Have Realistic Goals for Every Run
Although this will be Ward’s Olympics debut, he knows what he’s up against. “There’s a lot of great, incredible runners going to Rio,” he says. “I mean, look, I’m the third out of three Americans going, right? I haven’t told my parents to go bet their mortgage on me bringing home a medal.”
Whether it’s the Olympics or a hometown race, Ward has the same realistic goal every time: to stay within himself and run his best race. He may aim for a particular time based on his training (for Rio, 2:11-2:12) but never on what place he may finish.
“So often, we beat ourselves up over falling short when our goals were oftentimes extrinsic and we don’t have control over them,” he says. “It’s crazy when your goal is to win, and you don’t, and so you’re upset, but you may have had your best performance ever [and] someone was just better that day. You can’t control that. At the end of the day, I want to do the best I can, execute the pace, and be the best I can. If I do that, I’ll come home happy.”
But there’s a reason Ward is an elite racer. He’s quick to recognize and seize an opportunity. If his time goal positions him to make a late move and perhaps earn a podium spot, he’ll take it.
“A lot of crazy things happen in hot and humid conditions,” he said of Rio, “and a lot of runners don’t manage their pacing and nutrition well when it’s hotter. I’m preparing myself to manage the race well, and if I can accomplish that, then I feel like I’ll be in a good position to take advantage of whatever opportunities may come during the race. I just need to make sure I’m prepared to be in the right position.”
Remember Who Helped You Get There
Finishing a marathon is a crowning achievement. You’ve slogged through all those training miles, you sacrificed and planned, you felt the nerves on race day, and the medal is hanging around your neck.
But the reality is that no marathoner ever suffered alone.
“I’ve been so blessed to have incredible coaches and teammates and support systems,” Ward said. “I have the best wife in the world and great parents. I’ve been dealt such a great hand that I feel like so many other people could have done what I’ve done if they’d been dealt the same hand I have.”
As Ward struggled through the closing miles of the Trials, he kept thinking of those whose support and sacrifice allowed him to run this race and pursue his boyhood dream. They inspired his final kick. “I kept thinking that I couldn’t quit because it wasn’t my race to lose. So many people had invested so much in me. I owed it to their sacrifices to give this my all.”
They’ll all be with him again—at least in his mind—as he prepares for the biggest race of his life. A race that fulfills a promise he made to himself in front of a mirror more than a decade ago.
Danny Woodward is a veteran freelance writer based in Richmond, Va. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Arlington, an award-winning former sports writer, and a 2:54 marathoner. Follow Danny on Twitter.
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