(13-Sep) -- After putting together his longest successful training block since before the 2016 Rio Olympics, Jared Ward will test his fitness on Saturday in the Czech Republic at the Mattoni Ústí nad Labem Half-Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race organized by RunCzech. The 30 year-old from Utah recently wrapped up a long stint of altitude training in Flagstaff which began last July, and is excited to see how his legs will respond in a high-level international road race.
PHOTO: Jared Ward competing in the 2015 USA 12-K Championships in Alexandria, Virginia (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"I went with my family up to Flagstaff this year this summer," Ward told Race Results Weekly by telephone from the Czech Republic today. "We traditionally do altitude training in Park City. I felt like I've been fighting injury on and off for 2017, and I finally felt like I had good training. I feel good about things."
Ward, who finished third in the 2016 USA Olympic Trials Marathon and sixth in the Rio Olympic Marathon, is pointing towards the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 4. He said that Saturday's race will give him good feedback on where he is within his current training cycle, and that his race in Ústí nad Labem would be his only race prior to New York.
"You never know quite what you're going to get in a marathon training segment," Ward said, revealing that he had already done two 25-mile (40 km) long runs. He added: "You use these half-marathons as a gauge."
Ward admitted that he had struggled with a pesky injury even before his Rio Olympic success. The injury, a stress reaction in his pubic bone, was a difficult to address.
"It began on the build-up into Rio," Ward explained. "I think what happened, due to soreness, I couldn't keep my core strong. It gradually ate away at how I could run. It took a year to build up that core strength again. It's not that I didn't have good segments over the last year, but I haven't had that long, healthy consistent training that I've had success with with. For marathons you need good build-ups, a good base, and year-round training.
Ward has only raced five times this year, according to the Race Results Weekly Athlete Performance Database. His best effort was a 62:10 half-marathon at the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon last January, the race where he qualified for the U.S. team for the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Valencia (he was 83rd and the fourth American there). He's hoping to run in the 62 to 63-minute range in Ústí nad Labem, which is about an hour's drive north of Prague. He's the only USA man in the elite field (Sara Hall is in the women's field).
"That would be great," he said of that time range. "If I end this race and I was to run 62:30 that would be a good run."
The Ústí nad Labem course is flat and fast. At last year's race, three men broke the 60-minute mark, led by Kenya's Barselius Kipyego, who set a course record of 59:14. Nine men broke 61 minutes last year, and a total of 14 athletes ran 62:01 or better.
"I've heard great things about RunCzech, the organization and the quality of their races," Ward said. "It's been a goal for me to run in a place like this, hopefully an opportunity to take advantage of marathon fitness as I am gearing up for New York."
Ward would like to see his career continue at least through the 2020 Olympics, but keeping healthy will be his biggest challenge, he said.
"We just have to see," Ward explained. "I turned 30 four days ago. I realize I have to be a little bit more careful with how I push my body in training. I still love ruing, love the sport, and love competing. I anticipate doing it as long as I can. But from here on out, it becomes a game of keeping healthy."
After his marathon in New York this year, he main focus will be the 2020 USA Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta in February, then the Olympic Marathon in Tokyo the following August. He knows that making a second consecutive Olympic Team will be difficult, but he knows he's capable of competing at that level after his excellent finish in Rio.
"I would love to," he said when asked if he thinks he can make another Olympic team. "But that being said, I certainly feel grateful for the chance that I had. It's interesting how fragile an experience making the Olympic team is. While I'd love another shot, I feel grateful for the one that I had. In Rio, I felt grateful being there, but then felt that I belonged there."