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May 1, 2019 Last updated: June 11, 2019

Podcast #504: How an Olympic Marathoner Trains, Eats, Recovers, and Stays Mentally Strong

The marathon race is one of sport’s most physically demanding events. To not just complete a marathon to but to compete in the race at its highest levels takes an incredible amount of dedication to training, recovery, diet, and mindset.

My guest today gives us a firsthand look at what that kind of dedication and strategy look like. His name is Jared Ward, and he placed 6th in the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and 8th in this year’s Boston Marathon. But Jared is more than just a runner — he’s also a coach, a statistics professor at BYU, a husband, and a father of four.

Today I talk to Jared about he balances all those aspects of his life, even as he trains for the 2020 Olympics, and about exactly how he eats, recovers, and programs his workouts. We also discuss how he deals with nerves before big races and stays in a positive mindset while he runs them. We end our conversation with Jared’s advice for amateur runners.

Show Highlights

  • Jared’s entrance into competitive running and marathoning 
  • How Jared balances running, his work as a professor, and being a husband/dad
  • Habits and routines that have helped him keep that balance
  • Jared’s philosophy towards training (and an inside look at his own training) 
  • His cycles of training 
  • Jared’s weightlifting regimen 
  • How Jared recovers, and how that recovery has changed as he’s gotten older 
  • What it really feels like the morning after a marathon 
  • Jared’s diet, and how it fluctuates with his training cycles 
  • Jared’s take on carbs 
  • The mental game  
  • Tips for beginner runners
  • How long does it take to go from beginner runner to marathoner?
  • Is there a common cause to runner’s injuries?
  • The statistics project that Jared turned running times into  

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Connect With Jared 

Jared on Twitter

Jared on Instagram

Jared’s website

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Recorded on ClearCast.io

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. The marathon race is one of sport’s most physically demanding events to not just complete a marathon, but to compete in a race at its highest levels takes an incredible amount of dedication to training, recovery, diet, and mindset. My guest today gives a firsthand look at what that kind of dedication and strategy look like. His name is Jared Ward, he placed in 6th in the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 8th in this year’s Boston Marathon. But Jared is more than just a runner, he’s also a coach, a statistics professor at BYU, a husband, and a father of four. Today I talk to Jared about how he balances all of those aspects of his life even as he trains for the 2020 Olympics and about exactly how he eats, recovers, and programs his workouts. We also discuss how he deals with nerves before a big race and stays in a positive mindset while he runs them. And we end our conversation with Jared’s advice for amateur runners. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at AOM.is/olympicmarathon. Jared joins me now via Clearcast.io.

Alright, Jared Ward, welcome to the show.

Jared Ward: Hey Brett, thanks for having me on.

Brett McKay: So you’re an Olympic marathon runner. What was your path like getting there? Was running something you became interested in at an early age?

Jared Ward: Oh man, I think every runner has a story of how they got to where they got. I mean, I guess everyone in life has a story and mine’s a long one, so we’ll try to give the boyfriend version instead of the girlfriend version of the story. But I liked it in elementary school, I liked the days when we would run the mile in PE and it transitioned to me eventually being linked up with the high school coach when I was still in junior high and beginning running with the high school team as a freshman before I was actually in the high school. And I really just liked it because I could race myself and I could get faster every week. At this point, I wasn’t cracking onto the varsity squad. In fact, I think out of four freshman on the team I was probably number three on the descending order list.

And so I really just loved it for this idea that I could go out and I could beat myself week in, week out, and I could try to run a faster time than I ran the week before. And then things started clicking in high school, and I’m grateful for a patient coach that kind of bore with me through my early JV days and then set up some opportunities in college. And then my college coach kind of saw me as a marathoner, even when I was running 5 and 10k’s in college, and so after that was over, I continued to be coached by Coach Eyestone at BYU and started doing some marathons. And they just kind of clicked for me. I loved the training, I loved the long distances. I think that I’m kind of just built for it.

Brett McKay: Yes, so that’s interesting. You didn’t start marathoning until after college. Is that how most people go? Like do they start marathoning young or is it something you typically pick up later on in your running career?

Jared Ward: No, I’d say it’s typically, at least at the high-end level, there’s often some track racing beforehand. I think one of the reasons for that is just that as you work that speed system and that VO2max type training, you sort of raise your ceiling for your potential as a marathoner, and then you see runners kind of transition to the longer, more aerobic marathon running later in life after they’ve already trained that VO2max system really well. And I think because runners run late into life, and we probably don’t even peak aerobically into our 30s or 40s, and I think there’s even some academic pieces for the opinion that we never really peak aerobically, all that happens is that our body can’t keep up structurally. You know, our bones and ligaments and muscles start breaking down. And so I think it takes a long time to develop the systems to become a marathoner and there’s some other things you can work on early, and so no I don’t think my approach was necessarily uncommon, but I certainly was happy at how I responded to the marathon and really fell in love with it so early.

Brett McKay: So right now you’re training for the 2020 Olympics. But here’s the thing, you’re also a coach yourself, you’re also a statistics professors, and you’re a husband and a father. That’s a lot on your plate. I mean, what made you decide against just being a pro runner?

Jared Ward: I think there’s just too many good things in life to just enjoy doing one of them. I don’t know, you know, and I think I certainly cut back on distractions as we approach an Olympic cycle and there are phases where I focus on one aspect of life maybe a little bit more than another, but I think that balance is a key in general to longevity. And I’ve found that I’m not going to run all day long, and so I have a few choices with what I can do in those hours in between running. And I can watch Netflix, or I can play with my kids, or I can teach a statistics class, or coach a few other athletes and so I’ve just filled my day with things that I love. And it’s some of these other things that really fit around running nice, I think. But I don’t know, I just think I’m a happier person when I’m doing all the stuff that I like instead of just sitting and waiting for the next run to come around.

Brett McKay: Right, and I imagine that helps your running too as well.

Jared Ward: A hundred percent I think so. I think when you get too hyper-focused on one thing, you subject yourself to being burned out from that one thing really quickly, or in the case of running, over-training and finding yourself injured. So yeah, Brett, I think it’s blessed me in a lot of ways.

Brett McKay: Are there any habits or routines that you’ve developed to help you find that balance? Do you have certain times of the day where you run and then certain times of the day it’s like family time? What does that look like?

Jared Ward: Sure, you know, I’m trying to get up and get out the door to a morning session as early as I can. And on the days when I can get out the door before my kids are awake it normally is a little bit more smooth for me. And then it’s kind of the idea of how do I manage things when I get back, so as soon as I walk into the door, I have four kids, the oldest is seven and the youngest is three months, so when I walk in the door, those kids are ready for dad to be home. And so it’s become a game of how can I sit in my Normatec Boots and read to the kids, or how can I get them playing around with my vibrating meteor roll out ball and give one to them and one to me and we do some recovery together, and get the kids stretching with me, and things like that. So yeah, I have some tricks for engaging the kids, and then they help me make breakfast and things like that and I have a lot of fun that way.

And then my kids are young enough that at least half of them are still napping, and so a lot of times when it gets to 11, 12 o’clock, it’s time for a kid to take a nap and sometimes I can peel off with that kid, put a kid to sleep, and then get my rest too. So yeah, there’s tricks and I think it’s important to dedicate time to my kids too and so some days certainly it means that my kids and my wife take the front seat, and I fill running in in the cracks.

So my wife delivered our fourth baby three months ago while I was in the middle of training for Boston and so I bought a treadmill and put it downstairs, and I bought my kids some gymnastics equipment and put that downstairs, and so I can take the three older kids and say, “Alright, we’re going to go downstairs and play for an hour, dad’s got to run, but I want to see what you guys can do on the gymnastics equipment.” And so I watch them and they play while mom rests with the baby and so it does, it takes a little bit of planning, and some creativity, and some willingness to shuffle things around, but it brings me a lot of happiness to have kids, and see them grow, and to be involved in some of the other stuff that I do. So I consider it all worth.

Brett McKay: That’s great, I like that. If you want to make it happen, you make it happen.

Jared Ward: That’s right.

Brett McKay: So let’s talk about running and training, sort of your philosophy towards training and recovery and all of that stuff because I know that there’s a lot of people who listen to the podcast who are runners or who want to get into running. I’m sure you have some great insights. But let’s just look at your training schedule right now. Like how many days, miles are you running a week right now?

Jared Ward: So I just ran the Boston Marathon ten days ago, and so I’m just getting back into it right now. I ran six or seven miles yesterday and I did a little kind of speed play 10 mile run today where I went a couple minutes faster and then slowed down for a couple of minutes, and kind of testing things out and making sure that everything is feeling good. And I like to be pretty cautious coming off of marathons to make sure that I’m recovered before I really put the throttle back down again, but I general I train six days a week. I take Sundays off and that’s a day for family and a day for church and so I don’t train Sundays. Occasionally I’ll race on a Sunday, but I prefer not to. And then the other six days, I’ll have harder workouts on Tuesday, Thursday and a long run on Saturday and fill it in with mileage totaling somewhere between 100 and 120 miles a week, depending on where we’re at in the training and intensity and things like that. And then throw in a couple of lifts and probably two or three hours of cross training on the exercise bike normally downstairs with my kids watching Coco or Moana or whatever they’re into.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk, you talked about strength training, I want to talk about that. But let’s talk about, how do you program yourself or maybe other folks as well? Like I do barbell training, and so I’m typically looking at three months of training where your first couple weeks you’re doing volume, and then you increase the intensity a bit, and eventually you peak. Is there something similar that goes on with your training? Like where you sort of break things into cycles?

Jared Ward: Yes, absolutely. And I generally consider a training cycle around the same as conventional lifting, and my own lifting cycle kind of mirrors, in terms of what we’re doing in the running stuff, and so yeah it’s a 12-6-16 week cycle, maybe as long as 20 weeks if I’m starting really ground zero or when I’m coaching athletes that are really starting from ground zero. And then we build into it, and so it’s a volume phase in the beginning where for running and for lifting, we’re building up volume and resiliency to training. And then we go into kind of more of a strength phase where we’re doing temple runs and marathon-paced stuff and we’re gradually increasing volume as our body adjusts to that. And then towards the end, there’s a little bit more of a speed segment where you cut down on volume and intensity gets a little bit higher.

I think in the marathon, that training is a little bit more subtle than if it was a 5k or a 10k where you really jump into the speed, the reality is in a marathon, you’re never going to be hitting oxygen debt and so it becomes very important to train the aerobic system. And then to be well rested and tapered up before the race, and so like in marathon training we see this building phase, and then our strength phase slowly transitions to a little bit of a speed phase, but on paper you might look at it and say, “No, that’s still very much strength,” but there is a little bit of that. And then certainly in the lifting, I’m doing sets of eight to ten really early in the segment, and then I’m doing sets of seven, and sets of five, and then sets of three towards the end, so very much follows kind of the conventional periodization of training.

Brett McKay: And what does your strength training look like? So you talk about the sets, you’re doing volume, and then you’re increasing intensity while dropping off volume. What kind of lifts are you doing?

Jared Ward: So power lifts, Olympic lifts like cleans and snatches, squats, and lunges, and step-ups. A little bit of time on my hamstrings, RDLs, or I love Russian Leans or Nordic Curls, those kind of exercises. And then I leave about six minutes at the end of my workout for a push and a pull on my arms and that’s about all I do up top. But my lifting isn’t this massive, long workout. It probably takes me, on average, 40 or 50 minutes to do where I’m doing some sort of Olympic lifts, I’m doing some sort of, something like squats or lunges, and maybe I’m super-setting that with some sort of plyometric, and then I’m doing some hamstring work, and a push and pull on my arms. So it’s very much ancillary to what I’m doing as a marathon runner, but I think it makes a difference.

And there’s a lot of research out there, compelling research, that says that when you lift and when you lift heavy, it makes you a more efficient endurance athlete. And so when it comes to running, you force, we do the same running motion day after day, your muscles are going to slowly lose the volume of firing capacity then because you don’t need to fire every muscle fiber to push yourself for the next step on a ten mile run, but you get under a heavy bar and you’re squatting, and you get down there in the bottom of a squat, you demand a lot more of your body.

And so the theory behind that of why we see runners more efficient is that it just, it makes a difference in terms of the volume of fibers you have activating for you. And I just feel better when I’m lifting. I feel better when I’m strong, and I feel like I recover a little bit faster, I’m a little bit more resilient to injury. And so it’s an important part of my training cycle, but it’s not a very, in terms of the percentage of time I spend lifting, it’s very small part of my training.

Brett McKay: And where do you fit in your strength training? So you’re running in the morning. Are you lifting in the afternoon? Is that what it looks like?

Jared Ward: Yeah, on most days I run twice a day. And so on my hard days, I’ll lift after hard workouts, so typically coach has things set up for my more interval-like training or tempo runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And so I’ll run that in the morning, and then I’ll come back in the afternoon and do a shorter run before a lift to kind of warm up, and then I’ll do my lift on those hard days. I like my easy days as really recovery days, so I want the days in between my hard workouts to be rest, and so I kind of try and pack it all into one day and then allow myself some recovery time.

Brett McKay: We’ll talk about recovery here in a bit. What’s your approach when you’re training when you have a day, so when you plan a program cycle, you are trying to pre-plan the stress that you put into your body so you can recover and adapt. But then there’s other stuff that comes into life like, you know, a kid’s up until 3 o’clock in the morning throwing up, you have a bad night of sleep which adds more stress to the body. How do you manage that? Like are there days where you have to back off a bit and then ramp up again?

Jared Ward: Absolutely. And I think that is key to long-term, sustainable improvement. If you just put your head down and push through, you’re liable to get injured. And I think when I was in college and even just out of college, three and four and five years ago as an early marathoner, I think I kind of did that. I just put my head down and said, “Okay, I’m in the training cycle, so no matter what happens I’m hitting this workout. These are the paces I hit this workout in last time, so I got to hit the same paces this time.” And to a certain extent, it worked. My body was young enough to recover and handle that mentality, and I’ve gotten a little bit older, I just turned 30, and so I’m not super old, but I feel older and I don’t recover as fast.

And what I’ve had to learn is that I really do need to take those kind of things into consideration. And sometimes I wake up and say, “You know what? Today’s not the day.” So it’s either going to be the same workout, but at 70 or 80 percent, or it’s going to be we’re just going to take another easy day today and we’ll talk with coach, and we’ll re-plan this workout when I’m ready for it. And I think this mentality that really has developed for me over this last year has been to just let the fitness come. And so instead of trying to force some sort of result or force the weight or the times in training, I just say, “You know what? It’s an effort based thing. I’ve run long enough that I know what things should feel like when I’m healthy and I know what pushing too hard is,” and so I just let the fitness come and try to be a little bit more patient. And I’ve had a lot of success with that.

I ran my best marathon time, Boston, just a week and a half ago. And if you looked at my training, there weren’t really any fireworks workouts, there weren’t anything where if you compared them with other training cycles that you’d say, “Oh man, he’s running faster than he’s ever run before,” that just wasn’t the case. But in general, the big picture was much better. There were less peaks, but there were less valleys. And I feel like I learned something about staying consistent and being patient. So yeah, you’ve got to, and especially as you get older, you’ve got to listen to your body, you got to respect your body, and you got to take care of it.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about recovery. What’s your approach to recovery? So you mentioned some things you’re doing. You’re doing the Normatec, you’re doing the vibrating massage ball, tell us more about that.

Jared Ward: So I married my high school sweetheart from high school, actually. We met on the track team, but when we got married, she had been considering massage therapy school, of which I was 100 percent supportive. And so she ended up going to massage therapy school and is a licensed massage therapist, and that’s been a big blessing. And if I come home and something has flared up, she has me on the couch within minutes of walking in and she’s working on it. And I think that quick attention to injury has been beneficial over the last many, many years of our marriage and of me competing.

I also have another massage therapist that I see sometimes when things are just too crazy at home with the kids, and I try to make it a point in training to get to him once every week or every other week. And then I’m still close at BYU, training with my same coach, and in fact, running with the guys on the team occasionally, and the trainers and physical therapists at BYU have been so nice to continue to spend some time with me when I have something flare up or when I need some attention there. Chiropractors, so you know, I do try to make sure that I’m staying on top of these things and when something flares up, you want to get some attention to it really quickly. And so the Normatec and the vibrating meteor ball, and those kind of self-massaging stuff I’m definitely using at home, but I’m taking advantage of a lot of things. And I do, I think it’s made a difference. When you’re trying to perform as high as your potential is, you’re putting your body under a lot of stress and I think it comes back to respecting your body and respecting recovery as much as you respect putting your head down and training hard.

Brett McKay: Well, you mentioned you take Sunday off once a week. Are there tiers in your training or during the year where you might take a week or two off? Or are you always running and you just might taper off and just do a slow jog on those days where you just need, or those weeks where you need some time off?

Jared Ward: Really, unless in the sake of injury and that I really just need to take a minute and reset and get things healthy again, the only time that I take off besides Sundays are right after a marathon. And I’ll give myself a solid week of at least little, if you’re gonna call it training, it’s 20 minute runs at much slower than I typically run, and it’s more just jogs to try to get my legs feeling better and get a little blood flow in there, or it’s hopping on a spin bike and spinning for a few minutes. And sometimes those weeks after marathons are just totally off, I don’t do anything. So I would say I give myself really two weeks of pretty solid recovery after a marathon, so in the second week it’s kind of phasing back in and making sure that I’m healthy and things like that.

And then it’s just kind of listening to things and listening to my body. If we get to the end of the season that doesn’t end with a marathon, sometimes there’s still a week or two that I just need to take off and reset. And I think the reset is as much mental as it is physical. So for some people, they can wake up the day after a marathon and they can go out for a run and they can continue running everyday and it’s still a good reset time because they’ve let go of things mentally and it just works for them. And for me, the diet aspect, and the training aspect, and the focus aspect has just been so much that I’m ready to just say, “You know what? I don’t want to think about that for a few days.” And that ends up being a really relaxing and I think a very positive mental thing for me.

Brett McKay: How do you feel after you finish a marathon? Are you like fine immediately afterwards and the next day you feel like someone’s just beaten you with a hammer? Is that what it’s like? When I do power lifting meets, I feel fine as soon as I’m done with it, but the next day when I wake up, I feel terrible.

Jared Ward: Yeah, so when someone who’s never run a marathon asks me how it feels after a marathon, that’s normally what I say is I say, “You know that day, you’ve taken off the off season and you go back into the gym and you squat really heavy and then two days later you’re trying to walk down stairs? That’s kind of how it feels.” And I think in the marathon, you do feel, I mean I was feeling pretty, you walk slow as soon as you hit the finish line and your body’s done, things start shutting down, you’ve been pushing your body for longer than it’s said you could. And so I’m walking slow that day even just walking up the steps into the hotel, I’m holding onto the rail and helping myself up. But then that seems like nothing compared to how it feels when you wake up the next day and roll out of bed, or when you wake up two days later and roll out of bed.

So yeah, you definitely get some of that delayed onset soreness that two days after the marathon is certainly onset. And then a couple days later, you start to feel normal again and the first few jogs feel a little weird. Like sometimes it just feels like your muscles aren’t quite firing right. And I don’t know if there’s any other way to explain it, you’re kind of back in terms of the soreness is gone, but it just feels funny. And then normally after a week or two, it’s kind of back to normal.

Brett McKay: Well, you mentioned diet. What’s your diet like? And does it change depending on where you’re at in your training cycle?

Jared Ward: Absolutely. I think, certainly a part of being a marathoner is trying to keep a lean and light frame, but I think the bigger part of it is fueling with things that are going to recover you and give you the energy to keep training. And so I picture a snapshot of my diet would be I start the day thinking, “Okay, I need probably 1500 calories just to live. And then for about every mile that I’m running, I need another hundred calories. And then if I have a lift I need a little bit extra there. And if I have some cross-training, I need a little bit extra there.” And so I very much start the day looking at what my training’s going to be and how much that means I need to replenish in my body through the process.

And then I break up the day in terms of saying, “Okay, I need a snack before I run, normally high carb. I need to get something in right after I run because that’s going to help with recovery, so that needs to have a little bit of protein in it, but be mostly carbohydrates.” And then in my meals I’m saying, “Okay, I need to get a good chunk of protein in here and I need to eat for volume,” I tend to be just so hungry that I’m pushing the vegetables and things like that just for some volume. And then healthy fats, like I think that I, well I’ve had some genetic testing done and it seems that my body metabolizes fat really well, which would indicate that I’d be able to respond to a marathon well. And frankly, that’s what I crave. I crave the savory kind of fatty stuff. I’m eating nuts or nut butters, I’m putting avocado on salads or sandwiches and things like that trying to get a healthy dosage of fats integrated into my diet as well.

And that’s kind of the snapshot, if you will. I’ve found that eating right after exercising is critical if I’m hoping to exercise later that day, just jump starts recovery, glycogen stores are most receptive to being replenished in the 30 minutes following exercise, and I feel that. And then also getting a little protein in right before I go to bed seems to help me not wake up starving in the middle of the night, and just helps me feel a little bit better in the mornings.

Brett McKay: Are you tracking macros? Or are you just sort of like, “Well, I need a little bit of protein, a little bit of fat.”

Jared Ward: No, absolutely tracking macros. And I counted calories very meticulously for a time in my life and I feel like that exercise, sometimes we get discouraged about embarking on new things especially as it relates to diet. It feels so lifelong and limiting, and we are imagining all the desserts that we’re going to go without or whatever. But I felt like just the experience of tracking my macronutrients for an extended period of time and maybe you only need a couple weeks of that, but I did it for a couple months. I feel like that exercise gave me a really good handle of just looking at food and knowing, roughly, what I’m getting from that. And so I don’t have a notepad or an app on my phone in my back pocket that I’m entering in stuff as soon as I eat it. But I have a macro count going on in my head everyday going through the day making sure that I’m keeping myself fueled and that I’m getting my, what’s about 150 grams of protein in at least everyday, and making sure that I’m getting enough in that I can continue to train the next day.

Brett McKay: And what’s your take about like low-carb eating or intermittent fasting? In the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of long distance runners swear by you, like this is the thing that’s a game changer for them. But other ones who say, “Well, no, it’s like the high carb, actually is what we need.” So what’s your approach to that?

Jared Ward: So I think there’s certainly merit to it, and maybe the merit in itself is just that you and I and many others have heard stories of people going on these low-carb diets and then running really well. I think as it relates to really high-level metabolism, when I’m running a marathon, my heart rate is probably in the 160’s, maybe as high as 170, and I’m cranking through fuel. And so when I’ve talked with nutritionists, some of the research that has applied in general and has indicated that these kind of keto-like diets could be beneficial for endurance athletes, their opinion is that in my case, I still need a very high-carb diet just because of the rate at which I’m burning fuel.

And I think that I’m blessed to have a metabolism that metabolizes fat at a pretty good rate already, which seems to be one of the reasons to kind of cycle is to train your body to metabolize that fat. And so in my case, I’m still relatively high-carb probably 50 to 60 percent of my caloric intake is carbs, but relative to the guys that I’m racing against, that’s fairly low. You know, I’d say you look at the East African diet, they’re probably eating more like 70 to 80 percent carbs. And so I don’t know, I’m an advocate of a balanced diet, I’m an advocate of just these whole foods, and eating what your mom would put on your plate, and that kind of a mentality as it comes to fueling.

Brett McKay: So you mentioned earlier about running, like there’s a psychological aspect of it. It’s a mental game. How do you keep yourself from being bored or getting burnt out from your workouts where it’s just man, you’re pounding pavement day in and day out year after year?

Jared Ward: Well, you just have to bite off what you can chew right now and try to not look so far in the future that you can’t fathom it. I mean, as it relates to the marathon, I think we talk about hitting the wall in the marathon, right? And around mile 16 or 18 or wherever it is, runners experience this effect where all of a sudden it feels like you’re pushing into a wall. And I don’t think that it’s so much one step where burning glycogen and then the next step we’re out of glycogen and we’re burning fat, or some crazy thing like that as so much as it is you look up and you see mile 16 and for the first time in the race you say, “Oh no, there’s 10 miles left and I don’t know if I can make it.” And that oh no moment can be so debilitating.

I remember running, I was competing in Rio in the Olympics in 2016. The lead pack made a move to separate, there were probably 50 of us who were running together and then the guy who ended up winning the race took off and there were a few guys that went with him, and I was kind of in that middle ground of not really going with him, but not really running with the other guys. And there were a couple of us in the middle ground, but I started thinking, “Oh no, I actually don’t feel that good, and I’m 10, 11 miles from the finish line and I don’t know what’s going to happen,” and then I start thinking all these what ifs. “Well, I’m running with Team USA on my chest. What if I can’t do this? What if I’m not tough enough for it? What’s coach going to think and what’s my wife going to think?”

And I think when you take yourself out of the present, one step in front of the other, and take yourself into this world of the future, you open yourself up to anxiety. And that’s what I was feeling, and my sport psychologist in college would always say, “Fear and anxiety live in the future, regret and remorse live in the past. None of those emotions exist in the present.” And so he conditioned me to when I start feeling anxious, or regret, or anything like emotions like those to think, “Jared you’re not living in the present. You’ve got to figure out how to get yourself back to the present.”

And so in the middle of this Olympic race, I started thinking, “Okay, what can I do?” And my next water bottle was in two miles and I thought, “You know what? I don’t know if I can make it to the finish line, but I know I can make it two more miles to my next water bottle.” So that’s all I focused on. I focused on keeping form and rhythm, and getting my next water bottle. And I got there, and I drank it and thought, “I don’t know if I can make it eight more miles, but I know I can make it two more miles to my next water bottle.” And that became the theme for the rest of that run was getting water bottle to water bottle and then looking up and seeing the guy in front of me and saying, “You know what? I don’t know if I can get to the finish line, but I know I can catch that guy,” and working my way up.

And I ended up surprising myself at the finish line having worked all the way up to sixth place, which is higher than I thought I could’ve finished. And I think what got me there was the reality of just running the mile that I was in and trying to live in the present. And when I thought back to, “Hey 10, 11 miles ago, I was thinking I don’t even know if I can make it to the finish line and then I made it to the finish line in sixth.” And so I think it can be a pretty powerful exercise to find something that motivates and something that you can say to yourself, or something that you can do to get your mind back to right now and just bites off the chunk that you can manage.

Brett McKay: So you just think about the now? But like what do you do to manage the nerves before the race starts? Before the starting gun goes off, do you get nerves before the race or is that not an issue for you?

Jared Ward: Sure, sure. I think almost everyone feels nerves and the more times I race and the more times other people race, I think we become a little bit more accustomed to it, but the reality is that before the race starts, the race hasn’t started yet. And so it doesn’t, I don’t know how much good it does to worry about what might or might not happen a mile into the race, with the exception of we’ve got to have a race plan and things like that. But an hour before the race, you’re nervous, what I think about is, “Okay, I just need to make sure my shoes are tied tight, I need to get one more swig of water, I need to make sure I’m warmed up properly,” focus on the things that matter and are relevant to what you’re doing right now as opposed to just stressing about what might happen in the future. I think we can always, almost always, we can use the argument, “Well, I’m not there yet, so what can I do right now that’s going to help me when I get there?” And I think that type of a mentality can maybe help eliminate some of that anxiety.

Brett McKay: Let’s shift gears to sort of beginner runners. You coach people from all walks of life, you have your own coach. And I’m sure some of the people that you coach are just getting started. When you start coaching people who they want to run a marathon, maybe they’ve never run a marathon before, what are the most common mistakes you see them fall into when they’re first getting started?

Jared Ward: Honestly, I think it’s getting just so excited about what we’re doing that we don’t exercise any restraint. When you’re looking at, I’m going to use a comparison of Michael Phelps swimming, and when he’s coming up on an Olympics we’re hearing stories of how much he eats, and how many hours he’s spending in the pool, and things like that. And for runners, we need to train this aerobic system, but we need our legs not to break. Running is an impact sport, and so it’s not like you can jump in the pool and just hammer yourself day after day and kind of wait for your body to catch up. We’ve got to be careful not to get broken. And so I think what I advise my new athletes, in terms of new to the sport of running, is just to be careful about how you’re increasing intensity and volume and do it gradually.

And I think if you can get onto some program that’s sustainable, it’s going to do you so much more good in the long run than if you just get hyper-excited about this new fad that you’re into and you train hard for two months and then you get shin splints and you have to take two weeks off. And then you’re frustrated at having to take two weeks off, and so you get back into it, and you’re ready to train again, and you hammer it again for two months, and then guess what? You’re injured again. And so I think to me the best approach is to try to be patient and sustainable.

And it doesn’t mean we don’t push, because we still push. You still have hard days, but it means that after a hard day, you wake up the next day and say, “You know what? I need to exercise some restraint and take it a little bit easy today because we pushed hard yesterday. And I increased volume last week and so this week, I need to just keep the volume the same even though I feel good.” And so I think it becomes the coach’s job to exercise a little bit of big picture restraint. And it becomes the athlete’s job to pay attention to how you feel day to day, and when you’re tired, listening to that, and when you feel good, taking advantage of feeling good subject to the restraint that your coach or your supervisor has given you in terms of your weekly volume and your intensity in workouts.

Brett McKay: When a person who’s transitioning from say doing the weekend 5K to their first marathon, it’s going to be different for every athlete, but sort of broadly speaking what does that look like? How long does it take for someone who’s never run a marathon before to work up to that point where they can do a marathon?

Jared Ward: Well, if you’re already running a 5K, then you’re a lot further along than someone who is not running at all. So those are different approaches. So someone who is not running at all, we’re going to start with some walking and some walking/jogging, and it’s probably going to take someone coming off their couch, at least in how I like to train for a 5K, it’s going to probably take someone coming off of their couch to me two or three months before I say, “Okay, let’s put you in a 5K.” But I think once you’re running three miles, I don’t know that it’s that crazy to think about building up to a marathon.

Now it seems crazy on paper, but when I was in college training for 5Ks and 10Ks, and then transition to running the marathon, I think you’d be surprised at similarities in my training. In college, I probably went to running 20 or 30 percent more volume per week and maybe not even quite that much. Maybe it was more like 15 to 25 percent more volume. And my long runs got a little longer and my intervals got a little bit longer and a little bit shorter. So instead of running mile repeats on the track, I was running two mile repeats on the road. And so instead of doing four or five by mile, I was three by two mile, and so it wasn’t maybe as drastic of a change as you might think.

And so for someone who’s transitioning from, “Hey, I ran a 5K and I just want to run a marathon,” we start with saying, “Okay, let’s leave your training the same except for your weekend long run, and let’s start gradually building volume to a weekly long run.” And then as we start adjusting to that volume, we might make a couple of changes to their mid-week workouts or their weekly mileage in general in excess to the additional mileage they’re going to get from a longer weekend long run. But I think that’s the big picture is just getting that volume up on that one day a week and if we can build to 15, 16, 17 miles on a long run, then when I taper you off and you’re well rested, I think you’re ready to run a marathon.

Brett McKay: Okay, so it’s not rocket science?

Jared Ward: No, no it’s not. And I think it’s more doable than you might think.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I mean to me, like if you say I can do a 5K, probably not great, but knowing that I can do a 5K that I can work up to a marathon, that gives me hope.

Jared Ward: Yeah, give me 16 weeks with you, man. We’ll get you there.

Brett McKay: Okay. All right, I might take you up on that. Maybe, I don’t know.

Jared Ward: Do it. Do it, take me up on it. We might have to cut back on your lifting a little bit.

Brett McKay: Oh no, losing my gains, my precious gains. Well, so you mentioned injuries, shin splints is a common one. Yeah, runners often, I mean some of these guys, they’re just injuring themselves left and right. What’s the common cause of all of these injuries? Is just pushing yourself too hard, is that what it is?

Jared Ward: Well, I think so. You know, if you were to say for the average middle aged runner that hasn’t really done anything super active since high school or maybe college. You take ten years and you do a lot of sitting and a lot of walking, and then you go to running, you’re using a lot of muscles very differently than you’ve used them for the last decade. And so while the ambition might be there, and while you still might have that same high school athlete mind, you’ve got to be a little bit patient with where your body’s at. And there are things we can do to help, right? I mean, I think if you’re into the wrong pair of shoes, a pair of shoes that’s not agreeing with the way that your foot is shaped or the way that you make contact with the ground or things like that, then that’s certainly going to lead to a higher likelihood of getting injured.

But I do think you’re right, Brett. In general, it’s just that we’re not being quite patient enough as we build up. And it’s a hard balance and I get it. You know, when we decide we want to do something, we want that thing done yesterday, and that’s the beauty and the curse of high-achieving minds is that when you set yourself out to something, you want it done right now. And I think we just have to be a little bit patient with the process and hopefully still have some of those days where we can say, “Hey, you know what? Let’s turn it loose, let’s run, let’s see what happens.” But then on the flip side of that coin, coming back and saying, “Okay, now let’s look at what we were doing three months ago, and we’re doing quite a bit more now than we were doing three months ago, so maybe it’s time to exercise some restraint.”

Brett McKay: So let’s geek out with some statistics here. You did your thesis for your Master’s in Statistics on “Analyzing Runner’s Split Times in the St. George Marathon.” What were your key takeaways about ideal pacing from analyzing?

Jared Ward: Man, I had so much fun with that project and I realize that I’m labeling myself as a nerd right here, and I’m okay with that. That was a fun way for me to cross the paths, I guess, or the interests of running and of the research and the analytics I do in statistics. And so we had some cool takeaways. I was working with this data before I had run my first marathon, so I was acutely interested in what the data said, and what we could learn from people competing in the St. George Marathon. And we really, we used Boston qualifiers, or runners that hit a Boston qualifying mark as our indicator of faster runners in this data set, and so you could argue that it may or may not apply directly to Olympic-level athletes.

But what we learned was that the people who qualified for Boston were being a lot more patient in their pace. So relative to their average pace, they were starting more conservative, they did a better job of taking advantage of downhills. And I think some of that related to the more average runners just coming out of the gates so hard at the beginning that by the time they got to incredible downhill portions later in the race that they otherwise could’ve taken advantage of, their legs were hammered. And so we just saw a lot of, it seemed like over and over we were seeing patience is better, patience is better. Exercise some restraint, save it for the downhill sections later to take advantage and bank up some time later.

We also saw that ladies do a better job of exercising this pacing restraint than men do. That might not come as a surprise to us. And then as runners age, they got a little bit better at pacing. And so I think it was also encouraging to think that even after a runner has maybe passed their physical prime, they might still be able to expect to see lifetime best performances because they’re getting a little bit smarter as they learn how to pace and learn how to train just a little bit better. So kind of some cool stuff, and you could argue that it wasn’t Earth-shattering, but it validated a few thoughts like start patient before my first marathon and some things like that that I think contributed, at least in some small ways, at least before I really had any marathon experience under my belt.

Brett McKay: Are you still looking at data and using your statistics chops to shape your own training or how you approach races?

Jared Ward: Sure, I’m working on a project still analyzing kind of how stride length and stride rate changes across the course of a marathon and how that maybe relates to fatigue, and some other things like that. And so yes, I’m always interested in new research, I’m interested in what the research says for getting ready for a hot marathon, and I’m interested in what the research says as it relates to lifting, and interested in what research says as it relates to oxygen uptake requirements in different types of running shoes. And can we come up with optimal running shoes for running the marathon and design those, and things like that. And so yeah, I think I’m certainly excited about that kind of stuff, but ultimately the gold standard is experience. And every marathon that I run, I learn something else about myself and something else about the marathon, and I think while the data, and the analytics provide some good counsel in general, everybody’s so different that the gold standard for and anybody else should be your own personal experience. And so the data can help when you’re an early marathoner, but as you become more experienced, I would more heavily weight your experience to data in general.

Brett McKay: Well Jared, this has been a great conversation. Is there some place people can go to learn more about your work and what you do?

Jared Ward: Sure, so I try to be active on my social media. So JWardy21 on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And try to keep you updated on all the upcoming fun.

Brett McKay: Well Jared Ward, thank you for your time, it’s been a pleasure.

Jared Ward: Hey, thanks a million, Brett.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Jared Ward. He is an Olympic marathon runner. You can follow what he’s doing at his Twitter at @JWardy21 or check out his website coachjaredward.com, where you can find out information about his coaching services if that’s something you’re interested in. Also, check out our show notes at AOM.is/olympicmarathon where you can find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well that wraps up another edition of the AOM Podcast. Check out our website artofmanliness.com where you can find all of our podcast archives, there’s over 500 there. There’s also thousands of articles we’ve written over the years about personal finance, we’ve got articles about running as well, physical fitness, how to be a better husband, better father. Check it out, artofmanliness.com. While you’re there, sign up for our newsletter so you can find out when we get a new post up daily or weekly. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you, please consider sharing this show with a friend or family member you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay reminding you not only to listen to the AOM Podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.