It was just ‘Hang on’ and I saw Tyler coming back, and when I caught him, that was an adrenaline rush. —Jared Ward
LOS ANGELES — It is difficult to be patient when life-long dreams hang in the balance.
But that’s exactly what Davis High and BYU alum Jared Ward convinced himself to do during Saturday’s Olympic qualifying marathon in Los Angeles.
“It was hot,” Ward said of the conditions during the marathon. “When Tyler (Pennel) made that move, and Meb (Keflezighi) and (Galen) Rupp went with him, I thought, ‘That’s a hard move. If they can make it, I’m not going to catch them.’”
So he followed his coach’s advice, and ran his own race.
“I went as fast as I could, and I ran 4:50 that mile, and I’m sure that was my fastest mile,” said Ward, who finished third (2:13) to claim the last spot on the U.S. Olympic marathon team behind Rupp, who won with a time of 2:11:12 and Keflezighi, who was second with a time of 2:12:20. “It was just ‘Hang on’ and I saw Tyler coming back, and when I caught him, that was an adrenaline rush.”
The man who helped him craft his plan is BYU cross-country coach and two-time Olympian Ed Eyestone. His coach said it was his preparation and his patience that earned him a spot on the team that will compete in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.
“That’s a horrible position when you see three guys pulling away from you,” said Eyestone, who was in Los Angeles for the race. “He could tell the pace was probably not sustainable for all three of them, and it was certainly not sustainable for him. At that point, he made the decision to be patient. I often say the marathon is about patience followed by destruction. And if you’re impatient, then it’s self-destruction.”
Eyestone said Ward has the physical abilities but also the dedication necessary to succeed in an unforgiving sport.
“He’s an extremely hard worker,” Eyestone said. “He’s very dedicated to his craft. And he’s just got a rocket scientist brain on top of an amazing endurance body. In a challenging tactical race like today, it was hard to bet against him.”
Ward may not have taken up marathon running when he did were it not for what seemed at the time a devastating blow. When Ward returned from serving an LDS mission in 2009, it was too late to enroll in BYU’s fall semester and run cross-country with his team. That fall he went to California to watch his brother compete in a region high school cross-country race, and as a prelude to the race, coaches, parents and other supporters were invited to run a race. It was more of a fun run, but because it was timed and organized, the NCAA ruled that would cost him a collegiate season.
The decision was eventually reversed in 2014, allowing him to run with his teammates his senior season, but it meant trying to find another purpose in his training.
Eyestone suggested a marathon, and they began training for the Chicago Marathon in 2013.
“It was certainly making the best of a bad situation,” Ward said. “But it probably ended up being a blessing in the long run. To get that early exposure to the marathon, it certainly has become my best race. I think a lot of times those things that seem like trials and heartaches at the onset can be blessings in disguise in the future. And I think that was the case in this case.”
It certainly allowed Ward to gain valuable experience, which became critical to his success in temperatures in the 70s Saturday.
The women’s race was won by Amy Hastings Cragg, who crossed the line with a time of 2:28:20. Desiree Linden, who finished fourth in 2012, was second with a time of 2:28:54, and Shalane Flanagan, who suffered heat exhaustion after finishing with a time of 2:29:19, earned the third spot. Fan favorite Kara Goucher was fourth with a time of 2:30:24.
Ward said he sang a little song in his head as he covered the last 800 meters of the race, a stretch he called the toughest half-mile he’s ever run, and then crossed the line an Olympian. He was greeted by his parents, wife and children and his high school and college coaches.
“It means a lot,” Ward said of representing his country at the 2016 Summer Games. “I don’t think it’s really set in yet. I’m still trying to get my legs to feel normal again. It’s quite the experience to see the people you love right after the race. That makes it more real when you see so many people who’ve been such a big part of your life, and that you really owe the success to, around you and enjoying it. That makes it more real.”
— Contributing, Brian Nicholson