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Reliving that race of his life in Rio de Janeiro offers an existential opportunity for Jared Ward.
The Kaysville native and former BYU All-American distance runner shocked the field in only his fifth official marathon, finishing sixth overall on the final day of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil last August.
"It's kind of an interesting thing about life is that you go somewhere really cool, you do something really cool and your world and other people's worlds revolve around that for a minute," Ward said, "and then life goes back to normal."
Back to normal for Ward is reassuming his role as the stat man, the professor, the mustachioed brainiac who during the Opening Ceremony got a compliment from NBA superstar Kevin Durant. Ward is back to a similar course load, teaching one advanced statistics course at his alma mater. He's now a father of three. He and wife Erica are house hunting.
In the mean time, Ward's been battling through the most arduous race prep he's ever had. He'll take off at the sound of the gun Monday morning in the 2017 Boston Marathon. It's a "bucket-list marathon," Ward said.
"Just finally fit into my schedule," he said.
The break between the Rio Olympic marathon and Boston was the longest training and racing hiatus Ward has had since returning from his LDS Church mission. Post-Rio left Ward in the worst shape he's been in when beginning what he describes as a marathon "build-up." It's taught the former Cougar star runner a whole new world of patience waiting for his desired peak fitness levels to finally return.
Ward divulged that he was dealing with a lingering hip issue in Rio. Every run, every training session left him at about 70 to 80 percent, he said. The hip injury never healed, which makes the sixth-place finish a personal-best time of 2 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds all the more remarkable.
"Eventually a day of reckoning comes," Ward said, "and you've got to fix it."
So he rested after Rio. And rested more. Ward said he turned the corner about six weeks ago and is feeling ready to mix it up with some of the best marathoners around once again. All the American male representatives from Rio will be in Boston, including bronze medalist Galen Rupp and legend Meb Keflezighi, who will retire from marathon running after Boston on Monday.
"It's fun to be able to show up and get a field near an Olympic-caliber field and race some of the best in the world," Ward said. "Any time you have a chance to do that, it's a special opportunity."
The professor remains entrenched in his other passion: Statistical study of racing. Ward's been working closely with another BYU professor, Iain Hunter, who also will run the Boston Marathon on Monday. Hunter, a professor of biomechanics, traveled to Southern California last year to collect data from the runners at the U.S. Olympic trials.
Ward and Hunter huddle two to three times a week to analyze and break down what they've found. Ward sticks to the statistical data of each runner, while Hunter studies the actual running form of each marathoner. Together, they soon plan to submit their study for review.
The performance in Rio, which vaulted Ward's name higher into the marathoning pecking order, only heightens what comes next. And what's next is Boston.
"For me, there's always the pressure of you're only as good as your last marathon," he said. "After Boston, I'll be defined partly by the Olympic experience, but partly by the Boston Marathon. There's inherent pressure."
Ward may be back to that familiar 26.2, but day-to-day life hasn't changed much. There are more interview requests, guest speaking appearances and podcast hits, and that's just fine for Ward.
"I'm still not LeBron James," he said. "I'm a marathoner."
Age • 28
Sport • Marathon
Hometown • Kaysville
High school • Davis High
College • BYU
The professor • Ward is an adjunct statistics professor at BYU
Running career • Four-time All-American at BYU (Outdoor 10,000 meters twice, cross-country, 5,000 meters); Chicago Marathon, 2013 (2:16:17), Twin Cities Marathon, 2014 (2:14:00), L.A. Marathon, 2015 (2:12:56), U.S. Olympic Team Trials, 2016 (2:13:00), Rio Olympic marathon, (2:11:30)
Time for Boston • Ward will run in the 2017 Boston Marathon at 7:30 a.m. MT Monday