The Running Nerd: The US Marathoner Who Is Also a Statistics Professor

I loved these articles about Jared Ward, an adjunct professor of statistics at BYU who also happens to be a genuine and certifiable jock… he finished the 2016 Olympic marathon in 6th place with a time of 2:11:30.

Ward started teaching at his alma mater after graduating from BYU with a master’s degree in statistics in April 2015…

Ward wrote his master’s thesis on the optimal pace strategy for the marathon. He analyzed data from the St. George Marathon, and compared the pace of runners who met the Boston Marathon qualifying time to those who did not.

The data showed that the successful runners had started the race conservatively, relative to their pace, and therefore had enough energy to take advantage of the downhill portions of the race.

Ward employs a similar pacing strategy, refusing to let his adrenaline trick him into running a faster pace than he can maintain.

And, in his own words,

[A]t BYU, on our cross-country field, on the guys side, there were maybe 20 guys on the team; half of them were statistics or econ majors. There was one year when we thought if we pooled together all of the runners from our statistics department, we could have a stab with just that group of guys at being a top-10 cross-country team in the nation…

To be a runner, it’s a very internally motivated sport. You’re out there running on the road, trying to run faster than you’ve ever run before, or longer than you’ve ever gone before. That leads to a lot of thinking and analyzing.We’re out there running, thinking about what we’re eating, what we need to eat, energy, weightlifting, how our body feels today, how it’s going to feel tomorrow with how much we run today. We’re gauging all of these efforts based on how we feel and trying to analyze how we feel and how we can best get ourselves ready for a race. As opposed to all the time on a soccer field, you’re listening to do a drill that your coach tells you to do, and then you go home.

I think we have a lot of time to think about what we are doing and how it impacts our performance. And statistics is the same way. It’s thinking about how numbers and data lead to answers to questions.

Yes, I think there’s probably some sort of connection there to nerds and runners.

Sources: and

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