Source of Confidence

One day before the start of Mattoni 1/2Marathon Ústí nad Labem 2018 Eva spoke with Sara Hall and Jared Ward. For them the race was a start of fall season and it played a key role in their marathon preparation. Just few weeks later Sara won USATF 10 Mile Campionships and Jared finished 6th in TCS New York City Marathon as the best American (2:12:24).


Jared, good to see you again. I was a University of San Francisco athlete and we were in the same Western Coast Conference, you represented Brigham Young University, and competed against each other. We actually both won the individual title at the Western Coast Conference Championship in 2012 in Portland.

J: Yeah, I was just thinking your face is familiar. Good to see you as well.

How is the jet lag?

S: Yeah, it is morning in the US right now. I was just thinking I could go nocturnal with races like this. Indeed, now I feel I could sleep the whole day.

Is this your first time in the Czech Republic? Have you been here before?

J: Yup, my first time.

S: Same here.

What did make you to pick this race in Ústí? This town is not the staple place of the Czech Republic. Just a week ago there was the more popular 10K Birell Grand Prix in Prague, so I am just curious if this race in Ústí was something that just fit into your schedule for your marathon training or there were some different reasons?

J: Exactly. This race fit well into my marathon training and moreover it is a fast course. Also, we in the US we do know about the Czech races. The distance series of RunCzech is known for being very well organized. It has been on my bucket list to come to Czech Republic and compete at one of these races.

S: Same here. I ran a different half marathon during the same weekend last year and then I ran marathon in Frankfurt, which I will also run this year, so I liked the timing of it. Also, it is funny noting that Jared when he was at our house in Flagstaff time ago he was saying he would be racing in Ústí so that reminded me about the perfect timing. It made me think it would be fun to do something similar this year as I did one year ago. Also, I wanted to run a flat and fast course. I mean if you gonna run half you wanna run a fast time or at least if you have a chance to try it versus you wanna do something harder and you wanna prepare for a tough marathon. But my marathon is flat, so this is a good preparation.

Are you staying longer in Europe or you are going straight back to the US?

J: I am staying here with my wife and we are having one day extra in Prague and then we will spend two days in Paris.

S: Same here. My husband is arriving here this afternoon and we will stay in Prague till the end of the weekend.

Your husband is known as an elite athlete as well, Sara. What is he focusing now?

S: He is just coaching now, and he has more and more athletes, yet he manages his job being in balance in terms of taking care of our family. That is quite challenging as we are a big family of four kids. Also, I am a high maintenance so that is enough by itself (giggles).

What do you think of the Ústí course? It goes through the factory. Obviously, that is a marketing move to make the race more attractive for the spectators. But how do you as the runners feel about it? Maybe it is distracting for you, perhaps you dislike running through building complexes.

J: I am excited! Road racing is such a great way to tour the world. You got the chance to come to these cities and the race organization gets the chance to showcase the city. This way runners have a special chance to experience it in a very real way. So, I am looking forward to feel that in a very unique way.

In two years are the Olympics in Tokyo yet before, already next year, there is the World Championship. Knowing the challenging American system of qualification where you can make the national team only through these Trials, this adds up a high number of marathons in legs. I am curious what is your strategy? Are you gonna prepare for the Worlds next year or are you gonna focus mainly just for the Olympic trials in Atlanta, February 2020?

J: Good question. We will have to see. My marathon career differs year to year and we pick one marathon after one is over. I will run the New York City Marathon this Fall and then I will choose the next one. Obviously, everything will be designed to aim for the Trials and be prepared for Atlanta. But we will see. I love the opportunity for the Worlds, being part of the US team and participate at the international competitions. We just need to see where the things are heading.

S: For me, everything is organized to Tokyo. Even though I love to represent the US and be at the Worlds the Olympics are the main goal.

Let’s hope the weather will be better than in LA trials two years ago. I was there and was impressed by your performances in those tough and hot conditions. (Jared made the Olympic team.) Well enough of the future, let’s go to the past! What did inspire you to get you into running?

J: Since the very beginning as a child I was always excited to race against myself. I loved sports and loved competing. In running, I enjoyed I could run a course and the next day I could do it again and even faster. Running was this intrinsic atmosphere I could compete against myself. That motivated me.

S: For me, I had been playing soccer from my young age, and also there around my family house was this big forest, so I had fun exploring all those trails in my backyard. There I had this sense of independency. When I was 13 I won my first race, which hooked me. It was this combination. Being in a nature, interacting with the forest and exploring the wilderness but also challenge myself from the competitive perspective.

I know that faith is a very important factor for both of you in yours lives. Do you think this divine force helps you? Does it advantage you from other runners who don’t believe? To have such a divine friend who cheers for you and is always there for you? The one you can ask for a help and psychological and spiritual push?

J: For sure. It is so hard for me to imagine my life without that faith. As relates for running it is very empowering to feel there is a source of divinity that confirms what I am doing with my life is in the end what I am supposed to do. So, I don’t have to question my life decisions because there is a greater power who says yes this is supposed to be it and when you are not supposed to do it I will let you know. It is very motivating and empowering to have such a source of confidence.

S: Very similar. I definitely wouldn’t be doing sports if it wasn’t for the God’s presence in my life. Faith encourages me over and over through many of my failures either during my collegiate athletic years or as a professional runner. Also, it strengthens my identity. He says who I am. Instead of having my identity completely wrapped around running having God in my life makes me a more well-rounded person. Being only an athlete, I find it a killer of the joy of the sport and cause of anxiety and depression for many professional athletes. When their entire identity is built around the sport and when things are going poorly you just feel that you fail as a person. I also used to feel felt like it for a while but then the sudden presence of God freed myself to really enjoy the sport. Now I feel free of failing.

You two are not just runners. You are also parents and diligent ambassadors of your personal projects. Sara you have your own ‘The Hall Steps Foundations’ fighting global poverty through better health. You Jared, you are a professor at your alma mater, at the BYU university. How do you balance it and jungle all these quite challenging roles? What is your time management?

J: I think it is exactly the time management. It takes prioritizing knowing what is more important and put focus on it rather than on the small things. For example, it means I don’t watch Netflix. All what I do I do love. So, it takes the stress out of my plate because I find a joy in all of that.

S: Yeah, it is definitely not easy and it is hard not to do sport as I used to do ten years when not having family. However, I have to remind myself my kids are my legacy and I am not gonna sacrifice my kids for my career. My kids and my family are super supportive. For example, for this trip they convince Ryan to join me saying: “Go, go, go! You guys will have such a great time together in Europe.” So, they are super supportive. Also weekends like this I feel I can catch my breath and have a taste of my old life when I did not have kids.

Sarah, you have a long, diverse and successful career. You started in college as a middle-distance runner, pursuing events such as mile, 3K, 5K, 3K steeplechase, but also doing XC and later road races, now focusing on marathons. What do you think kept you agile and motivated for this journey?

S: Yeah, I think spending my youth on track made my longevity longer as it kept me away from the strength training even it hurt my middle-distance career. I think I should do more miles and more longer runs. However, since I wasn’t doing it I think I have more life in my legs at this point. Each build up is getting better and I got stronger and I improve in that area. But also going through lot of failure made me very resilient. Now I know why I am running, I am secure as far as my identity as a person. I don’t get that much discourage as in the past when I failed and wanted to quit.

That must feel very secure to not be distracted by other events and now what is your focus. To know that marathon is the goal you want to pursue.

S: Yeah, I am having so much fun what I am going and I wouldn’t like to do anything else. And when you are having fun you just fly.

Do you ever miss track workouts? Do you ever do any track training?

S: Haha, I barely miss track workouts. I don’t go to a stadium much nowadays.

Jared, during your studies you wrote a thesis, Strategy for marathon training, nowadays couple years later and with deeper experience and professional insights, do you think you would edit your thesis?

J: Definitely there are few things I know better than in the past and there are new things I am more interested and updated data sets I would be curious to explore further now as continuing as a professional runner. Yet I was grateful for the research I did. Also, I think that thesis I did as a beginning marathoner and the data and the broad approach I gathered from other marathoners helped me to understand that sport deeper and quicker than any other runner transforming from events. Now with seven marathons under my belt I know the personal experience with my academic theoretical level is the best teacher. Overall, I was grateful for the research I did when I did not have the authentic experience.

Do you closely collaborate your sponsors?

J: Yeah, absolutely. We are closely working with my sponsor, Saucony, doing thorough research and see if we can stay in front of the development of the product and ahead of the other companies.

Last but not least, Jared, I am curious about this ironic moment that happened during the end of your collegiate career. During your third year at the BYU University, you lost your junior season because of a controversial reason. You participated at a costume fun race and the NCAA decided to cut one full year of your eligibility. How do you look back now? Can you find some positivity on that?

J: (smiles) Haha, sure, sure. This is the interesting perspective that Sara and I share that God has a hand and a plan on what is happening to us. Probably it ended up a huge blessing for me. It was a quite trial for me back than as I felt I was missing on the team at BYU that probably had a chance to place very very high at the NCCA XC Nationals as they finished 4th that year but because of that unexpected redshirting and skipping that season I trained to run a marathon as coming back from the never started Spring track season. I think without that early exposure, I would have not been able to run well the LA trials in 2016 as that was my third marathon and eventually that race qualified me for the Olympics in Rio. So, without that early marathon exposure caused by the lost eligibility I would have not been able to run well at the Trials. I would have not been experienced enough. So yes, I think that silly and frustrating moment ended up being a huge blessing for me in my career and projector in my career. Kinda crazy.

Sounds that was your silver lining. Thanks for sharing your insight with us. How about you, Sara. What has been silver lining in your life as a professional runner?

S: Well, I don’t have any that specific like Jared. But there are some obviously. When I started running roads I was injured so I tried to salvage myself and run track again the season afterwards. However, that was the first time ever I did not make the final for the steeplechase. That was 2014. That moment I did not run neither half or full marathon so that moment was the breakpoint for me to set for a new road running endeavour, which eventually led me to marathon and actually led me to this interview.

Well, Sara and Jared, thank you for the interview, it has been amazing to listen to your stories. Best of luck not only tomorrow but also throughout the season all the way to the Tokyo gates!

Photo © James Moberly