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Clayton Young — May, 2024
Clayton Young is a member of the 2024 United States Olympic team in the marathon which will compete this summer in Paris, France. He finished second in the 2024 Olympic Trials in Orlando, Florida with a time of 2:09:06. Clayton placed seventh overall at the 2023 Chicago Marathon in 2:08:00 to secure the 2024 Olympic Marathon standard. The two previous years at the Chicago Marathon he was 13th in 2021 in 2:16:07 and 18th in 2022 in 2:11:51. Young had a very successful year at shorter distances in 2023 as he won the USA 8k Championships in Kingsport, Tennessee in 22:46, was fifth overall and first American at Falmouth in 32:02, scored a victory at the USA 20k Championships in New Haven, Connecticut in 59:15, and won the USA 10k Championship in Northport, New York in 28:49. His breakout year was 2021 as he won the USA 15k Championship in Jacksonville, Florida in 43:52, was third at Atlanta’s Peachtree 10k in 28:49, and fourth at the USA Half Marathon Championships in Hardeeville, South Carolina in 1:01:18. Clayton received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering at Brigham Young University where he was 2019 NCAA 10,000 meter champion. He earned four All-American honors, indoors at 5,000 meters and 3,000 meters, and outdoors at 10,000 meters and 5,000 meters. At American Fork (Utah) High School, Young won the State 5A 3,200 meters in 2010. Clayton’s six other Utah State 5A podium finishes include Silver Medals at 3,200 meters indoors and outdoors, two Bronze medals at 1,600 meters, and Bronze medals in cross country and at 3,200 meters. He was also NXN Cross Country All-American with a 24th place finish. His personal best times include: 1,500 meters – 3:48.81; mile - 4:00.77; 3000m – 7:49.76; 5,000m – 13:31.79; 8k – 22:46; 10k – 28:18.50; 15k – 43:52; 20k – 59:15; half marathon – 1:01:18; and marathon- 2:08:00. Clayton is sponsored by Asics and coached by his collegiate coach and two-time Olympic marathoner, Ed Eyestone. He resides in Springville, Utah with his wife, Ashley, and their daughters, Lucy and Jenna. Clayton was exceedingly kind to spend over two hours on the telephone in two phone calls for this interview in May 2024.
GCR: THE BIG PICTURE In the big picture, track and field athletes talk about competing for their country. How special is it going to be this August in Paris to pull on the USA uniform for the Olympic Marathon, have it on your chest and represent your country and to realize that you aren’t being cheered by just your family, friends, and teammates, but by everyone in the USA who is watching in person or on television?
CY It’s going to be a special moment for sure. It’s unique because I haven’t made a U.S. team in my career. This is going to be my first time putting on a USA jersey and representing my country which is going to be very special. I think about how there are many people who have been a part of this journey and I’m looking forward to taking them on the fun part of the Olympic journey if that makes sense. My career has had a lot of ups and downs, and it hasn’t been perfect. There are a lot of people who have been in my corner along the way. I’m excited to share this part of the journey with them because they deserve it as much as I do. I think back to when Jared Ward, one of my good friends and teammates, was telling me how he would stand on the starting line of these big races, or it could be in the middle of these races, that he would see the camera operator and he would look into the camera and think about all of the people who helped him to that moment. So, I’m extremely excited to be on the starting line in Paris and to look into the eyes of the camera, which is, more or less, essentially the eyes of all those who have helped me to get to this point and it is going to be quite special.
GCR: That leads into my next question because something I find interesting from the media, fans or friends is that when they look at people who succeed – whether it is running or swimming or playing a musical instrument or something else – others tend to look at the outcome which in your case would be fast times or going to the Olympics or winning championships. But, as important as those are, how exciting is it for you to experience the whole process of becoming your best and to have the joy found in racing be the fruition of the training build up?
CY It’s a balance. Obviously, I want to compete well and to do my best. But I also want to enjoy the scenery. The Olympics only come once every four years so there is this balance of enjoying the moment, sharing that moment with others, but also putting my best foot forward and capitalizing on this moment on the world stage.
GCR: Many of us when we started running watched the Olympics and had this dream of running in the Olympics. For you, as a child or teenager, did you think you might one day be an Olympian and, when you did qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for the 2024 Paris Olympics, how exciting was it to accomplish such an amazing goal?
CY My first memories are when the 2002 Winter Olympics were here in the Unites States in Salt Lake City. I was in second grade and remember Apollo Ohno crossing the finish line and taking a Silver Medal in speed skating. That was the coolest thing ever. That is how my memories started of what the Olympics were about and every kid in second grade wanted to be an Olympian at that point. My next big memory was in 2012. It was my high school senior year in track, and I had been injured quite a bit. I was running on a treadmill to come back from this injury, and I was watching the Olympics on television while running on the treadmill. I was soaking up and enjoying every event, but I was watching even more so the commercial breaks. There is something about Olympic commercials that is so powerful. I remember myself tearing up on each commercial break. It was very impactful and how neat it would be one day to be in an Olympic commercial. But the one that really hit home for me was in 2016 when Jared Ward, my friend, qualified for the Rio Olympic Games. I remember being in the parking lot and watching his Olympic Trials race on the phone with a bunch of friends. When he crossed the finish line, I was so happy. I had this green apple in my hand, and I took that green apple and, as he crossed that finish line, I threw it down into the concrete of the parking lot as hard as I could, and it exploded. Then I ran laps around the parking lot. I was so excited for Jared because he was a big mentor and friend of mine. It was cool to see him achieve his dreams.
GCR: I don’t think our top shot putters, Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, or our javelin throwers, have anything to worry about with your strong arm, but they better take note! Okay, back on track… I’ve interviewed over one hundred Olympians during the last sixteen years and being an Olympian is a designation that will be with you forever – ‘Clayton Young, Olympian.’ How does that combine now to round out a ‘Fab Four’ of titles along with ‘Clayton Young, Husband,’ ‘Clayton Young, Father,’ and ‘Clayton Young, Servant of God,’ as you balance your life?
CY You nailed it as those are the titles I would choose. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and that is a big part of my identity. The community has been around me and helped me to get to where I am today. So, first and foremost, son of God and disciple of Jesus Christ. Then my titles go to ‘Husband’ and to ‘Father’ of two daughters who are five and three years old. Then I guess you would slide in ‘Olympian’ there and that’s cool. Those are all great titles, but those first three titles keep me grounded in the sport that can be so fickle and can have so many ups and downs. Yes, they will never be able to take the title of ‘Olympian’ away from me, but I try to keep those first three designations at the forefront of my life.
GCR: Since you are only thirty years old and will turn thirty-one later this year, and you could have two Olympiads ahead, how do you balance what I refer to as ‘The two I’s – Improvement versus Injury,’ to keep getting better while avoiding redlining in training and taking breaks due to injuries like you have experienced in high school, college and early 2023?
CY It’s a fine line. I think that those who make it far in this sport are those who learn to manage their injuries over a long period of time. It’s that lifetime fitness that I’m tapping into now. It is knowing your body. One of the things I have had to be careful with is avoiding comparisons. I train with one of the best distance athletes in the United States and the world, Connor Mantz, my fellow Olympian that I will be training with all the way going into Paris. Connor is so gritty, so tough and so good at working out. I must be very careful when I’m working out with him and try to evaluate every workout and compare them only to myself. That is very tough, and I haven’t been perfect with that. But that’s how I balance that improvement. When I train with Connor Mantz, there is no doubt that I am going to improve. He’s going to push me to the point that I am going to progress. But, like you said, I must be sure that I’m not getting injured while on that process. For me, it is especially important not to compare myself to others. I can compare January 2024 to January 2023 and whatever version of Clayton Young that has evolved from year to year. That is where true growth comes and the honesty and integrity within us is where that lies.
GCR: Since our coaches help mold us into the athlete and person we become, over the years what are major points you learned from your high school coaches and mentors and Coach Eyestone that have helped you to be a better runner, athlete, or person?
CY My high school coach was Timo Mostert, and he is here in Utah at American Fork High School. When I joined the team, American Fork was a good program, but it wasn’t what it is today. They now have eleven State team championships. My sophomore year was the first State championship. That was back in 2012, so they have won the State championship almost every year and it has become a phenomenal program. That is in large part to a great coach in Timo Mostert. What he did that was special was that he got a group of young guys to buy in and build a culture that could last. It is a dynasty now and that culture is carried from team to team and from generation to generation. This idea of buy in and trust between the runners and coach and also between teammates can make all the difference. I often say that in high school is where I learned to work and work hard. I learned a lot of little nuances of training. Coach Timo is particularly good with the physical side of an athlete. We would do form drills, strides, mobility, lifting, ab workouts and core exercises. There are all these things that we must do for the physical side of running, but he was also good with the psychological part of running which is just as important. He emphasized visualization and cues and power statements. He would also send us articles to read. What made Coach Timo so great is that he had a very wholistic approach to his athletes. It wasn’t until I was in college that I began to embrace the recovery side. In high school I learned to work hard. In college I had to learn how to recover hard because it was a whole stepped up ballgame. Under Coach Eyestone, a two-time Olympian, we had a big volume and 10k/marathon-like training but on a college level. So, I had to learn how to recover and still gain that training. The other aspect that was critical for me to learn in college was how to be an independent athlete and not to always rely on a coach or mentor. Coach Eyestone was there when we needed him, but I had to take ownership and responsibility for my growth and progress and do the little things. He wasn’t there to hold our hands. This is what has translated well for me to become a professional athlete. The transition from a collegiate athlete to a professional athlete is very difficult. Many of the amenities available as an NCAA athlete are no longer there, whether it is nutrition, physical therapy, a sports psychologist, running gear, laundry, and locker rooms. Since Coach Eyestone fostered independence as a collegiate athlete, it was a lot easier for me when I turned professional than for most professional athletes. So, those are some of the important things I learned throughout the transition from high school to college to becoming a professional.
GCR: Due to your spiritual background and as Latter-Day Saints do, you took a break from your running routine for a two-year mission in Raleigh, North Carolina between high school and college. You weren’t assigned overseas to Ghana as Connor Mantz was or Portugal like your wife, Ashley. How did this shape you as a person and help you to be an even better runner when you returned?
CY The mission is very tricky. As you alluded to, we don’t get to choose where we are called. We believe that we are called by a prophet of God to serve in a specific area and to serve certain people. The mission is all about bringing others to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Running is not a priority. It is the last thing that is on our list. As missionaries, we get maybe thirty minutes a day to exercise and we have to stay within sight and sound of our missionary companion, the person with which you are teaching. Sometimes they might want to run and sometimes they may not. It becomes not a priority on the mission. I quickly gained twenty-five or thirty pounds within the first couple months of our mission. But that was okay to take a break from running and to focus on the eternal and things that matter most. I learned other skills in life that have contributed to my running. That wasn’t the purpose, but it paid off. When I think about the skills I learned on the mission, they are principles of goal setting, of planning, of diligence and hard work. There are skills of thinking of others and being selfless, working as a team and being able to communicate clearly. These are all very important principles that, when applied to running, can take you very far. I apply those principles of planning and goal setting all the time. The most important thing, more than anything, is this eternal perspective I have now towards life. There is something special when you serve others. That can be teaching them the Gospel or simple things like doing yardwork, mowing lawns, carrying groceries, building houses – you name it – whatever service people need that helps us to recognize how blessed and grateful I am and how that gratitude can continue to bless me. That eternal perspective is there and, yes, I want to be a fast runner and, yes, I want to be a professional athlete. But, at the end of the day, that eternal perspective is what matters most and helps me not to hyper-focus when it comes to the ups and downs of the fickle sport of what running is. That is how the mission helps me. It’s not perfect for everyone. A lot of my competitors in high school and even college teammates have never found their groove again. They tried their best to be the great athletes that they were before their missions, and it just didn’t work out. It’s not a perfect formula and sometimes I feel like the Lord has other plans. But it was a great experience, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
GCR: Most elite runners train every day. How does taking Sundays off for a combination of worship and family help you to have a mental, physical, and emotional break and allow a reset of focus and to regain motivation for the next week of training?
CY It is unique as far as our situation as marathoners. We live in this world where the idea is that the more miles, the more workouts, the more blood flow – the better. Ever since I was young, I have always taken Sundays off, primarily for the reason of religious worship. God has told us to keep the sabbath day holy and that is what I have prioritized. Now, as a professional athlete, as I have looked back, I honestly don’t know how people do it every day. Like you said, I need that mental and physical break on Sundays to be able to have the motivation and the fire come Monday morning for another week of hard work. It started for spiritual and religious reasons and now it has become even more so ingrained into my physical and mental states. I think there is something about finishing a Saturday long run on Saturday morning and having run twenty-two to twenty-five miles and, as I’m finishing those last couple miles, knowing that I have forty-eight hours to recover and to soak in that training and to find the fire again for another week of a hundred and twenty miles. And that’s cool.
GCR: POST-OLYMPIC TRIALS RECOVERY AND PARIS OLYMPIC MARATHON BUILD UP In the past few months, you have been dealing with an Achilles tendon issue while your training partner and fellow Olympian, Connor Mantz, has incurred a quadriceps problem. Were these related to the Olympic Trials Marathon, how are you both doing now and were the first three months of recovery and training after the Trials compared to how you would have liked?
CY When I finished the Trials, I had this excitement that we had twenty plus weeks until the Olympic Games and I had time to get back to speedier training to build up my speed so that when I got back to marathon training, I would have the leg turnover and fresh perspective toward marathon training. That was the idea I had. I would run some track races and try to break four minutes in the mile. Shortly after the Olympic Trials, and it was due to this hype and media attention and change of lifestyle combined with this idea that I wanted to go back to the track, is what ultimately did me in. My lifestyle for the first two weeks after the Trials had so much media and so much celebration. I wasn’t sleeping as much. I wasn’t eating as well as I should have. It was a perfect storm to cause me to get this Achilles tendon injury. After every big marathon, when I’m trying to get back into shape, for some reason my body feels worse at fifty miles a week than at a hundred ten miles a week. I don’t know why but, I just hit my second one hundred plus mile week of training last week and my body feels so much better than it did at fifty or sixty miles. There is something about consistency and increased blood flow combined with added attention to sleep and recovery and fueling. My body starts to click and feels so much stronger. So, the recovery post-Trials wasn’t perfect. I wouldn’t change it though because celebrating the accomplishment of making the U.S. Olympic team and sharing that journey with others was priceless. It hasn’t ended, but I am learning to say ‘No’ now to requests. I kept telling myself those first three or four weeks that I would say ‘Yes’ to everything so that way I could feel okay saying ‘No’ later. We are now transitioning into that phase where I am saying ‘No’ to some parties, celebrations and media asks as it is time to start focusing on Paris.
GCR: It is very cool that you have been sharing your Olympic training buildup on YouTube. I have watched the first two episodes and what is neat is that, when I was training at my best years ago, I did similar workouts, though not as fast as your paces. In the first weekly episode, we were first treated to a five-mile tempo run with splits of 4:53, 4:54, 4:50; 4:56 and 4:51 for a time of 24:24. Next up was your strength training coach Braden Goimarac who is working you on a four-week general accumulation block. Finally, two days later you fatigue mile repeats which were six miles at 5:22 pace followed by three-mile repeats in 4:32, 4:32 and 4:31. This was interesting as we did mile repeats, but not with a solid tempo run in advance. How was this week as you ramped up your training and how helpful was it for you to be training with the ‘Three Amigos’ – Connor, Adam, and you?
CY The YouTube channel has been a dream of mine for a long time. I have a very ‘A Type’ perfectionist personality, so I had to wait until the right opportunity to make it the way that I wanted. A big shout out to the videographer, Andrew Sora, who has stepped in and made this dream possible. The YouTube channel has been able to share a noticeably big insight into our training. Yes, we run faster than most people. Yes, we are Olympians. But we have a lot of highs and lows. It’s not perfect and it’s not pretty. It’s something that every runner can relate to of having a good day, having a bad day, having a good workout. That first week, as I say on YouTube, was a free week to see where we were. We discovered how our bodies were feeling and how our injuries were. I will give myself three or four weeks of that mentality as there is still plenty of time until the Olympic Games. At eight to ten weeks out, if I’m not in shape or if an injury is not in check, that’s when I must start worrying. Right now, it’s just working out the kinks.
GCR: It's interesting you are mentioning how you can have ups and downs. In the second weekly episode, the Tuesday plan was two by three miles at 4:45 pace. Your first 3-mile had splits of 4:41, 4:44 and 4:47. After a four-minute recovery, you ran 4:42, 4:55, 4:54, so you weren’t at plan. You let Connor go and didn’t race him in training. Two days later the track for two sets of 1600m, 1200m and 800m, the goal was 4:28, 3:18, 2:10 and you stayed close to or on plan. You mentioned that in every build up you start out behind. How do you evaluate where you’re at and what you need to change so your fitness grows, and you can perform well in Paris?
CY You nailed it that I have to be careful about improvement versus injury. When I’m working out with Connor Mantz and have a bad workout or can’t stay with him, that eats at me. Yes, I want to be side by side with Connor, but I’ve had to recognize that, as much as I hate it and as much as I don’t want to put myself in this box, every build for me starts out slower than Connor. I must be patient and let the fitness come. In week three, and the episode hasn’t been released yet, the first half was rocky and then it started to click. In week four, my fitness is getting much better, so it’s coming. I will have to stay patient, avoid comparisons to Connor, and compare May 2024 Clayton at twelve to thirteen weeks out from the Olympics to the Clayton that was thirteen weeks out from the Olympic Trials and thirteen weeks out from when I hit the Olympic standard in Chicago last fall. If I keep reminding myself of that, I must have faith that fitness will come. And it has already, and it will. If I continue to maintain this mentality, I will be fine.
GCR: Did the good progression continue in the following week of your buildup to Paris and is your Achilles tendon staying healthy?
CY We’re in weeks four and five of the buildup into Paris and things are starting to click. During the last week, I did start feeling that I can be a bit patient because I have to be ready to race in twelve weeks and not six to eight weeks. I am starting to feel good. This week we did a double threshold on Tuesday. We did a four mile and two-mile tempo on Tuesday morning. That was followed by eight by 1,000 meters on the grass in the afternoon. Today we had a tune-up workout and we’re ready for the Bolder Boulder 10k this Monday on Memorial Day. We’re excited to see where we are at in our training (note – three days subsequent to this phone interview, Connor Mantz won the Bolder Boulder 10k in 29:12 as Clayton Young finished seventh in 29:38).
GCR: I’m sure you will have a similar build up as you fine tune going into the Olympics as you did before Chicago and before the Olympic Trials. What will be some of the workouts Coach Eyestone prescribes and the primary focus during the next few weeks and then in the final eight-week build up to the Paris Olympics as you aim to be a little bit better than in the last two build ups?
CY We are in this early phase where we aren’t in big marathon training, and we are trying to get our leg speed back. We are building volume, our base and fitness in general. There will be a time in a couple of weeks where we start doing what we call predictive marathon pace workouts, or PMPs for short. Every other week we will do eight miles, ten miles, twelve miles and a thirteen-miler at marathon pace. We will do these tempo runs at 4:50 pace. That marathon pace is predictive marathon pace, so we don’t really know. We get out there and try to find marathon pace because we don’t really know exactly what our marathon pace is. I remember distinctly the night before the 2023 Chicago Marathon talking to Coach Eyestone. ‘What are we feeling? Do we think it’s a 2:08 day?’ It was during the warmup the next morning that I thought, ‘Okay, I’m committed to 2:08 flat.’ It’s okay to find marathon pace instead of to force marathon pace. That is one of the staples of Coach Eyestone. One unique factor in our training is that we are still very track based. We do a lot of shorter distances compared to other athletes’ marathon training. We do mile repeats on the track, 1,200s on the track and 800s on the track. By keeping our VO2 max high from these track workouts, it makes a big difference.
GCR: 2024 OLYMPIC TRIALS MARATHON Since you spoke briefly about comparing training blocks, how would you compare your training block in advance of the 2024 Olympic Trials with that before your 2023 Chicago Marathon personal best of 2:08:00 for seventh place?
CY When I look back at comparing the Olympic Trials build to the Chicago 2023 build, it is interesting. When I approached the Trials, I felt like my turnover wasn’t as good and I didn’t have as much speed. But all the longer workouts in my training had been better. That was due to the fact that the turnaround from Chicago to the Olympic Trials was sixteen weeks. We had two or three weeks of recovery and then twelve or thirteen weeks until the Olympic Trials. That was ‘go time’ and we had to start training and there wasn’t much time to get that speed back. I felt like my build to the Olympic Trials was much more strength based. The long runs were feeling better, especially coming off my fitness from Chicago. My pickups at the end of long runs were good. I forgot to tell you about our pickups. When we do our long runs, we alternate between twenty and twenty-five miles every other week. We run three to four miles at the end of those runs at or faster than marathon pace. Those workouts were feeling much better than during the Chicago build up, but the shorter workouts weren’t feeling as good. But when it came to a marathon and when it came to the Olympic Trials, turnover didn’t matter. It was the strength that mattered. The workouts were almost identical. Coach Eyestone has a program and usually sticks to it. The difference was that it was a shorter build with more strength whereas for Chicago I had a longer runway to work on speed before the real marathon training set in.
GCR: Since I’m the CFO of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission, I was a part of the behind-the-scenes team that aimed to have everything go very well in all regards, and especially for the athletes. Did the final few days go smoothly in Orlando including touring the course, shoes and water bottle check in, transportation to the course and adequate warm up area?
CY Yes, a big shout out to the Greater Orlando Sports Commission and all the work that they did to make that such a great event. It was a very seamless event in my eyes. It’s funny that I joked with my family and friends that coming to watch the race was secondary on their vacation to Orlando. There is so much to do in the Orlando area. They got to experience all these great things and then, as a bonus, got to see us race. The race itself and the management and the bottle checks and the warm-ups, plus all the media afterwards were all fantastic. I couldn’t have hoped for a better day and that was special. Orlando will always have a special place in my heart for sure.
GCR: Let’s discuss the race. First, what were the major elements of your race strategy that Coach Eyestone, Connor Mantz and you discussed and were there several potential pathways depending on how the major competitors’ strategy and pacing played out?
CY There was lots of talk amongst Coach Eyestone, Connor Mantz, and me as to what the game plan was. Especially since Connor and I were the only two that had the Olympic standard going into the race, for us there was no point in pushing the pace. We were just there to secure those two spots. We had a short list of athletes whose moves we would cover. Those were mostly the top fifteen athletes. We had researched and followed athletes’ training and understood who the dark horses would be. Our strategy was to cover moves through the first twenty-two miles and then to do what we do best, which is to close marathons hard over the last four to six miles and see what happens. Because we had unlocked those two spots, our strategy was simply to just cover moves and then close out the race. Coach Eyestone had said, ‘Chill, cover, close.’ That is what he was instilling in our mind before the race.
GCR: Zach Panning took the lead around six-and-a-half miles and raced miles seven through thirteen between 4:47 and 4:52 as the lead group hit halfway in 1:04:07. Did you feel more comfortable as the pace became solid and Zach helped the lead group have a chance at the Olympic standard?
CY When Zach Panning made his move, Connor took one glance at me, and I took one glance at him. We both nodded and we got in a single file right behind Zach. We knew that Zach Panning was one of the best dark horses after his performance at the World Championships in Budapest last year. He was able to perform in the heat and humidity and we knew he did solid training. That was our strategy and is what we did.
GCR: Was it exciting as Zach picked up the pace slightly in mile 17 to 4:44 and the lead pack was whittled down to only Conner Mantz, Zach, and you between 18 and 20 miles? And as Zach’s pace slowed to 4:59 and 5:08 during miles 21 and 22, what were Connor and you doing to try to work together with Zach so all three of you could hit the 2:08:10 standard?
CY It was about covering moves, and, about twenty-two miles, Connor said, ‘There are only three of us. Let’s try to help Zach Panning unlock this third spot.’
GCR: Dakota Lindwurm told me the crowds were very loud when she was out on the course in the top women’s group. How were the crowds of spectators and how exciting was it since the three of you were running strong together?
CY The crowds were incredible, especially since it was a loop course. We ran three eight-mile loops, and, in that downtown area, it was so loud that Connor and I couldn’t hear each other. I almost wanted ear plugs at times. That was very special. I had visualized the finish of the Olympic Trials Marathon so much. I came out and trained on the course. I had run on the course multiple times. I did every bit of preparation I could and part of that was visualizing the course. But I don’t think I adequately prepared for the sheer loudness of the crowds along the course. It was almost deafening and incredibly special.
GCR: What was it like physically, mentally, and emotionally the last 5k as Connor and you were out front alone, the two of you did have the Olympic standard and you worked to finish as strongly as you could while Connor was struggling a bit and you had to pull him along?
CY It was a special moment. With about three miles to go, we turned into this headwind and Connor turned to me and said, ‘Will you take the lead?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ It was a moment when I had to decide as to whether I was going to be a teammate and a friend or if I was going to be a competitor. Ultimately, if I wanted to win the race in dominant fashion and make a name, that’s the moment I should have made my move since Connor wasn’t feeling well. But I got to look back to all the times that I stared at the back of Connor’s head and got pulled along in workouts and in life and through knee surgery and all these ups and downs in my career. So, when Connor asked me to take a turn at the front, I turned to him and said, ‘Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. Stick on me and we’re going to get to the finish line.’ With about two miles to go, we were hearing from the crowd, ‘Forty seconds ahead of third place’ and then ‘Fifty seconds on third.' So, I motioned for Connor to come up side by side with me. He shook his head and said,' I'm going to stay behind you. I'm not feeling well.' I said, ‘Okay. No problem.’ There were times that I couldn’t hear him, so I was looking back to see if he was there. The crowds were so loud that I couldn’t tell if he was there, and I didn’t want to drop him. We both have had experiences late in a marathon that were very tough. If you look back to my Chicago Marathon in 2021, I collapsed three times over the last three hundred meters. If you look at Connor in Boston of 2023, he started having tunnel vision with less than a mile to go and he faded hard. We both had these experiences, so the last thing I wanted to do at the Olympic Trials was to leave Connor to fend for himself over that last mile or two when who knew what could go wrong. Then I started motivating him and yelling things at him but, truth be told, he didn’t hear a single thing above the crowd.
GCR: When you were coming down the home stretch and balancing competitive mode and celebration mode, what was your mindset the last one hundred meters as you were finishing and then gestured for Connor to finish in front of you?
CY As we approached that last turn with about a half mile to go, I was thinking that Connor was going to make it to the finish line, that was great, and I was going to enjoy this moment. The crowd was so loud and this is what I had dreamed of. I watched Ryan Hall finish his Olympic Trials win. I watched Meb Keflezighi finish this race. I watched Coach Eyestone finish this race. I had watched all these great mentors and friends and Olympians and idols of mine celebrate the last half mile of these races. And so that is when I decided to enjoy every moment and I motioned for Connor to come up and run side by side with me. As you saw in the broadcast, there is this point when I veer off to the right. I was trying to grab an American flag because I remembered when Meb and Ryan had grabbed an American flag going into the finish of their Olympic Trials wins. But no one handed me a flag because, they had been told that, if the race was close, not to hand out American flags. Then I came back to the middle of the course and was running with Connor and enjoying every moment. With about thirty meters to go is when Connor puts on this little surge. It caught him by surprise, and it caught me by surprise. I couldn’t react fast enough. He expected me to blow by him. But it was too late. It was this moment when I threw my hands out to celebrate and we crossed shortly thereafter.
GCR: Can you describe the emotions of making the Olympic team, sharing it with Connor Mantz, the joy from your wife and parents and coach and the cheers of the crowd? How amazing were those first few minutes after the race?
CY It was so surreal. It was just how I dreamt it and how I visualized it for the last hundred days every night before I would go to bed. It was this dream. There was this special moment when my wife was there. They had my five- and three-year-old girls from where they were on the course with my family so they could be there with me, and I tried to instill in them the awesomeness of the moment. My entire family found ways to sneak into the finish line and be there. Connor Mantz was there. So was Jared Ward who is a big mentor and friend. Coach Eyestone was there. Meb was there. It was unreal. There was a moment when they handed us American flags. I had always dreamed of running up and down the finishing straightaway and being able to celebrate with the crowd. I started running down the finishing straightaway and one of the workers came up to me and said, ‘You can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m going to do this. It is my moment to celebrate. This is my dream.’ I ran down a little further and he tried to stop me again and I said, ‘Sorry, I’m not stopping.’ I felt a little stubborn and entitled but I wouldn’t change that moment for the world. So, I ran down one side and up the other side. I interacted with the crowd, and it was priceless.
GCR: MARATHON RACING Prior to the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon, you raced four marathons over the previous three years. As we step up from shorter distances to the marathon, in our first three marathons we typically go from experiencing the distance to racing for time to racing for place. Let’s look at it that way and what are your thoughts regarding your first step up to the marathon as you raced the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon with a 1:03 half marathon qualifier. I was there in Atlanta with the Greater Orlando Sports Commission as we geared up to bid for the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon. What are your thoughts on that first marathon as you were coming back from an injury and ran 2:29:46 for 136th place?
CY For me it was all about experience. I had only been training about three weeks before that marathon due to an injury. We knew it was almost silly to be toeing the line on that day. But I felt this pull and that the experience and emotions and pressure were something that would be valuable four years later. That is why I ran. I was slower than several of the women. I ran the first fifteen miles with a friend and then faded hard. I did get to feel what it is like to run very badly in the late stages of a marathon and to bonk. It wasn’t pretty but, for some reason, I had this feeling it would pay off.
GCR: At the 2021 Chicago Marathon you clocked a very respectable 2:16:07 for 13th place on a warm day with a temperature of 68 degrees at the starting line. As you touched on earlier, you collapsed three times late in the race. How good was your race, but how tough on a warm day?
CY Many runners go to Chicago to run fast and that was one of our goals. When we showed up and found it was going to be hot and humid. We were disappointed but knew we would just have to race under those conditions. There was a special moment when I was in seventh place with four hundred meters to go. I was thinking that I would be in the top ten on what I felt was my debut marathon and that this was going to be a great day. Then I collapsed three times in the last point two miles of the marathon which was devastating. It added three or four minutes to my time, and I dropped from seventh place to thirteenth place. But I knew I would be back. I had this feeling of hope. If I could run twenty-six miles, be in the top ten at a major marathon, and only have to worry about the last point two miles, that was encouraging.
GCR: A year later you had a tremendous improvement at the 2022 Chicago Marathon to 2:11:51 for 18th place on a perfect weather day with a 45-degree temperature at the start. Was it comfortable to be in Chicago since you were familiar with the race logistics and course and did this race signify that you were now an upper-echelon USA marathon racer?
CY I came back from the prior year and was in a chase pack with several of the American men and covering moves. Zach Panning makes a move and I feel like I can cover that move. It’s just Zach and I and we break away around mile twenty-two or twenty-three. Then I started to collapse and fall apart. I watched as several of the top Americans ran strong. Connor Mantz ran 2:08:16. Zach Panning ran 2:09:20. Matt McDonald ran 2:09:30s and Nico Montenez high 2:09s. My goal was to run 2:09 and I ended up fading to 2:11:51. I thought I had this marathon thing in the bag. The first one was for free but, dang it, I blew up again.
GCR: You had knee surgery in February 2023 that sidelined you and it looked challenging to be back at full strength for a while. Can you take us through how you were injured, treatment options and how grueling the recovery process was as you got back to running and then prepared to return to Chicago in October of 2023?
CY Shortly after the 2023 Chicago Marathon and my fading to 2:11:51 there was this devastating moment. I asked myself what my trajectory was in this sport and whether I had a future in it. In December, as I started to train again, I began to have some knee pain and I didn’t think anything of it. A little knee pain like that usually just goes away. But it kept lingering and I talked to doctors and physical therapists about it. January went by and it wasn’t getting better despite all the physical therapy and exercises I did. I had a couple of cortisone injections and a dextrose injection. I was looking via Google for homeopathic remedies. I was doing it all. That’s when I had a good chat with my doctor about knee surgery. It was going to be a minimally invasive knee surgery, so I decided to go ahead. The official diagnosis was plica syndrome and soft tissue that, when inflamed, can be stubborn and cause problems. This is an issue that occurs when the body is growing as an adolescent. Usually, it is absorbed by the body, but can stick around and cause some pain. They did a simple arthroscopic surgery to go in and remove that plica that was inflamed. About two weeks later, I was able to start using the stationary bike. A week later I did some running on the ground and slowly built from there. That was by far the lowest part of my running career. When my career and my livelihood was taken away, and my drug and my outlet on life, it was an exceptionally low part of my life. Honestly, it gave me gratitude for every single mile and every single workout from there on out. Once it was taken away, when I was finally able to run those first steps, I felt so much gratitude. That mental state is what allowed me to get back so fast and be ready eight months later for the Chicago Marathon. It was incredible to go from surgery to running 2:08 flat in the marathon.
GCR: Can you take us through that build up before Chicago from exercise bike and zero running to full workouts? How ready to perform were you on the 2023 Chicago Marathon starting line?
CY When I look back on that buildup, it was miraculous. There is no doubt in my mind that I was very much guided in those months to get back in shape and to hit the Olympic standard. 2023 was the worst time to be injured as we were coming into an Olympic year in 2024. The first glimpse of hope was at the USA 8k Championships on the road. I was training for the track and couldn’t hit a track qualifier for the U.S. Track and Field Championships. So, I ran these road races. I absolutely smashed the USA 8k Championships and walked away with a win there. A couple weeks later I ended up winning the USA 20k Championships in New Haven in kind of a photo finish with Connor where he wasn’t feeling very good. Then, a couple of weeks after that, I went and won the USA 10k Championships. There was so much confidence as everything was clicking. The doubt that came from surgery was quickly swept away. There was this idea that what my body needed was rest and that I needed some humble pie and gratitude at every step to get ready for this Chicago Marathon. In the buildup, I was running the best workouts of my life, and I was feeling better than ever. There was still this uncertainty of how fast I should go. As I said, you can’t really force marathon pace. You’ve got to find it. Deciding to run Olympic standard pace was a hard choice, especially since I had been training with Connor Mantz and closing the gap. I had beaten him at the USA 20k Championships. Connor had gotten the green light from Coach Eyestone to go out at 2:06:30 to 2:07:00 pace.
GCR: Can you take us through the race and how exciting was it when Connor Mantz and you ran 2:07:47 and 2:08:00, respectively, to finish sixth and seventh and meet the Olympic marathon standard as you ran your first strong marathon performance?
CY Not only did Connor go out at his planned 2:06:30 to 2:07 flat pace, but so did Galen Rupp and so did Sam Chelanga. Lots of guys I had beaten all year were out at that pace in the chase group. I made the conscious decision to stay with the 2:08 pace group. I remember going through halfway in sixty-three minutes and forty-something seconds and thinking, ‘Perfect. We are right on pace.’ It was only my pacer and me. Everybody else had dropped off. After halfway, all the guys who had gone out with Connor slowly came back. I got to pass one runner after another, and it was motivating. I was the hunter. I had been so patient and, like Coach Eyestone said, it was time to destroy. So, I started destroying these runners one by one until I saw the back of Connor’s head. As he came into sight, I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh! I’m closing in on him, I’m still on Olympic standard pace and this is going to be a great day.’ I ran out of real estate, and I was in this cautious moment. I didn’t want to mess this up because I was on Olympic standard pace, and I knew what the last mile could be in a marathon. I had had it go bad multiple times before over the last mile, so I told myself to stay focused. I slowly closed the gap on Connor. I got to see him cross the line in 2:07:47 and then I crossed the line in 2:08 flat. That was so incredible. What a great feeling. It was a long time coming. That celebration was as much or more so than the Olympic Trials finish. At the Trials, I was still an underdog, but there was an expectation in my mind. When I hit the Olympic standard in Chicago, I had finally broken through, had mastered the marathon and knew I could go faster. That was special.
GCR: OTHER PROFESSIONAL RACING In 2019 you started off as a road racer at the USA 10-mile where you ran 48:23 for sixteenth place and the Rock ‘n Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon where your time of 1:03:40 qualified you for the 2020 Olympic Trials Marathon. How did you like the move up from racing 5k and 10k in college to the longer distances? Was it comfortable going a bit slower, tough to go longer, or a bit of both?
CY In that 10-miler, I got rocked hard. That was one of my first road races. Placing sixteenth was okay but it wasn’t a great day. I thought to myself that I was now in the big leagues. To follow that up with a 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier in the half marathon was great. I felt very good. I remember being excited as we passed ten miles. Around eleven and twelve miles I was in a pack of four runners for the win. I ended up in fourth place because I didn’t have any wheels for the end. It was a cool taste of what that distance feels like, and it felt good to hit the Olympic qualifier on my debut half marathon.
GCR: We chatted previously about the Olympic Trials Marathon where you weren’t fully ready due to an injury but raced anyway to experience the distance. Then the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything. What was it like mentally and physically that next nine months or so when we didn’t know how bad the pandemic would be, there weren’t any vaccines, there weren’t races and we didn’t know if we should train with or stay away from our training partners?
CY I remember that being a weird time of life and a weird time to train. It was like we didn’t know what to train for. We didn’t know when or what the next event would be. We were in this lukewarm level of training. We were doing workouts every now and then, but we didn’t know when we would race again. It actually lined up well because I was finishing up my master’s degree at BYU. It allowed me to get through a lot of the heavy academic and research work I had to do to get that done. My running honestly suffered a bit. Later that summer, the Covid-19 protocols loosened up somewhat and we were able to run a few track races locally in St. George, Utah. They were mediocre at best. I ended up training with a good friend, Connor McMillan. We didn’t have to lock down too much, so we met to run every morning. It was nice to have that outlet. There were so many unknowns. He was running pro at the time and was quite fit. I mostly focused on knocking out my master’s degree at that time.
GCR: Let’s look back at 2021 where you had some great races with formidable opponents. First, in March you won the USA Championships 15k Jacksonville River Run, which is near and dear to me as I have my personal best and two sub-47-minute efforts there. How did it feel to work up that Hart Bridge hill which can be very windy, race down the hill and then finish on flat terrain as you were in a strong pack including Abbabiya Simbassa, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Nicolas Montanez, Kirubel Erassa and Colin Bennie that finished within five seconds of you? And what were the moves that secured the win for you?
CY I remember when I was going into that race that I saw a lot of big names who were racing like Biya Simbassa, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Galen Rupp. Honestly, training had been going well, but I hadn’t been racing well. I raced during indoor season on the track a bit and things weren’t going very well from a track standpoint. I was frustrated to be honest. When I hopped in that road race and got moving, it was more in my wheelhouse. 15k was my distance at the time. That was also the first race that I raced in the latest ASICS Metaspeed Sky super shoe. I recall putting those shoes on and being super excited because they felt good. They felt fast. It was ASICS first attempt at a super shoe. Anyway, I remember late in the race being in that lead pack of about ten guys, working up the green monster hill. When we were coming down the hill, I think we were all keying off of Kipchirchir because he was the favorite at that time since Galen Rupp had fallen off the pace. We were waiting, waiting, waiting and we came around the last run around the stadium. I see the finish line and think, ‘Oh, my goodness. That is the finish line. I can go as fast as I can from here to the finish line.’ And so, I was the first one that responded and went past Kipchirchir. I went with everything that I had left. I think I dipped into the low 3:50 or 3:40s mile pace and caught Biya Simbassa off guard who finished right behind me. Breaking that tape felt so good. It had been a year-and-a-half to two years since I had gone pro, and I needed that. I needed something good to prove, not so much to others, but to myself that I still had it. I could have a good training block, get in these road races and. If I had a good pair of super shoes that ASICS had made, I could contend with the best of them and that was supper motivating for me.
GCR: Another race a few months later with a strong field was the July 4th Peachtree 10k in Atlanta. I’ve raced there a few times and the combination of the heat and high humidity with hills around miles four and five make it a challenge. What was that race like as Sam Chelanga, who is always a warrior when he races, won by a few seconds over Fred Huxem and you with Colin Bennie right behind in fourth place?
CY That was another great race. I remember it being extremely hot and humid. We were rolling downhill those first few miles, and it was all about being conservative and being patient for the big hills to come. The race is a one turn race with about a half mile to go. Then you scream downhill. Right before that turn, Sam Chelanga made a move that was absurd. It was so hard. Now that I know Sam after racing him over the last five years, I understand that he does this in almost every race. So, I was more prepared for him in later races. But he made that one big move before that turn that was so hard to cover. But I covered it very, very well. It was almost too hard, and Fred Huxem got me right at the finish line. It was cool to be on the podium in another U.S. Championship race. I have a lot of respect for Fred because he was the guy who showed up all throughout that season. And I’ve always had a lot of respect for Sam. He came out and trained with us prior to the Olympic Trials Marathon. He’s a veteran of the sport. He’s been on the circuit a long time. And he serves our country. To be on the heels of Sam was very inspiring.
GCR: Another iconic race where you were in the mix up front in 2021 that I ran a couple times about twenty years ago is the USA 20k Championships in New Haven, Connecticut on Labor Day weekend in early September. What was it like in the lead pack on that long two-mile finishing straight as Ben True, Biya Simbassa, Nico Montanez and Leonard Korir pulled away to finish in the 59:50s while you and Fred Huxem faded to fifth and sixth in 1:00:09 and 1:00:10, respectively? Was there also a secondary goal to break an hour?
CY At that time, 20k was about as far as I had raced on the roads, and it was my debut in New Haven. I had raced well that summer and was excited to be there. I had heard so much about that race from one of my teammates, Jared Ward. I was excited late in that race during miles eleven and twelve that I was still in contact with the leaders. These were guys that I looked up to and I was still new and young in the sport. I was there until about mile twelve and less than a half mile to go. They all kicked, and I had nothing left. I closed well but that was about it. I forgot that I was over an hour, but I have broken an hour since then. I’ll take that as motivation that I needed to break an hour in future years.
GCR: We will touch on that soon as you did break an hour in 2023. But back to 2021 where you closed out the year strongly at the USA Marathon Championships in Hardeeville, South Carolina in 1:01:18 for fourth place behind Connor Mantz at 1:00.55, Sam Chelanga at 1:00:59 and Nico Montanez 1:01:13. How did you feel about the two-and-a-half minute improvement from the Philadelphia Half Marathon two years earlier? Though you didn’t stay with Connor and Sam, were you motivated that you were going in the right direction?
CY That race was super exciting for me after running the Chicago Marathon that fall. I already told that story of how I had collapsed three times over the last four hundred meters of that race. It was a quick turnaround from Chicago in the first week in October to the USA Half Marathon Championships two months later in the first week of December. I was struggling the first four weeks of training as I was trying to get my marathon legs moving again. Early in that race, all eyes were on Connor Mantz for his debut half marathon. People didn’t believe he was going to be as fit as he was. But I was telling everyone all weekend that Connor was coming to play, and they had better be ready to be in Connor’s world. Connor took it out hard and he led for most of the race with Morgan Pearson, who is now a triathlete. I was on the back of the lead pack of eight to ten guys as we were running 4:40 miles. I was hanging on for dear life. I was very worried miles two, three and four and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ Then by miles five, six, seven and eight my thoughts changed to, ‘This is starting to feel smooth.’ Its too bad we don’t have any more big races in Hardeeville because it was a phenomenal course. It was flat. It was fast. It was on a beautiful, paved road in between pine trees. It was a three or four loop course that was ideal for running fast. We hit 4:40s on the dot forever. With about a mile to go, as I mentioned had happened at Peachtree, Sam Chelanga put in this ridiculously hard four-hundred-meter surge, and it blew the pack apart. Connor Mantz was the first to respond. I responded next and we were all in a line. Then Nico responded with me, and we left everyone else behind us. Nico flew past me shortly thereafter and I hung on for fourth place. To run 1:01:18 was huge for me. That was a fast time, and I knew I had some bonuses at 1:01:30. I felt it was a great turnaround from Chicago. I can’t wait to run a flat, fast half marathon again because I want to break that personal best.
GCR: If we leap forward to 2023 in advance of your 2:08 flat in Chicago, you must have been feeling good as you won the USA 8k Championships in Kingsport, Tennessee in 22:46, ahead of Andrew Colley in 22:49, Isai Rodriguez in 22:50 and Emmanuel Bor in 22:54. Then at New Haven at the USA 20k Championships you won and scored your sub-hour time of 59:15 as you were ahead of Conner Mantz by a second as he finished in 59:16 and Leonard Korir was another ten seconds back in 59:26. It is interesting that the three of you on the Olympic Trials Marathon podium were also on the New haven podium. What was it like as you were dialed in at these races and at Falmouth for fifth place and first American in advance of Chicago?
CY That was a magical summer for sure. After having knee surgery in February of 2023, that was a hard time of my life personally. But, to come out of that I raced the Bolder Boulder 10k with tempered expectations and it went well. Then the first race where I was at one hundred percent was for the U.S. 8k Championships. I was training with Connor Mantz, and he was getting ready for the U.S. Track and Field Championships. My speed was particularly good, I was feeling fit, and I felt fast. But it had been a long time since I felt prepared for a race. In Kingsport I played it conservatively the first four miles. With about four hundred to six hundred meters to go, I felt like a million bucks. I put on this kick that I was enormously proud of. I knew it was twenty-five hard steps to the top of this hill and then we screamed downhill into the stadium. I crossed that line and, if you go back and look at the pictures, I was so happy. I wasn’t that I won the race, but that it meant so much to me to overcome knee surgery and to overcome many setbacks. It was my first U.S. Championship in a long time and was all the validation I needed in that moment to continue in the sport. That is what propelled me forward to be able to win the U.S. 20k Championships. I did race well at Falmouth on a course-record-setting day. That was an amazingly fast day on that course. I went in feeling extraordinarily strong and confident at the U.S. 20k Championships and kind of checked that box in my training for Chicago. Plus, at the last minute I hopped in the U.S. 10k Championships in Northport, New York. That was only two weeks out from Chicago and there was a lot of hesitation as to whether I should run that race. But there was so much on the line in prize money and bonuses on the overall road racing circuit. I was feeling confident, wanted to race there, and came out with the win. That was particularly good going into the Chicago Marathon.
GCR: It reminds me of when I was coaching myself in my top marathon racing days where I would do a strong two-mile time trial on Tuesday, six days before a marathon. It wasn’t all out, but solid. Then the marathon always felt slow. When I was older and racing the Boston Marathon many times, I would find a 5k on the Saturday nine days before the Boston Marathon. So, when you say that you ran that 10k two weeks out and felt great for Chicago, isn’t that remarkably similar?
CY I absolutely agree. I also had the idea that I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. The marathon is a big race and can be very fickle. By capitalizing at the U.S. 10k Championships and getting a good effort and a good payday and a good race, it took the pressure off Chicago. I was fit and I was fast, and all this fitness was not hinging on one big race. I had been able to flex that fitness throughout the season and truly enjoy the races that year. As I was getting ready for Chicago, it put me in the right mindset, both physically and mentally.
GCR: HIGH SCHOOL RACING AND TRAINING AT AMERICAN FORK HIGH SCHOOL Before high school, were you involved in multiple sports as a youth, how did you start running and did you compete in races as a youth and in middle school?
CY When I was growing up, I lived with my great family that supported me in whatever sporting events that I wanted to play. I played soccer. I played basketball. I played baseball. I was in singing and dancing groups. I lived a full childhood. My running started in fifth grade. Every Friday during lunch recess my school had a program called ‘Mileage Club.’ We could go out to the soccer field to run. For every lap we ran around the soccer field, we would collect a ticket. Each lap we collected more and more tickets until, at the end of lunch recess, we would go back in the classroom and turn those tickets in to our teacher. She would tally them up. It was both an individual classroom competition and a classroom competition. One of my best friends was in the other class. The two of us became very competitive. We would go out every Friday at lunch recess and race each other. We would run fourteen, fifteen or sixteen laps, almost the equivalent of four miles. Throughout the entire year, we ended up running just over a hundred miles. I was extremely competitive. That’s when I found out that I was good at running. That’s when it started. I ran cross country and track as a sixth grader and seventh grader. I still played basketball and soccer. By eighth grade, I committed fully to running. Soccer was during the same season as track and that is where my focus on running began. That is when I fell in love with running.
GCR: You did mention earlier that, since you were at American Fork High School, Coach Mostert has coached numerous Utah State Championship teams with the first during your sophomore year. Your freshman year, you ran respectable times in track of 2:05.02; 4:36.68; 10:03.44. What was it like getting into his program and adjusting to top-level coaching and teammates who were with you through this growth?
CY Just before ninth grade, during that summer my family moved from Yakima, Washington to American Fork, Utah. I remember joining the cross-country team that summer and it was a whole new world. This was a team that was in its early stages and hadn’t yet started the American Fork dynasty. We had an exceptionally good team. We were running at altitude and my first run with them was an eight-mile run out to Utah Lake and back. On the way back, I felt like I would never make it back to the high school. I was so tired, it was so hot, and I was breathing so hard. It didn’t start too pretty. Luckily, there were some upperclassmen on the team who befriended me and supported me. Timo was a phenomenal coach and person, but he can be very intense sometimes. The upperclassmen helped me foster a relationship with my coach and helped buffer that while they showed me the ropes. It took a long time but, by the middle of cross-country season, things started to click. That is when I finally made it onto the varsity team. We went down to NXN Southwest, and our team took fourth place which was a big deal. We had a chance to complete the paperwork to possibly get an at-large bid to Nationals. We weren’t selected, but it was exciting and sparked a fire within us. The next year, on the back of our cross-country team shirts was the slogan, ‘Unfinished Business.’ That meant we had unfinished business of winning State and making it to Nationals and that is when the dynasty was born during my sophomore year. There is big thanks to a lot of upperclassmen who motivated us, inspired us, and created a team culture that has now lasted well over a decade.
GCR: You really blossomed in your sophomore year with a fourth place at the Utah State Cross Country Championships in 15:43.6 and then dropping your times a lot to 4:22.43 in the 1,600 meters for third at State in track and a very impressive 9:13.00 for second in the 3,200 meters at State. Was it that you had a full second year of training that led to these outstanding gains?
CY My sophomore year, relatively speaking compared to other sophomores, the progression I experienced was my greatest. I can attribute the 9:13 to a great teammate of mine named Austin West. He ended up running for Southern Utah for a year before he incurred some injuries that took him out of the sport. Austin was the one who won at State. He was very good at running fast and I would hang onto him for as long as I could. With about eight hundred meters to go in that State 3,200 meters, he turned around and looked at me and said, ‘Buckle up!’ Then he took off. We ran that last eight hundred meters as hard as we could. He was somebody to chase. That is what was so good about American Fork High School. There was always somebody to chase and to motivate me. That is how I went from 10:03 as a freshman to 9:13 as a sophomore. I think you are right that it took a year for me to get used to altitude and Coach Timo Mostert’s training and to have some teammates that also wanted to be great. That 9:13 at altitude converted to about a 9:00 flat at sea level and back in the day that was a phenomenal time. Arguably that is what got me looked at on the collegiate level and got me looked at for the future in college.
GCR: Your junior year you earned your first and only individual State Championship, which was in cross-country, out of your total of seven top three podium finishes in track and cross-country. What was it like for you as an individual to cross that finish line first after you had won the year before as a team?
CY That year was special because we had five seniors on the team who were very motivated. I was a junior and there was another junior teammate, Mack Morrison. The seniors were super competitive and motivating. We had Derrick Day and Ashonofi Richardson and Austin West, among others. It was fun to compete and race with them. That win was interesting because, with a half mile to go, there were three of us from American Fork and one other person in the lead group. A spectator walked onto the course and two of the runners had to dodge the person. I swung wide and missed the spectator. From there with six hundred meters to go, I started my kick and happened to be the one that had the kick that day. It was exciting to win the individual and team State titles but there was always this question of who would have won if that spectator didn’t cross the course. It took a little bit of the glory away. Who knows? There could have been another teammate of mine who might have won but, ultimately, I’ll take any State title I could get. Utah had become an extremely competitive State. That is when Utah took off as a dominant state on the high school level. It was a big deal to win the Utah State 5A title which was the highest division.
GCR: During track season you finished third at State at both 1,600 meters in 4:16.21 and 3,200 meters in 9:19.09. What I found interesting is that you dropped your 800-meter time to 1:56.17. How much did that show you, especially now, when you need such a strong kick at the end of marathons and shorter road races?
CY Utah had always been behind in the 800 meters compared to the two longer track races. But that year there was a group of seniors who weren’t afraid to go for it in the 800 meters. Timo always spoke to us about negative splitting, but in the 800 meters you have to send it, risk it, and hang on. There were a couple of seniors at other schools, Evan Argile and Hayden Shelton and Brad Nye, guys who weren’t afraid to take it out hard. To be honest, I would just hang on for dear life. That’s why I improved.
GCR: Your senior year started off solidly in cross country as you were third at State, but injuries slowed you down during track season as you only ran 4:26.3 for eighth place and 9:40:47 for thirteenth place at State. How disappointing was it for you to not have a great senior season?
CY It truly was disappointing as I had big dreams for my senior year. I opened the season at the BYU Indoor Invitational and ran a 4:20 mile. At that time, racing at altitude, that was something special. I was on top of the world and extremely excited. The next Monday after that race I started having some knee pain. It progressed into IT band syndrome. I fought IT band syndrome for the next four to six months, for quite a long time. That was very frustrating. I was watching as one of my biggest rivals, Brad Nye who ran for Davis High School, raced strong. We had competed all throughout high school and he was the last guy to beat Edward Cheserek as a prep. He beat Ed in the Dream Mile indoors and then I saw him run strong outdoors. I was watching these people I had previously competed against go on to do great things and I was strapped to a stationary bike for my entire season. Right before Regionals, we met with the doctor again after cortisone shots and injections and so much physical therapy that I was sick of it. He just shot me up and I was able to run Regionals and qualify for the 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters for State. But at State I couldn’t hang with the leaders. I could get there, but I had no fitness. It was disappointing, but it is what it is. I was blessed that I had run fast enough as a junior and as a sophomore that my college recruiting process was already wrapped up so that was okay. I was also planning on serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so it was perfect timing. I finished my senior track season, left on a mission, and forgot about running for a couple years. I got healthy and that was just what I needed at that time when my knee and IT band were giving me so many problems.
GCR: COLLEGE RACING AND TRAINING AT BRIGHAM YOUNG After those two years, you were rested up and recovered from your injuries. What was it like as you had gone from fast to nonfit to a restart of running after your mission trip? And since Coach Eyestone had been through this situation and coached many runners through it, how long was the process before your weekly mileage, long runs, tempo runs, and speed sessions came around and you were training the way you would have liked to? Was it around an eighteen-month process?
CY I was very blessed to be under Coach Eyestone’s tutelage on how to get back in shape after serving a mission where I gained upwards of twenty or thirty pounds. That was okay because it was a time focused on serving The Lord. It was a break physically and mentally that I needed to be able to focus on the next four or five years as a collegiate athlete. There were many takeaways from my mission that applied well. I had to be very patient. I got home in November of 2014 during cross country season, and I didn’t start school until January of 2015. There weren’t many people starting school then, so I was thrown to the wolves initially. The team had been together for six months and the guys were already fit while I was just starting. It was very eye-opening. Though Coach Mostert’s training and Coach Eyestone’s training plans are similar, collegiate training is at a whole different level. It is more intense, with more mileage and is faster. It took me a long time, several years, before I could fully embrace Coach Eyestone’s training.
GCR: How was your return to racing that spring of 2015 and how ready were you for the fall of 2015 when you were now a regular team member?
CY I redshirted that year and dabbled in the steeplechase twice in the spring, running 9:25 and 9:27. That fall of cross country when I started competing, I felt I was beginning to come into form.
GCR: Since you were a miler and two-miler in high school, it necessitated a step up to longer distances in college. You improved on a linear basis with a 14:04.16 5k and 29:34.00 10k in 2016 and 13:45.25 5k indoors and 28:45.36 10k in 2017. By spring of 2017, were you a runner once more?
CY That is totally right. My freshman year, I ran the 10k at NCAA Regionals and that was great. I was in tenth place in the 10k with a mile to go and hoping to be in the top twelve to make it to Nationals. But the wheels fell off and I faded. I had a breakout indoor season during my sophomore year. I ran 7:49.76 in the indoor 3,000 meters and that opened my eyes up to the fact that I could be good in this sport. From there, the 5k and 10k started to click. Something I’m proud of is that every year after my freshman year I improved. My sophomore year I qualified for Nationals in the 5k and 10k. I qualified every year after that and did the 5k/10k double at Regionals and Nationals. I took a lot of pride in that as, not only was I strong in the 10k, but I could race fast in the 5k and double back to put together a decent race. My Nationals races weren’t pretty in my sophomore and junior years. There were so many times I felt like I was in the mix with 500 meters to go, 400 meters to go, 300 meters to go or in the lead with 250 meters to go. Then I would fade so hard over those last 300 meters. By my senior year, all the pieces aligned. I had a great indoor season as I took third at Nationals in the 3,000 meters and sixth in the 5,000 meters. That propelled me into the senior season outdoors that I had when I won the NCAA 10k and took sixth in the 5k.
GCR: You were racing great runners indoors as Morgan McDonald won both races, Joe Klecker was in the top three in both, with Grant Fisher and Cooper Teare in the 5,000 meters. That must have got you fired up for outdoors.
CY I love looking back at the heat sheets of those races. That outdoor 5k is like the ‘Who’s Who’ of distance running right now. It’s a list of at least a dozen runners who have gone pro and competed. There are the guys you mentioned plus Sean McGorty, plus my teammates Connor Mantz, Connor McMillan, and Rory Linkletter.
GCR: Even before NCAAs outdoors, the competition was strong at the Stanford Invitational as Conner Mantz won in 28:18.18, with you a click back at 28:18.50, followed by Gilbert Kigen in 28:20.28, Matt Leach in 28:21.05, Joe Stilin in 28:21.38, Blaise Ferro in 28:22.76 and Tyler Day in 28:24.94. Was that the race that let you know that, when you got to NCAAs, you were as ready as anyone to race and win at 10,000 meters?
CY That race was a big confidence builder as it was coming right after my third and sixth place at the NCAAs indoors. What was very cool about the race is that we only had a couple weeks between indoor Nationals and the Stanford 10k. We went into that race with the goal to get a Regional qualifier. We wanted to race, we wanted to compete, but the underlying goal was to get the time for Regionals. Coach Eyestone had given Connor Mantz the instructions that he couldn’t take the lead until a mile to go. We were just chilling in that race for an exceptionally long time. I could tell that Connor was getting antsy because the front group was running well but they weren’t running as fast as he wanted to. Connor had that specific instruction from Coach Eyestone, but Coach trusts me and didn’t give me any limitations. So, I took the lead with seven laps to go and started flying. Connor got right behind me, and it was fun to break everybody. Connor got me right on the line and that’s okay. That’s racing. I remember him pulling up to me with fifty meters to go and I smiled at him because I could tell he genuinely wanted it. This was a proud moment for me because I was the upperclassman, and this was his breakthrough race. He took the win, and I was right next to him.
GCR: At NCAA Outdoors, there were five of you within a few seconds at the finish as you won the 10,000 meters in 29:16.60 and they were ‘the usual suspects’ as we say. Gilbert Kigen finished two seconds back in 29:18.10, followed by two of your teammates, Connor McMillan at 29:19.85 and Connor Mantz 29:19.93, and then Abdisamed Abdi at 29:20.73. Was it just your day that day as it seems that, out of that group of athletes, that any could have won on any given day?
CY The race was held in Austin, Texas which we expected to be hot and humid. A couple weeks before that race there was more attention to detail for heat acclimatization. We did sauna preparation. I remember sitting in the sauna with Rory Linkletter and Connor Mantz and Connor McMillan and thinking, ‘I don’t who is going to win this race, but one of us is going to win.’ It was a feeling that I had. Fast-forward a couple of weeks later and we had qualified six guys to the NCAA 10,000-meter finals. A quarter of the field were BYU guys. Of the six, we ended up finishing one-three-four. Our training had been going very well, but things just clicked for me that day. I was so proud of the way I raced. I had been outkicked so many times in previous National races, but that was the first time that I had capitalized on my kick and was making moves rather than being the one who was passed. To close with a last lap in fifty-five seconds was just a dream.
GCR: Now you are the NCAA 10,000-meter champion and, two days later you are back for the NCAA 5,000 meters which is an all-star race. What was it like for you to refocus and try to become a double winner against such a stellar field?
CY That was a cool moment. Since we had finished with three top spots in the 10k, in the team standings we were doing very well. We had three or four guys in the steeplechase final and both Connor Mantz and me in the 5,000-meter final. It was this nice moment where we could possibly make the podium as a team with a distance-heavy team which would be special. So, Connor and I went into that race and should have been more aggressive and made sure the pace went out hotter. Once again it came down to a kick. I still closed in fifty-six low or fifty-five high, but I couldn’t match the kicks of Malcolm McDonald or Grant Fisher.
GCR: One final track race of note is the 2019 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Indoor mile where William Paulson of Arizona State won in 3:58.07, followed by Joe Klecker of Colorado in 3:58.51, Paul Ryan of Washington State in 3:58.79 and you in 4:00.77. When I interviewed Joe Klecker a year-and-a-half ago, he talked about how memorable it was since it is when he first broke four minutes in the mile. What was it like to try to break four minutes and come so close and will it be on your radar in 2025 to aim to be a sub-four-minute miler?
CY I only raced the mile once at sea level and that was the race. I ran four flat point seventy-seven and I’m sad I never got to try again. It is on my bucket list. Connor Mantz and I talk all the time about how, one of these days, we will not be doing a marathon build, get back to the track and try to break four minutes in the mile because it’s kind of a gimme. That race was a fun race, and it was exciting to be able to run that fast off of only one mile race. Maybe another day I will finally break four minutes.
GCR: FINAL COMMENTS AND WRAP UP We have talked about several of your tough competitors in high school, in college and some of the same guys now as pros. From your many years of racing, who were some of your favorite competitors due to their ability to give you a strong race and bring out your best?
CY My biggest competitors that I think of are two teammates, Connor Mantz and Rory Linkletter, and guys who are crushing it on the world scene – C.J. Albertson, Biya Simbassa and Diego Estrada. Honestly, I have that friendly rivalry with Connor Mantz and Rory Linkletter that truly keeps me motivated.
GCR: As you look ahead after the 2024 Olympics, do you envision over the next few years running various spring marathons in Boston, London or Rotterdam and fall marathons in Berlin, Chicago and New York and do you think your shorter races will be on the track, roads, cross country or all of them?
CY I’ve only raced in Chicago and the two Olympic Trials marathons at this point. I want to race other World Marathon Majors. I am hoping that after the Olympics I can target some big races. I was supposed to run the Boston Marathon in 2022. I got injured and that didn’t pan out. I know that the New York City Marathon is a challenging and hilly course. I think the hills of Paris will help to prepare me. If I’m feeling good, I might run there this fall. I would like to run the Tokyo Marathon because ASICS is a Japanese-based company which makes that a bucket list item. I’m hearing that Sydney, Australia is potentially being added as a major marathon, so I’m also excited about racing there. I am glad that I’ve raced fast in Chicago and I’m sure that Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart. London and Berlin will also be fast, and I want to race those bucket list marathons at some point too.
GCR: Since you started running as a kid and had a good experience with your high school running, what advice do you give to kids who are trying to figure out if they want to compete in running or multiple sports? Also, do you encourage them to have fun while they make decisions that will affect their sporting life as a teenager?
CY I live by the mantra that when you are young you must try everything. You have to find what you love and what you’re passionate about. You develop as an all-around athlete and then have plenty of time to specialize. Yes, there are the ‘Tiger Woods’ of this world, but most of us are the ‘Roger Federers’ who have to try all types of sports and, then in our late teenage years, select what works best for us. There is so much to be had a young athlete about having fun and being competitive and finding out what you love. That is my biggest piece of advice. Then as you get dialed into what you love as consistent competence leads to eventual excellence.
GCR: That is cool that you said that statement because my next question deals with memorable advice you have received from Coach Eyestone, who has coached you for seven years. ‘Consistent competence leads to eventual excellence’ is a Coach Eyestone mantra. What are some others that stick with you that Coach Eyestone has put in your wheelhouse?
CY That one is the most important. Another is that ‘You don’t have to hit home runs every day but, if you get base hits, you are consistently competent.’ I often talk about how I love the word ‘eventual’ because there is no promise of time. It’s not tomorrow. It could be next week or next month. There is no promise of when it will happen but, if you keep doing what you’re supposed to and keep doing it at a competent level, results will happen. That will always stick with me. That is the most important advice that Coach Eyestone has shared with me.
GCR: In life we must balance academics, athletics, family life, spiritual life and social life while also facing adversity that can help us to become better. What is the ‘Clayton Young philosophy’ to be your best in running and in life?
CY The secret to this life is progression. If you are progressing from day to day, that is when you will find joy and satisfaction in this life. The purpose of this life is to come here to earth, to gain experiences, to learn, and to grow. If you are progressing in that regard, true joy can be found. That’s what it all comes down to. Throughout my career I’ve learned to work hard. I’ve also learned to recover. That plays an important balance as well in life. We must work hard and play hard so we can recover hard and grow. In high school I learned to work hard. In college I learned to recover hard. Now, as a pro, I’ve learned to put those both together and to share the journey. Bringing more people on this journey has truly resonated with me. It takes a village, whether that’s my wife or my coach or training partners or mentors. Sharing that journey with them is important.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I love my motorcycle. I’ve been driving a motorcycle for ten years. I’m an engineer to I love to tinker and design and build and explore. I love Wednesday night with the boys, whether that is chatting on Discord or playing retro video games. And I love good tacos
Nicknames It’s ironic because I feel that every person on the BYU team has a nickname but me. I just go by ‘Clayton.’ Usually, our nicknames come from Coach and that is all he has ever called me. When I was growing up, my dad used to shout at me in races, ‘Claytonian Power.’ That wasn’t a nickname, but a phrase he used
Favorite movies I’m a thinker. There are classics like ‘The Bourne Identity’ and the entire Bourne series. I like almost any sports related movie. I also love ‘The Dark Night’ series
Favorite TV shows ‘The Mandalorian’ Star Wars series. I’m a YouTube series fan and like Mark Rober and MrBeast. I started my own YouTube channel, so it has been fun sharing my journey. I think I would like the ‘Stranger Things’ series but, sadly, my wife doesn’t like scary movies or series. We often watch together and that isn’t up her alley and, on the list, yet
Favorite music The song that I listen to every race when I’m getting ready for my warmup is ‘In the Blood’ by John Mayer. That is one of my favorites
Favorite books I’m always listening to an audiobook or a podcast. Right now, I’m finishing ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Ryan. It’s a sixty-four-hour audiobook that I’m going through for the second time. I love that one. In high school, I loved the ‘Ender’s Game’ series. All the sequels and prequels to that series are also incredible. My wife introduced me to ‘Mistborn’ which is a fantasy, science fiction novel that has many details and science, knowledge, theology, and politics behind it. When it comes to running, the book that has truly motivated me in my last two marathons is ’26.2 Marathons’ by Meb Keflezighi. I’ve listened to that audiobook eight to ten times. It has so many good insights
First car In high school I had a Saturn View that was a crappy car to be honest
Current vehicles We have had only one car for my entire marriage. We’ve been married eight years and it’s a Mazda Six. I bought it off a car auction. It had been stolen and repossessed by insurance. It’s been a good car ever since. I also drive my motorcycle throughout the summer. It’s a small road bike, a Honda CBR250
First jobs When I was growing up in Washington, we lived on a farm, so I helped a little on the farm. I also did some yard work jobs for neighbors and friends around town. When we moved to Utah, my dad started a furniture store. I worked in the furniture store delivering furniture and setting up furniture. That was a lot of hard work and is where I learned to work. My dad taught me how to work. I did that throughout the weekends in high school. In college, I mostly did engineering internships and focused on running
Family I am sibling number five of six. I have three older sisters, an older brother, and a younger brother. They have always been incredibly supportive. They don’t understand running and don’t follow running but have learned to love it and to support me, which is very special. My parents have always been supportive in my career, which has been very cool. We all travelled out to the Olympic Trials Marathon, and it was the first pro race they had been to. Now I will get to bring them on this journey to Paris and that will also be fun
Pets We don’t have any pets currently. Our girls beg us for cats and dogs, but we won’t have any pets for quite a while. Life is busy as it is. When I was a kid on the farm, we had cows, horses, pigs, chickens, lizards, dogs, and cats. We had it all and it was a blessing
Favorite breakfast My ‘go to’ breakfast is Rice Krispies with bananas and granola
Favorite meal My favorite dinner is tacos
Favorite beverages Right now, I love the ‘Just Ingredients’ Protein drinks. They are a Utah-based company that’s makes fantastic protein drinks. I can’t go wrong either with chocolate milk
Running heroes I grew up in a family that didn’t know much about running or follow the Olympics or World Championships. So, I wasn’t exposed to legends of the sport until my high school days. When I went to Nike Cross-Country Finals, I found out who professional runners were. I got signatures from Abdi Abdirahman and Bernard Lagat and Dathan Ritzenhein and Galen Rupp. Those were the guys that I had signatures of and who were up on my wall. That was a very special moment for me as a young kid to meet and understand who these people were. So, that’s who I think of in my early stages of running. As I became a collegiate athlete, my heroes were the former BYU guys – Jared Ward, Miles Batty, Coach Eyestone, Doug Padilla, and Henry Marsh. Those were the people that I learned about and got to know
Greatest running moments Relatively speaking, some may stand out but, internally, they may feel different to me. It’s objective versus subjective. The Olympic Trials has to be the top moment. Making my first Olympic team was special, but it was probably more expected than my next two great moments. The NCAA 10k National Championship on the track was a little bit more unexpected and was a long time coming. I had many great races throughout my college career but, without that race, I don’t think I would be a professional athlete. That was so important to my future. The third race, which has become more important as of late, was making the Olympic standard at the Olympic Trials in 2023. If I hadn’t made the Olympic standard, I would not be going to the Olympic Games. We only unlocked two spots for the United States and only two spots were given. After coming off knee surgery and all the ups and downs that year, that one is very special. My friends and teammates and family knew I was going to have a good day, but that is when everybody else started to notice
Most disappointing running moments I have to go back to NCAA Cross Country. I never was All-American in NCAA Cross Country. We finished better every year. We took twelfth place, then sixth place, third place and second place. Then the year after I graduated, BYU won the National title. That senior year when we took second place as a team, I took over seventieth place. We lost to NAU by thirty points. If I had been in the top ten or top twenty, which was realistic placing based on my NCAA track finish in the spring, we had a shot at the win. That is very devastating to me when I look back at that race
Childhood dreams Every kid has a dream of being an Olympian or professional athlete. I was more of a realist. I wanted that too but was more practical. I looked ahead to my races and asked how I could compete at the high school level and then the collegiate level. Then I thought about how I could become a professional athlete. I embraced each step as it came. As a young kid, I do remember my older brother starting engineering classes in college and realizing that I too wanted to be an engineer. Whether that meant designing airplanes, cars, or helicopters or being a NASA astronaut, I don’t know, but those were the kind of dreams I had
Embarrassing moment The most embarrassing story is when I was in third or fourth grade and started in Little League baseball. I wasn’t particularly good, so I was out in left field and I needed to go to the bathroom so bad that I peed my pants while I was in left field. No one noticed the rest of the game. I had to bat and had to go out in the field again and that was a very embarrassing and memorable experience for me as a kid
Favorite places to travel My favorite place that I have been to locally is Boulder, Colorado, which is also the city for the Bolder Boulder 10k. I like to go to the mountains. My family’s cabin here in Utah is so peaceful. Overseas, I love going to Puerto Rico. My family has lived there, and we have ties there. My parents have served missions for the church there, so that is always a special visit. I’ve only flown international once and that was to Paris a couple of months ago to get ready for the Olympic Games. So, that is my favorite place I’ve flown
Choose a Superhero – Batman or Spiderman? Batman
Choose a theme park – Disney World or Universal Studios? Disney World
Choose the beach or mountains? Mountains
Choose a tough guy – Vin Diesel or The Rock? The Rock
Choose snow skiing or water skiing? Water Skiing
Choose riding SpaceX or climbing Mt. Everest? SpaceX