, including another 5,000 m world record (13:06.20) in 1981, and running history's third fastest 5,000 meters (13:08.9) as well as twice running under 27:30 to come within seconds of his world record for 10,000 meters in 1982.
Rono would never get to compete at the Olympics, as his country boycotted both the 1976 and the 1980 Olympic Games and by 1984 he was no longer competing.
His 3,000 m steeplechase world record (8:05.4) stood for 11 years, and, as of 2011, still stands as the NCAA record. His 10,000 meter world record remained the fastest 10,000 meter time ever run by an NCAA athlete until Sam Chelanga ran 27:08 in 2010 at the Payton Jordan invitational.
Today, Rono is coaching high school athletics in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and pursuing a graduate degree in special education.He is also co-owner of Turbo health care services inc. After turning 55 in February 2007, Rono is attempting to break the world masters mile record for the 55-59 age group. He also wrote his autobiography, entitled Olympic Dream, in 2007.