When Latter-day Saint distance runner Jared Ward was running a few miles here or there to keep fit during his mission, he surely had no clue that he would one day hold the lead at the Boston Marathon.
But there he was on Monday, April 15, running a second ahead of his nearest rivals at the race’s 20k checkpoint in one of the world’s most famous races.
A few of the world’s top marathoners eventually caught up with the Brigham Young University statistics adjunct professor, but Ward still finished strong. He placed eighth with a time of 2:09:25 — a personal best and more than two minutes faster than when he finished sixth at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
"2:09, that’s been my goal for a long time, so I’m excited for that," Ward said in a video he posted on Twitter after the race. "And I do not regret leading that race. That was one of the funnest moments.”
Ward was the second American man to cross the line, following behind countryman Scott Fauble.
The lifelong member’s unconventional path from full-time missionary service to marathoning’s international elite was chronicled by the Church News in 2015 after he finished third in the Los Angeles Marathon and was crowned the U.S. marathon champion.
Prior to serving a mission in Pennsylvania, Ward had been an elite high school distance runner and had committed to compete for Brigham Young University’s renowned cross-country and track and field teams. But mission life afforded him little time for serious training. Over time he put on a few pounds and his conditioning suffered.
So one preparation day, Elder Ward and his companion found a high school track and slipped on their running shoes. The Kaysville, Utah, native ran a mile in just over five minutes. Not bad for a recreational plodder — but a snail’s pace for a collegiate runner.
“I was really out of shape,” he said with a laugh.
But he wasn’t discouraged. Missionary service had already taught him patience, hope and perseverance.
To say that Jared has “cut some time” from his mid-mission performance would be an understatement of, well, marathon proportions.
He returned home in 2009 and became a four-time All-American at BYU. After finishing his senior season, he turned professional and made the challenging transition to marathon running.
He took to the grueling, 26.2 mile event almost immediately.
“I’m grateful that I found a distance I’m really comfortable with,” he said following the Los Angeles race.
He’s also very, very fast.
Winning the U.S. marathon championship in 2015 was a life-changing moment for the Latter-day Saint athlete. But Ward said he was a blessed man long before claiming a national title.
Many of the skills that serve him well on the marathon course — resiliency, patience and determination — he learned as a missionary. He never regretted his decision to serve even though he was unable to seriously train for two years.
“Going on a mission was easy because I had already made up my mind to serve a mission,” he said. “I decided to serve a mission long before I decided to be a distance runner.”
Ward is a first-class marathoner — but he defines himself first as a husband and a father. “Balancing everything is easier when the priorities are set,” he said.