Jared Ward competes during the men's marathon at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
NEW YORK – Already an Olympic marathoner, a university professor, father of four and an aspiring inventor, American Jared Ward has proven he can do it all – over and over again.
Then he was thrown into the shark tank.
That’s “Shark Tank,” to be exact, the hit television show where entrepreneurs go to sell their products to a panel of investors known as “sharks.” Ward appeared on the show, his episode airing just this week, alongside his business partners, for a heated massage ball.
It was a setting unlike anything he had faced before, but one he also weirdly recognized, too.
“It felt strikingly similar to the bullpen before you get to the starting line of a race,” Ward said Thursday ahead of the New York City Marathon. “We were waiting for those doors to open to go talk to the sharks… It was a very familiar feeling. (But in a marathon), once the gun goes off, I feel like the race is in my control. That wasn’t the feeling in ‘Shark Tank.’ It’s a little different.”
Ward, 31, will be back in cozy confines come Sunday morning, when he heads to the starting line in Staten Island for a third consecutive year. The Provo, Utah, resident is looking for a podium finish after being sixth a year ago and 12th in 2017.
“I love this course,” he told reporters. “The crowds in New York are one of my favorite aspects. I remember coming in last year when I felt like I wasn’t quite ready because of injury and I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish the race. I was running to see (how it would go) … and I really felt like the crowds carried me. Every mile, it was, ‘Let’s see how this mile goes,’ and I felt their energy. It fueled me.”
It was a pulled hamstring that left him out for several weeks in September last year in the lead-up to New York, at one point leaving Ward thinking he would scratch the race and look to the next. But encouragement came from all corners to come and try – even if he didn’t finish – and so he did.
Ward said he took it “one mile as a time,” and just over five months later ran a career-best 2:09:25 in Boston, landing him in eighth place.
“This year I had a good healthy buildup to Boston,” he said. “I ran well there and have been healthy since. I had a good speed session this spring after that and I feel like I’ve carried some of that into this session. I feel as strong as I did before Boston, but my speed work has been better, so I feel optimistic.”
Five runners have faster career-bests in the men’s elite field than Ward, including defending champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia (2:04:45). Both Ethiopian Shura Kitata and Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor are back this year, as well, having finished 2-3 behind Desisa a year ago.
“I have to have an A-plus day,” Ward said of his chances to finish on the podium. “There’s a solid group of runners up there up front. Probably one or two of them has to have a B-plus day. But there have been a lot of races like this one where I go into it thinking, ‘OK, this is the pace that I’m prepared to run and I’m going to run that pace and we’ll see where I finish.’ This year, barring those guys going out at a 2:05 pace, then I’m in this race. I’m going to put myself in a position to compete, to cover surges, and to be there in the race as opposed to running at my pace that I know I can do and seeing where I land at the end.”
It’s a mantra – not wholly changed, but somewhat shifted – that the 2016 Olympian has taken on this year as he has continued to maintain both his health, after that hamstring scare, and confidence in his training.
While the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Marathon are less than four months away, Ward didn’t want to pass up the chance to run for a podium spot, compete healthily and – he said – also take his mind off of the lead-up to an Olympic season, which he explained can become all-consuming.
“A lot of people pass up a fall marathon to get ready for the trials and… it was a conversation I had with my coach,” Ward said. “Before Rio, fall 2015, I didn’t run a marathon. But I think I’m in a different place now. I was a three-time marathoner going into the last Olympic trials, where now I know the sport more, my body knows it, I know how to recover. I’m in a different place. After suffering from injuries in 2017 and 2018, I’m less willing to save something for the future when I’m fit now.”
2017 New York City marathon winner Shalane Flanagan understands where Ward is coming from.
“Sometimes we place so much importance on the Olympics. As a marathoner, you can over-train in preparation and train too far out,” she said. “I think this is actually a good thing. It helps him focus (on New York), take a little time off and then re-focus (on trials). He can re-gather himself. All of the fitness that he’s gained for New York will carry over to the trials. As long as he doesn’t get injured, which is the biggest thing in marathoning – not getting injured. I think it’s a great idea for him. There are 17 weeks to the trials. Jared said his preps are 10-12 weeks, so he still has plenty of time.”
Ward always enjoys his time in New York, a far cry from the world he lives in in Utah, as well at the Brigham Young University campus as a professor and assistant cross-country coach.
“As I’ve thought about getting closer and closer to this race, I usually don’t let myself until two weeks before, when that happened, I just laid in bed smiling. I’m just excited. I’ve made it through training healthy… This presents an opportunity. I feel like it’s a good spot to be in.”
Oh, and that “Shark Tank” episode? His team got an investor. Actually, the sharks were almost fighting over their product.
Ward hopes the big-ticket TV success carries over onto the streets of the city where he loves to run.
“It’s an exciting environment to run in. In New York, a tour of the five boroughs is like a tour of the world,” he said. “This is the melting pot of the world. You have everything here. It’s fun to take a world tour in New York and I’m looking forward to that world tour this weekend.”
Nick McCarvel is a video host and freelance reporter based in New York City. He has covered three Olympic Games, including Rio 2016 for TeamUSA.org. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @nickmccarvel as he covers the New York City Marathon this weekend for TeamUSA.org.