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Jared Ward — March, 2016
Jared Ward is a member of the 2016 United States Olympic team in the marathon which will compete this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He finished third in the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon with a time of 2:13:00 in only his fourth marathon. Jared finished second overall at the 2014 Twin Cities Marathon and third overall at the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon in his personal best time of 2:12:56. Ward had a very successful year at shorter distances in 2015 as he was second at the USA Half Marathon Championships in 1:01:42, he won the USA 25 km Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1:14:56, and he scored an impressive victory at the USA 20 km Championships in New Haven, Connecticut in 59:29. Jared is a 2014 graduate of Brigham Young University where he earned four All American honors, once in cross country, once indoors at 5,000 meters and twice outdoors at 10,000 meters. He was named an Academic All-American in 2012. At Davis High School (Kaysville, UT) Jared won state titles in 2007 in the 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and by anchoring the sprint medley relay. His personal best times include: mile - 4:03.67; 3000m – 7:59.68; 5,000m – 13:37.03; 10k – 28:36.15; 20k – 59:29; half marathon – 1:01:42; 25k – 1:14:56; and marathon- 2:12:56. Jared is sponsored by Saucony and is coached by his collegiate coach and two-time Olympic marathoner, Ed Eyestone. He resides in Provo, Utah with his wife, Erica, their son, Paul, who is three years old, and daughter, Elly, who is one year old. Jared was kind to spend over an hour on the telephone for this interview in March, 2016, about five weeks after the Olympic Trials.
GCR:You have devoted more than a decade to becoming a faster distance runner. For a relatively short period of time after finishing your collegiate eligibility, you focused on longer distances including the marathon with a goal of making the U.S. Olympic team. Now that you can reflect back, how does it feel to know that you are and always will be an Olympian?
JWI don’t know that it’s really sunk in yet. I do feel that I had a very smooth transition to the roads and to the marathon. I have a great coach in Coach Eyestone who made the transition himself from the track to the roads. I feel like I am being coaching by someone who has done exactly what I’m trying to do. In terms of the accomplishment and the gravity of it going forward, I don’t think that it’s really settled.
GCR:It’s interesting you mentioning being coached by Ed Eyestone as he did make that same transition from being an outstanding collegiate 5,000 and 10,000 meter runner and multiple time NCAA champion to a marathon runner. And he also has the same religious background and you both went to the same school. How easy did it make it since there all these similarities in your background and you didn’t switch coaches when you became a professional runner like a lot of people do?
JWIt made the transition that much easier. Even when you go from a good program to another good program, there is an adjustment period that athletes have to go through, whether it’s a new workout regimen or a different style. I felt blessed to not have to go through that because I’m in a position where my college coach is willing to continue to coach me. To boot, his program worked for me and developed me from a high school athlete into a competitive collegiate athlete and so his system has worked for me. I feel blessed to not have to conform to a new system and to stay with the one that has been working.
GCR:I spoke with Coach Eyestone last year and he said that when he stepped up from the 5k and 10k to the marathon he didn’t make a lot of radical training changes. He did sort of what Craig Virgin and Alberto Salazar did in that he lengthened his long runs, added a little bit of total mileage. When you moved up to the marathon, did he coach you differently based on all the knowledge and wisdom that he has gained over the years that has helped you more than he helped himself when he was competing?
JWWe certainly talk about taking things that worked for him and are adapting them to my situation. But he’s also learned many things. He felt like he had great long runs, great tempo runs and great repeat miles getting ready for his marathons, but that he never felt like he could recognize the right pace early in a marathon. He always took a few miles in his marathons before he was comfortable that he was at the right pace. So he’s instituted a lot more marathon pace specific work. We do some things a little faster than marathon pace, some stuff long and slower than marathon pace and some stuff right at marathon pace. I feel he found things that worked for him and his style seems to work for me as well, but he has updated the training program.
GCR:Coach Eyestone told me late last year that for marathon runners he coached, for runs in the 20 to 25 mile range, he sometimes has them drop to sub-5:00 pace for the last few miles. I was relating to Ed that when I interviewed Steve Spence, he mentioned that when he was training for the 1991 World Championships, where he ended up winning the Bronze Medal, that he did similar fast finish long runs on 30-milers where he went sub-5:00 on miles 28 to 30. Can you relate a bit about your long runs now and fast finish long runs where you pick it up toward the end, but the entire run hasn’t been at that pace?
JWI think it’s a great way to simulate getting that marathon pace workout on tired legs without doing the damage to your body of running twenty to twenty-five miles hard, and we do that. He will typically have me do two or three twenty-five mile runs. What we normally do in the peak of marathon training is a 20-miler one week and 25 miles the next week and we go back and forth. Towards the last sets of them we will do marathon pace tempo for from three or four miles, and up to seven or eight miles during the last third of those runs. Then we’ll usually finish with an easier mile at six minute pace at the end. We run the tempo right at marathon pace and occasionally down a few seconds faster than marathon pace. That is a good way to get the time on my legs in preparation for the marathon, but also the race pace. When I do this in a long run where I’m also practicing my nutrition and hydration along the way, it has been really instrumental in my development.
GCR:Let’s take a more in-depth look at the recent Olympic Trials marathon. Just making the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in the marathon is a tremendous achievement as this was a very tough field and two of the spots were very likely to be earned by Meb Keflezighi and Galen Rupp, based on Meb’s experience and credentials and Galen’s 10k, half marathon and news that his training was proceeding well. What was your strategy going into the trials that you thought gave you the best chance at making the team and what adjustments did you make during the race?
JWIn terms of getting ready and giving myself the best chance, you can look at the race afterwards and say that Meb and Galen were good and should have been considered favorites for what they have done and the athletes that they are. But going into the race I felt there were a dozen athletes that were contenders. That list included forty year old Meb and debuting Rupp, but also veterans Dathan Ritzenhein and Nick Arciniaga, Ryan Vail and Abdi Abdirahman before Abdi pulled out. Then you had the young and upcoming crew of Tyler Pennel, Luke Puskedra, Bobby Curtis, Jeff Eggleston and a number of guys who had run very competitive times. So I was worried about a lot of runners. At the end of the day coach and I structured the training based on what I had done the year before L.A., we planned for potentially hot conditions, got ready and I got as fit as I could. I went to the start line relatively nerve-free as I felt I was as good and prepared as I could have been. I had made a lot of sacrifices to be ready and I don’t think there was much more I could have done in preparation for the race. I was ready to see what happened. I was ready to race and to let the cards fall where they did. I was fortunate that it was one of those good days. We could run that race ten times and get different people that qualify for that team as there was a quality group of guys this year. I feel fortunate to be able to nab one of those spots and to represent the country this summer.
GCR:There was a big group of over a dozen runners until Tyler Pennel broke away in the 16th mile with Meb and Galen catching him by the 17th mile. Meanwhile you were hanging back about 15 seconds behind. What were you thinking during this part of the race as you were sitting back I the hunt, maybe trying to figure out what to do, and how were you assessing your chance of making the top three?
JWI didn’t know whether those three runners could sustain that pace for the rest of the race. But I was fairly confident that I wasn’t prepared to. That was more a function of me running my best race and seeing what happens. At mile sixteen when I hit my watch and saw I had split 4:50 in the same mile that they had pulled away and put five or six seconds on me, that did give me a boost of confidence that I was going pretty quick and felt okay and I thought that pace that Tyler pushed out was too quick. But you never know. Tyler pulled away from me at Twin Cities in 2014 and I thought it was too early, and it was his first marathon and then he never came back. I never saw him. So I let Tyler go who had broken away and done that to me before and then I let Meb and Rupp go. They were a quality group of guys, but ultimately I was putting together my best race and if that put me in the top three then great, but if it put three other guys in the top three, then they deserved it. I thought the best thing I could do was to get to the finish line as fast as I could and to see where that put me.
GCR:Around 20 miles into the race you were moving up on Tyler Pennel. What were you thinking as you reeled him in and caught him during the 21st mile, did you make a surge to pass him and did he show any resistance?
JWThe marathon seems a little different than in shorter track races or road races. In a marathon, when you pop it seems like you really pop. When I saw Tyler coming back to me, starting around mile 18, I was fairly confident based on my experience in the marathon that when you pop, you pop. I thought I would catch him. My focus shifted from catching Tyler to making sure that I could still make it the 12k to the finish line. I made sure that I was getting the water I needed, that I wasn’t overheating too much and that I was managing my pace correctly. I was focusing on getting to the finish line. I was very impressed with how Tyler hung on for fifth place because normally when you get over the line in the marathon you really suffer hard. It’s a testimony to his toughness.
GCR:By the 21-mile point you were 13 seconds ahead of Tyler Pennel and 34 seconds in front of Luke Puskedra, who was in fifth place. How strong were you, did you feel that the podium was within your grasp or were you still cognizant of the fact that lots can happen in the final five miles of a marathon?
JWThere was an adrenaline rush as I caught Tyler and passed him to move into that spot to know I had a chance at the podium. It was kind of a ‘mine to lose’ feeling.
GCR:How tough were the last five miles mentally and physically when you knew that you most likely just had to maintain your effort and you would make the Olympic team?
JWI didn’t feel that euphoric excitement until I turned around that hairpin turn with about 400 meters to go. Even up until that point every step could be your last. At the end of those hot weather marathons it’s not in the bag until you cross that line. I have a lot of respect for the marathon distance. You don’t go claiming victory until you’ve run twenty-six point two miles.
GCR:I know what you mean as I’ve run the Boston Marathon twelve times and one year, when I was running strongly, on Boylston Street between the 26-mile mark and the finish line, I had a hamstring cramp and had to stop, bend over and touch my toes when I was a minute from the finish line. So, to your point, when you crossed the finish line and knew you had punched your ticket to Rio, what thoughts went through your mind?
JWThat was exciting. I went across the line yelling with my arms in the air and very ecstatic. It was a special feeling of accomplishment. It lasted for a few seconds as Meb gave me a hug and I looked around for my wife before I was feeling the physical pain of what I’d just done. My body was thrashed. I’ve never gone so far into the well as I did at the Trials this year and it has taken a lot to recover from that race.
GCR:It wasn’t quite as hot as it could have been, but did the temperatures which started in the mid-60s and climbed steadily cause any dehydration or adverse effects? Shalane Flanagan went over the edge in the women’s race, but were you on the edge?
JWShalane’s experience is a testament to how tough she was in getting to the line. The mental state she was in, not even being able to remember the last couple miles of the race. I obviously wasn’t into her level of dehydration, but I was more dehydrated than I’d ever been. The temperature crept into the 70s, but at noon with that sun straight on top of us on that black asphalt it felt a lot hotter than L.A. did last year when I finished and they were recording temperatures into the 80s. That’s because the sun was straight down on us and there was no place to hide from it. I finished the race and my stomach wasn’t normal for hours. I didn’t eat until late that night. I kept trying to drink water and it was three hours of talking to the media while I drank six or seven twenty ounce bottles of water before I went into drug testing. It took me another nine twenty ounce bottles of water before I was able to produce barely enough of a sample to give them what they needed. And I still wasn’t back to my regular urine cycle until late that night. I estimated that I lost about fifteen or sixteen pounds of water, which is more than I had ever lost before.
GCR:I had that happen once here in Florida when I was in college and did a sixteen-miler in the middle of the day and dropped from 168 to 153 pounds. Afterwards I remember I was passing out in the shower and crashing into the wall and then I had to lie down and have my mom bring me orange juice and water, so you were probably getting real close to where Shalane was in the Trials or I was back on that summer day and a shutdown was close. So, how has your recovery been in terms of getting your legs together and back to training as it is now a bit over four weeks since the Trials?
JWWe finished the race on Saturday and on Sunday I boarded a cruise ship with my family out of Palm Beach. We were out on the ocean for four or five days. I put my feet up, was eating lots of food and gaining weight. I came back after that and we did very light running the next week. About fifteen days after the race we got back to regular jogging pace runs of ten or twelve miles. It was interesting trying to determine if my legs were still tired from the marathon of if I was just out of shape. I didn’t feel quite fluid and even this week after that week and another week of training we are four and a half weeks removed from the marathon and I still don’t feel that my legs are under me. It’s probably a combination of falling out of shape and this one being hard to recover from. I’ll be racing a week from Saturday at the World Half Marathon Championships in Wales and I’m very excited for that trip. It will be interesting to see where I’m at in terms of fitness and recovery, but I am getting ready for the race.
GCR:You’ve raced at big city marathons in Chicago, at Twin Cities and in Los Angeles last year and have run past large cheering crowds. How were the Los Angeles spectators on the loop course as a participant during the Olympic Trials Marathon?
JWThey were fantastic. I liked my experience in L.A. last year – the crowds were amazing. And this year it wasn’t any different. There were people along the entire six mile course. Then you’d go through that start/finish area and it was wildly loud and energetic. I thought that L.A. did a fantastic job as far as fans and support and putting on the race. It’s hard to beat what Chicago does and the history of that marathon as it’s like running through a noise tunnel for almost the full twenty-six miles. But, L.A. really has impressed me over my two trips there.
GCR:When most informed distance running fans, including me, think of Jared Ward, we think of a runner who races smart with steady, even pacing and tolerates heat well. What has allowed you to evolve into this type of racer and to not get caught up with many runners who start out too fast in races or who may make their moves too early in a marathon so that you seem to be able to get from the start to the finish, from point A to point B, the smartest, fastest way you can?
JWI appreciate the compliment. I really feel like I have been blessed to have excellent coaching along the way. I had great coaching back in high school as Coach Burley taught me a lot about being patient, pacing and knowing your body. Coach Eyestone has picked up right where Coach Burley left off and I’ve learned a lot from Coach Eyestone. I’ve been able to stay healthy as we have great trainers here at BYU and my wife’s a massage therapist. She takes great care of me and cooks great meals for me. I feel like the fact that I’ve been able to stay so healthy has allowed me to be able to race more and exposure over years of experience. You need coaching to get you to a place where you can experience some of these things on your own. I’ve been blessed to have experience in situations where people go out fast from the start or there are slow starts. As I continue to gain exposure, I try to pick up things I did well and store them away into my bag of tricks to do well in the future. So, the coaching and exposure to many races has allowed me to learn and improve.
GCR:Your thesis for your Master’s degree in statistics from BYU was entitled, ‘Optimal Pace Strategy in a Marathon.’ What were the main points of your work and evidently they worked?
JWThe research was done based on participants in the St. George Marathon. We looked at runners who qualified for Boston and those who missed the qualifying mark. We examined their pacing profiles to see how Boston qualifiers are pacing differently compared to average runners. What we found was that the people who made a Boston Marathon qualifying time did a much better job of even pacing. They started the race more conservatively relative to their own pace and were finishing faster when compared to their own average pace than the other runners. The Boston qualifiers also took better advantage of topography. They seemed to run the downhill portions faster and the uphill portions of the course more slowly, while the average runners ran kind of the same pace and gradually slowed throughout the race whether they were running uphill or downhill. The takeaway is to start conservatively and to take advantage of the downhills. Let your legs carry you down those hills and pick up some time on them.
GCR:Back when I was running closer to my potential, I had five or six marathons in the 2:22 to 2:30 range, and I noticed that I had a slowdown in my better races, but it was two to three minutes from the first half to the second half. Years later I read articles about how our lactate acid threshold decreases to about 97 or 98 percent of maximum in the latter stages of a marathon, so that a two or three minute slow down for good runners could possibly translate to an adjusted even pace or even effort. What are your thoughts on this?
JWI have looked at that. There is a prevalent contingency of academic research that says even pacing is the best strategy. But in the marathon some research supports that positive pacing profile that as you get tired and your energy stores are depleted that your optimal pace is slowing. I am interested in looking at the research aspect of that more in the future. I don’t know what the best strategy is, but the data in my research seems to say that you don’t want to be slowing too much and that being closer to that even pacing is good. There aren’t many people who negative split marathons. That’s not very common in the data. The more elite athletes do a better job of being closer to even pacing. We have enough to know that we shouldn’t be running the second half way slower than the first half, but a few minutes may be okay. I think we need more research on that.
GCR:At the top end we have guys who are so fast at 10k, 5k and are even sub-four minute milers that they are able to run a negative split because they are well within themselves for fifteen miles and then they start breaking it open just like at the Trials. For example, Galen Rupp ran a negative split, but I’m sure it wasn’t close to what his best time could be if he was on a fast, flat course in cool weather and a faster first half marathon. So it may be that if you ran a 2:10 marathon at your optimum pace it might be a 1:04:30 and 1:05:30 with just a slight slowdown.
JWThat’s a part of the research, especially at the elite level, where there is the classic thought process that correlation doesn’t always mean causation. Galen’s negative split at the Olympic Trials is more correlated to his fitness than the optimal way to pace a marathon. But we have very few Galen Rupp’s out there who are willing to be an experimental dummy running a hard marathon. At the elite level we have limited data that we can review and then imply what it means. We can’t really know unless we can set up an experiment and the Galen Rupps of the world are not as willing to experiment.
GCR:My most recent interview was with Khadevis Robinson, who was primarily an 800 meter runner, and we got talking about an article I read four or five years ago about the top fifty 800 meter times ever run and the average slowdown from the first to second lap was two seconds. I think the 800 meters is a good event to look at because they are typically run very honestly. They aren’t sit and kick races like many 1,500 meter and 5,000 meter races. They were all solid races because the difference between the top five in the world and top fifteen in the world is very small. So when we look closely we see an average slowdown of two seconds, and only one negative split by Steve Cram, who was mainly a 1,500 meter runner. I don’t know how this could correlate to the marathon, but it does have validity that top racing has a slight slowdown. This could be an interesting area for you to do some reading and research.
JWThat article could possibly be on to something and there is certainly some future research which is warranted.
GCR:You are relatively new to the marathon distance. Let’s look at your previous three marathons in order. First, take us through what you learned in 2013 at Chicago where you debuted in 2:16:18 for 19th place.
JWOne big take away was that I needed to better sort out my nutrition during the race. I don’t feel like I absorbed very much that race. The sports nutrition drink I had in my bottles wasn’t working well for me and I needed to find something that settled for me.
GCR:Next you had a nice improvement of over two minutes in 2014 at Twin Cities in 2:14:00 for 2nd place. That’s the race where you talked about how Tyler Pennell pulled away from you. What did you do differently in training, both mentally and physically, and with your nutrition that helped you to drop your time in this race and to get you more ready for continued improvements?
JWI feel like the experience of having trained for a marathon and raced a marathon was very valuable in going from Chicago to Twin Cities. For Twin Cities I was coming off of a broken fibula in June. I was in a cast for three or four weeks, and then in a boot for another three or four weeks, so it was into July before I was building back into running. Going from not running and just cross training to running and then to the marathon, I had about ten weeks of running. It was a very different buildup coming from less fitness and building more quickly. It kind of lined up well for me there as we had great weather in the low forties, perfect mild winds and I learned that we really have a pickup in time when there are more optimal racing conditions. I began to learn how severe the impact of weather can be on your running.
GCR:I’ve run the Twin Cities Marathon and one aspect I liked was that it had some rolling hills and sometimes that breaks it up because our legs aren’t getting the same stress all of the time like on a flat course. What do you think about the possible positive feature of rolling hills?
JWIt certainly breaks it up for me mentally as I get into a new rhythm going up and a new rhythm going down. Having a little downhill every now and then keeps me from being complacent with my pace. It hard to say physically how the energy cost and return balances out as a biophysicist will tell us that running up and down hills will be slower than running on a flat course. But I definitely agree with you that it breaks it up mentally.
GCR:The next year in 2015 at Los Angeles you ran a real strong 2:12:56 on a hot day for 3rd place. Was this the final piece of the puzzle you needed to be ready for the Olympic Trials?
JWYes, training had gone really well for Los Angeles. I recovered quickly from Twin Cities and had a good fitness base. I even raced in November after Twin Cities and had a good race at the U.S. 12k Championships. We started the buildup for L.A. from a fit foundation, I was healthy, and I was able to stay healthy through the entire buildup. I started running workouts that were the best workouts of my life workout after workout it seemed. I did faster repeats on the roads, faster tempo runs and faster long runs and they all felt really good. I learned a lot in terms of how beneficial staying healthy can be for a long period of time and the cumulative fitness to be gained. That was the first marathon where I felt everything had come together in my training and fitness.
GCR:Many distance runners advocate hill training. Do you do hill repeats as part of your training regimen?
JWWe do a little bit of hills, but I’m pretty diligent in my weight lifting routine. I’ve been under the impression that it is good to have some hills or to get in the weight room and push around some heavy weight. You need at least one of them. If the upcoming marathon course is relatively flat without too many hills, I tend to gravitate to getting my time in in the weight room and spending my running on the types of terrain I expect on race day.
GCR:What are some of your key tempo and speed sessions in your marathon preparation?
JWProbably my favorite workout is repeat two miles. Coach will take me out to the road and we’ll do five by two miles with three minutes of rest between each one. We will hit the two miles at 15 to 20 seconds faster than marathon race pace. It feels so good to be running fast. I like running these workouts that are slightly faster than marathon pace so that when I get out there in a marathon it feels just comfy. Those types of workouts make slowing down to marathon pace feel good. I fell in love with training for the marathon before I fell in love with the marathon distance itself. I love the long tempos, long intervals and long runs. I put a lot of stock into my long runs and my tempos in the middle of my long runs. I just like those longer workouts. I’m just naturally inclined and naturally built for the marathon.
GCR:It’s interesting how you do those repeat two miles as when I interviewed Desi Davila, now Desi Linden, after she came in second place in the 2011 Boston Marathon, she told me that was her key workout. She would do five repeat two miles starting at about 10:30, and that 5:15 pace was about ten seconds per mile faster than her marathon goal pace. Then they would do a half mile jog I between , do a half mile the other way, repeat and get a bit faster until she finished up about 10:10 on the last one. It sounds like the Hansons and Coach Eyestone may have shared some coaching information or did you even know that?
JWI know that Coach Eyestone has a lot of respect for what they have done. And the Hansons have talked with me about what Coach Eyestone has done with me and they believe he is a great coach. I think that with the open lines of communication there is a chance that workout has been passed from one group to the other.
GCR:Let’s take a look at when you started running as a teenager. In what other sports did you participate, how did you get started running and what were some highlights of your early training and racing?
JWI was inclined toward soccer as a kid. I started playing soccer in second grade. I wasn’t tall enough or big enough and didn’t have enough fast twitch muscles for basketball or football. I was a soccer player until my junior year of high school when I decided I was a runner instead of a soccer player. But I always loved running from a young age. I remember in elementary school we would have the P.E. mile once a year and relative to other things we did in P.E. I was good at the mile. So I always looked forward to the day we would run the mile. Toward the end of elementary school I’d get out and start practicing my mile a week or two weeks before we’d run it as a class in June. Even in junior high in the morning I remember getting up and I had a two mile that I would do every morning. I would try to run it faster than I had done before. It was always something I enjoyed and I felt like I was good at, but it wasn’t until mid-high school before I decided to put all of my eggs in the running basket.
GCR:So with your soccer background you showed up to run on the track team and Coach Burley was charged with taking your raw talent and developing it. What was your coach able to do to rapidly transform you into a runner who won multiple state championships?
JWIt was similar to what Coach Eyestone did to transform me from a high school runner to a college runner and then from a college runner to what came beyond college. He was very gradual. Coach Burley did an excellent job of seeing where someone was at and helping them to progress. In my early years of high school I was running 25 miles a week. I feel like it was his coaching that kept injuries to a minimum. I was able to gradually and continually progress and build a base. He also spent a lot of time talking with me about motivation and goal-setting. Some of these things we often overlook in training. He spent a lot of time on the mental aspect and helping me to learn how to properly motivate myself, set goals and to incrementally improve physically in training and mentally with my goals. Coach Burley spent a lot of time with me and the other athletes individually. He molded me and I feel so blessed to have him. I gave him a couple years of dedication to work with and he was able to take me from a 21-minute 5k guy as a freshman to an 18-minute 5k guy as a sophomore after I grew up a little bit. My junior and senior year he transformed me into someone who had the opportunity to run in college which is something I wouldn’t have been awarded without his diligent coaching.
GCR:You mentioned only running about 25 miles a week as a high school freshman. How much did your mileage grow during high school and what were some of the key workouts in cross country or track that contributed to your success?
JWWe built up to about 40 miles a week when I was a senior. There were a couple of weeks in the summer before me senior year where we got into the fifties. But I was a pretty standard 40 miles a week guy. Some of the key workouts were 800 meter repeats which were perfect for the two-mile and 3k. I could get right down at race pace and do a set of them that gave me a little more volume than a race. We would do five or six 800 meter repeats at two-mile pace. It’s a workout that Coach Eyestone also had me do in college when I was preparing for the 3k indoors. I loved that workout in high school. Coach Burley would also do a lot of simulator type workouts. So, we would simulate the mile by running 1,000 meters a little slower than race pace, taking a short break of maybe a minute and then running 600 meters at mile pace. I would look forward to the simulator workouts. Sometimes we would do two of them. I thought that if I could do it in a workout, it would give me confidence to do it in the race. He had a very balanced approach. I would do three and four mile tempo runs. We would do 16 by 400 meters on the grass with short rest during cross country season. Coach Burley was very well researched as to what good runners were doing for workouts.
GCR:Your high school team won state in cross country and track during your senior year while you were a three-time state champion in 2007 in the 1600m, 3200m and sprint medley. How was it running as a champion as an individual and also the camaraderie and brotherhood of winning with your team?
JWWe won State as a team in cross country and I was second as an individual. There are few sporting moments that are as exciting as being awarded champion with your team. It’s much more joyous when a bunch of people are as excited as you are about the accomplishment. The next spring on the track I did win two individual titles, but the climactic title was in the sprint medley relay when I anchored our win just because the team aspect of doing it together was very empowering and way more exciting.
GCR:Due to your spiritual background, you took a break from your running routine for a two-year mission between high school and college. How did this shape you as a person and help you to possibly be an even better runner when you returned even though you had some time off?
JWI feel like my mission was instrumental to my running. We grow up so much. We leave home and the comfort of mom and dad. On my mission I learned how to work hard and I did some serious soul-seeking about the meaning of life, what I want out of life and what is my purpose in life. That gives you some real empowerment and motivation going forward. I feel like I picked up a lot of that on my mission that set and fueled my goals when I came home. I also grew up emotionally and spiritually so that coming back and working and goal-setting and the aspects of my life were healthy. I wouldn’t trade the two years of my mission for any two years of training or anything else.
GCR:Had you already decided to attend Brigham Young University, were you recruited and was it more of an academic than athletic decision? Did the fact that Coach Eyestone was there play into it?
JWI was relatively ignorant of the college athletic world when I was in high school. I didn’t follow what colleges were doing, which were good and which had good coaches. But I was recruited by the colleges in the state, with BYU and Coach Eyestone being one of them. I was so impressed with the way he carried himself and the confidence he seemed to have in himself and the BYU program, and that really sold me on BYU. It was definitely Coach Eyestone’s efforts.
GCR:When I interviewed Coach Eyestone we discussed the ‘Ladder Tradition’ he started where athletes are recognized for becoming a top ten all-time BYU athlete in their event, climb a ladder and put their name on the all-time BYU list. How cool is this tradition and were you so honored?
JWIt is great. The ladder ceremony when you make the top ten is really something and I had the opportunity to make it a couple of times. It’s just one part of the great aspects of being on the BYU team. It’s really a family-like environment.
GCR:You had some nice finishes at NCAAs including a fifth place in the 10,000 meters your sophomore year and two fourth places indoors your senior year at 3k and 5k. How would you evaluate your collegiate career, do you feel your improvement exceeded what you thought was your potential and what races stand out at breakthrough efforts?
JWI never looked too far in front of my nose as far as the goals I was setting. They were goals pertaining to the season we were in and the race that was coming up next. I feel blessed to have been coached to that in high school and college to set these incremental goals. My college experience summed up would be that I set a goal, worked toward accomplishing that goal, accomplished it and then set the next goal. It was based on continual improvement. It was fun after college to look back and say, ‘Hey, I accomplished more than I thought I would.’ I didn’t have a big dream. It was just day-to-day goals that got me there.
GCR:During your college years, how high did your mileage increase, whether in cross country season or in the summer base building phases?
JWCoach Eyestone built it incrementally. We started my freshman year where I was in high school at fifty miles and it seemed that about every season from cross country to track and then back to cross country we would up my miles about five miles per week per season. At the end of college I was running ninety miles a week, or sometimes in base phases, ninety-five miles a week.
GCR:That’s very similar to what Jenny Barringer Simpson told me that Colorado’s Coach Mark Wetmore had her do in college. Jenny is from the Orlando area where I live and I’ve known her since high school. She mentioned that Coach Wetmore had her do a similar five miles per week increase twice each year and she ended up running forty miles per week more at the end of college compared to high school. Am I correct in how it seems that the top coaches are sharing some of their best practices, not keeping as many secrets, and are helping each other in their growth as coaches more than people would realize?
JWI would agree with that.
GCR:While you were focusing on getting ready for the Olympic Trials marathon, you also won U.S. 25K and 20K championships, and were second in the U.S. half marathon. I’ve always believed that in marathon preparation it is a big asset to run strong races in the 10-miles to 25k range. Did anything stand out from those three races, and how instrumental were they in getting you ready for the Olympic Trials?
JWI think they are great. I love having sharpening races. I think they do two things: First, they allow you to run a little faster than marathon pace and the racing experience reminds you that racing hurts and that at the end of the day those who are ready to be tough and sacrifice will end up where they want to be at the end of the race. Every time you race, whether or not you are training through it or really racing, you still get that element of a few days before the race where you are running less, paying more attention to your eating and sleeping and so sometimes having a race in the middle of hard training gives you that forced break that your body needs to repair and improve and to keep you healthy. Maybe that goes against the intuition that racing too much can get you injured. But I think that training too much can get you injured too.
GCR:I have interviewed so many top marathoners and there are so many different thought processes. When I interviewed Benji Durden he said that in 1980 when he came in second at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and ran a PR, he had raced 18 weeks in a row. He was training through 10ks and 15ks and using them as his tempo runs. Back then that is what guys did, plus they were getting paid appearance money and prize money under the table. Bill Rodgers did that too. And in my training when I was at my peak I tended to like a three week cycle with a 25-mile long run one weekend, a 20-miler the next weekend and a race the following weekend. My program seems to be what you are talking about as when my weekly mileage dropped from 95 miles in the training weeks to 75 in the racing weeks, I felt very good. Do you have any more thoughts on these subjects?
JWThe races give you something on which to focus in the near window. You don’t just get burned out thinking, ‘training, training, training…’ every week. It gives you a focus and keeps you motivated.
GCR:I’m not sure how I came up with that three week cycle back around 1979 and 1980, but I was my own coach and there was no one to argue with.
JWThere are benefits to that (laughing).
GCR:In the next few months you will be getting ready for the Olympic marathon. What will you do differently in training and what is your goal for the Olympics?
JWThat is a great question and Coach Eyestone and I are still in the early stages of establishing what are goals are going to be and what the buildup is going to be like. But we are going to take all the things that have worked well in the past, we’re going to put them together and hope they work again for us. We won’t change things drastically from what we did to get ready for the Trials. I need to do some more practice with hydration and figure out how to get more water in me in the marathon. I struggled with that at the Olympic Trials. I didn’t drink enough and Rio is going to be hot and humid. The nutrition aspect of training will be reevaluated and looked at. At the end of the day we’re going to get as fit as we can and go and put together the best race possible. I don’t know where that will put us. Optimally, I’d like to feel I’m fit enough to put myself in a position to race the top guys at the Olympics. And if I can put myself in a position where I can be with them through 18 or twenty miles and be ready for that pace so that I’m in position when the racing starts, then I feel we will have accomplished something. If I can be in position when the big moves start and I’ve taken care of my nutrition and hydration, I will be as excited as anyone else to compete for a medal. I don’t know what the right goal is in terms of what’s realistic and we’ll have a goal for that and hopefully it’s something that’s motivating and exciting. I’m ready to get after it. At the end of the day, having the opportunity to represent America, I want to put myself in the best possible position to be ready to capitalize if the opportunity comes along to claim one of those spots on the podium. That is the biggest goal going forward – to be in position when the race really starts.
GCR:This was a threshold year as you achieved what for most runners is a dream goal of qualifying to compete in the Olympics. But you are still in your early years as a marathoner and could have another decade in front of you. There may be other goals such as breaking 2:10 or training to make the Olympic team in 2020. What burning running and racing goals and desires will motivate you during the next few years?
JWI feel blessed to have a great partnership and endorsement with Saucony that lasts over the next three or four years. It gives me the stability to be able to train and confidently attack the upcoming years without feeling that I have to do well tomorrow to continue to make money. The endorsement and their great products give me the confidence to train and not to just focus on the money-making aspect. I feel I can focus on trying to improve. That is the goal of the next decade. It’s going to be just like it was for me in high school, in college and in the two years since then. It’s going to be aiming to improve one season at a time and to get a little bit better each season. My next goal in the marathon is to finish as high as I can in the Olympic marathon. The following goal will be to get as fit as I can, get ready for the next marathon, set the next goal and to get after that time given the course and conditions. In terms of what we’ll get to someday and what PRs I’ll be hanging my hat on at the end of the career – I really don’t know. I want to continue to improve as long as I can. It will be fun for me to see where that ends up.
GCR:As we’ve touched on, consistency will be key. I know I had several years, maybe five or six, of consistent training before running my PR marathon. When I was interviewing Todd Williams he was running the 10k primarily and each year his goal was to get one second faster per lap. That translated to 25 seconds per year in the 10k. And Jeannette Faber told me a few years ago after she won at the Twin Cities Marathon that every year she was trying to get five seconds per mile faster in the marathon because it translated to a little over two minutes. If you have that smart focus it will add up over the next few years, and small improvements can add up to several minutes over a marathon and higher placing at any races.
JWThat’s the whole goal and what is fun about running. It’s fun to have accomplished something and then to figure out how to do it better the next time. That is the motivator.
GCR:You’ve come close to running a sub-four minute mile with a personal best time of 4:03. Do you ever think about trying, maybe in an off year, to break that four minute barrier?
JWYes, I have had that thought and I wonder if that window is closing on me. I certainly don’t feel like I’m done with the track and I’d like to have a track season again – more so for the 5k and 10k. But, I always wonder if I have that four-minute mile in me.
GCR:We all have to integrate our personal life with our professional life, which for you is your running. You mentioned earlier that you are married to Erica, who is your massage therapist and keeps you up on your nutrition. But you and Erica are also parents of two young children, Paul and Ellie. How has being married and fatherhood impacted your life and specifically your training while also giving you some balance in terms of your daily routine?
JWIt gives me incredible balance and has impacted my life more than anything else. I love my wife and my kids and spending time with them. They really have given me the balance that has allowed me to succeed in running. I know when I get home I am going to get the same smile and hug and kiss from my wife and the same excited kids whether daddy won or daddy didn’t finish. That takes off so much pressure. I’m running for fun and that’s it. There’s no one in my close life that is going to think of me any differently if I am a runner or whether I’m not a runner. I love the low pressure aspect of that and it gives me perspective too. It makes the ups and downs of running seem less significant. The valleys aren’t as low. When I’m down or injured or hard on myself I still go home and play with my kids and I still have fun. It’s not a down part of my life; it’s just a down part of my running when I’m injured. I feel like my family has made all the difference.
GCR:In my recent interview with Khadevis Robinson he talked about a similar happenstance when he had been an Olympian in 2004 in the 800 meters, but then he finished fourth in 2008 and missed returning to the Olympics by six one-hundredths of a second. He said afterward he went to his wife and young son and his son was saying, ‘Dada, dada,’ and just wanted a hug. Khadevis said that his son hadn’t seen him all day and wanted hugs and so when he was interviewed on television he said, ‘I feel that I am blessed. If this is the worst thing that happens to me, I am a blessed man.’ He is a very spiritual and religious man and I think the two of you would enjoy talking and each other’s company. You seem to be kindred spirits in your approach to life and how running fits into your lives and doesn’t dominate it. Would you say that running isn’t who you are, but it is what you do?
JWI’m glad that I have been able to come across this way and to communicate it, as that is how I feel.
GCR:What advice do you have for kids if they are in the early stages of running, they are showing some talent and they want to do what they can to keep their interest, keep it fun and also to grow toward their potential?
JWEmbedded in the question is the answer; to keep it fun. If it’s running that you love, then keep it fun. If it’s fun, then continue to enjoy it. If it isn’t fun, then find something else that is fun. I believe that in life we do ourselves a disservice if we feel we have to continue to do something in school or work that we don’t like and is not fun because we’ve just got to get through it. Maybe at times that is true and I have had downs in running where I knew I had to get through them and I would be having fun again soon. We should be seeking for things that we love and we should be having fun doing them. I would say to young runners – keep it fun. When runners are at a real young age, let them dictate the volume and how much they want to run. As they get into their teenage years, then we can start pointing them in the right direction to get the help they need as far as coaching and mental training. I think we ruin a lot of people who are excited about running by trying to force too much on them. I feel so blessed in my running to have had coaches and supporters who have facilitated my progress. When I am ready to learn and when I am ready to get better, they are there to help me to do it. I’ve never had this whip-cracking experience that says, ‘we’re getting ready to work no matter if you like it or not and you’re going to thank me later.’ I’ve said it a bunch of times – just keep it fun.
GCR:When you are asked to sum up in a minute or two the major lessons you have learned during your life from the discipline of running, being a part of the running community, your faith and family, and overcoming adversity, what you would like to share with my readers that will help them on the pathway to reaching their potential athletically and as a person?
JWI found that I have a spiritual calling or a life calling to be a runner. I feel like I have that relationship with God and I’ve found that as a calling from him for me. And that gives me so much confidence that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing and I’m living my part of the plan. My advice would be to find out what your purpose is in life. I feel like I found out my purpose in life through a spiritual experience with God. If you find out your purpose in life, then go forward with that purpose knowing that you are fulfilling what you are good at. Then when you break a leg like I did, I could say, ‘This is hard, but I’m supposed to be a runner, so I just have to push through it and things will turn out.’ I pushed through and recovered from a broken leg and twelve weeks later ran well at the Twin Cities Marathon. It really gives me confidence that I am doing what I’m meant to be doing.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI teach school at BYU in the Statistics Department and I love that. I am a nerd about statistics and I love spending time with students as an educator. I also love mountain biking. I’ll go mountain biking sometimes with my buddies and to me that’s an adrenaline rush. Getting home and spending time with my wife and my kids is probably my biggest hobby. I like going to the park with them when it’s warm outside and helping my three year old and one year old get out flour and sugar to mix up a treat or some cookies. I just love being at home with my family
NicknamesMost of my teammates at BYU called me ‘Wardy.’ I don’t know where that one came from except it’s just easy to say
Favorite movies‘Remember the Titans’ is up there – it’s good
Favorite TV shows‘Seinfeld’
Favorite songsI don’t listen to a lot of music, but in the final stages of the Olympic Trials marathon, in my mind I was singing a song called ‘Hall of Fame’ by The Script
Favorite booksA lot of what I read are spiritual books and motivational books. The books I spend the most time with are the scriptures – either The Bible or The Book of Mormon
First carMy first car was a 1992 Buick Skylark. I paid two hundred bucks for it and bought it from my soccer coach
Current car: My wife’s 2002 Toyota Prius. We’re due for a new one. The battery is about gone on it so I don’t know what’s coming next. I need to send my agent an e-mail about getting a car sponsor
First JobMy dad owned an ice company when I was growing up so we had a family business. From the age of five I was hopping in the ice truck with him and throwing bags of ice back to my dad so he could throw them into ice boxes. So, my first job was ice delivery man
FamilyMom and Dad are Natalie and Lynn. I have two brothers and a sister who are all younger. Caleb and Josh are my brothers and Anna is my sister. My wife is Erica. My son, Paul, is three and Elly is one. My brother just got married so I have a sister-in-law, Breezy. I love my family – both my immediate family and my in laws. My wife’s parents and her siblings have become my parents and my siblings. We’re blessed that we both came from the same town, we went to the same high school, we met on the track team and she came here to BYU to run hurdles for a year before focusing on her schooling. I obviously came here to run too. Since both of our families are from the same town, we love going back to Kaysville and seeing everybody – grandparents and cousins and everybody. Family is a huge part of our life – both my immediate family and extended family
PetsWe had pets growing up. We’re renting now, so no pets. I do think I see a dog in our family’s future
Favorite breakfastIt’s hard to top oatmeal for me
Favorite mealI love a good burger. It’s hard to beat burgers
Favorite beveragesI really am someone who likes water and so I mostly drink water
First running memoryIn third grade for P.E. I ran the mile and I won in my class with a time of seven minutes and twenty seconds. I don’t know if it was really a mile or not. But I remember the experience and being pretty empowered by it
Running heroesThere were people I looked up to – I really did and I looked up to people on the big stage. Meb has always been a hero. But more of my heroes were guys on my team. In high school Josh Adams was the team stud and I looked up to him and watched what he did. Here at BYU I looked up to Miles Batty and Rex Shields. And I have looked up to Coach Eyestone for what he has done in the past and what he is doing now. I feel blessed that in a lot of ways my heroes were people who were around me so I got to interact with them quite often. My siblings were also runners, and even though they were younger siblings, they were heroes to me in terms of their commitment as I watched them develop. I feel blessed that I’ve always had my heroes real close to me
Greatest running momentsObviously, crossing the finish line at the Olympic Trials this year and giving my wife a big, sweaty hug as she was crying is a moment that I don’t plan to ever forget. Beyond that, one of the memories that really stands out was in high school at the State meet running the distance medley relay. I wasn’t an 800 meter runner. I was a two-mile runner who sometimes ran the mile and coach put me on the 800 meter leg. The feeling of being on a team, doing something hard and realizing I was doing it for my teammates and how empowering that was made it a really special experience. I got the baton in fourth place and the 800 meters was the anchor leg. So for two laps I was watching my teammates cheer for me around the track. I crossed the line in front by hundredths of a second so we won at the line. I was in second until I made the pass at the line. I think I split 1:56 or something like that. It wasn’t a real fast or special time, but it was certainly faster than I’d ever run in the 800 meters before
Worst running momentThey don’t stand out - maybe that means I’ve been a very blessed runner. I do remember a workout my freshman year in college. I had returned from my mission and had worked for a year to get back in shape. I had stress fractures and shin splints and was very injury prone. In this workout Coach Eyestone was having us do ten by 1,000 meter repeats on the grass with thirty seconds rest. I recall in the middle of this workout being convinced that I was going to finish this workout and then I was going to march straight into coach’s office and quit running because I did not enjoy this and there were other things in life I enjoyed. Getting back into shape was hard. I ended up going into his office and I had the conversation with him. He was great and gently encouraged me to set goals. He reminded me of the fun aspects of running and it was this conversation that brought on the soul-searching experience that made me realize that it was part of my life calling to be a runner. It was from this experience that I knew I was meant to be a runner and to stick with it, but that was a hard moment
Childhood dreamsI dreamed of a lot of things, most of them ignorantly. I dreamed of playing in the World Cup, I dreamed about running in the Olympics and I dreamed about playing on the Utah Jazz basketball team with John Stockton and Karl Malone. When you are young you can dream about all of those things at the same time. So I had a lot of dreams and was blessed to have parents and people around me who didn’t tell me I was crazy for dreaming. I had a lot of dreams athletically. I am fortunate to be in the position to live one of my dreams
Funny memoriesNothing comes to mind. It must mean I’m boring
Embarrassing momentMy high school Coach Burley will always talk about at Footlocker nationals in cross country my senior year when I came out to run and told him that the running shorts he gave me felt funny. I was in their uniform. Then I came out of the port-a-potty twenty minutes before the race and told him that I had them on backwards. He’ll laugh at me for not being able to put my shorts on straight
Favorite places to travelAnywhere I get to take my wife. I think my favorite vacation was going down to southern Utah to Lake Powell and staying on a houseboat. It was something we did as a family when I was young and something I’ve done with my wife’s family as an adult. I haven’t been many places in the world and I’m very excited to go to Wales with my wife for the World Half Marathon Championships. Wales has been a destination place for us as has Rio. When I was awaiting my mission call and where they would assign me, I was waiting for Brazil, and I got Pittsburgh. So, I’m excited to go and see Brazil. We’re still sorting out the travel details for my family, but I think I’ll have some good support. I have a big family