February 8, 2024
"That's all we really wanted. It wasn't like, ‘I need to beat Clayton' or ‘Clayton needs to beat me.’ Our goal was to make the team."
My guest for today’s episode is U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials champion Conner Mantz. He went one-two with his former BYU teammate and current training partner Clayton Young to qualify for their first Olympics team. Mantz was the fastest American marathoner of 2023. He and Young were the only two Americans to run under the Olympic qualifying standard before the Trials in Orlando and clinched the two guaranteed spots for the Summer Games in Paris.
In this episode, Mantz takes us through all the ins and outs of his race, how he and Young worked together, how he handled some pretty bad nerves before the race, what his hopes are for the Paris Olympics – and yes, we asked about the gesture where Young let him go ahead for the win.
Host: Chris Chavez | @chris_j_chavez on Instagram
Guest: Conner Mantz | @connermantz on Instagram
Johnny Zhang / @jzsnapz
The following interview excerpt has been edited lightly for clarity. You can listen to the full interview with Conner Mantz on the CITIUS MAG Podcast – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your shows.
Conner on the stress and pressure he experienced heading into the race:
Conner Mantz: Heading into this, there was just a lot of stress going on. I was just trying to focus on what I could do and not relying on anybody else's stuff. The night before I woke up, I had a nightmare that I didn't finish the race… I've just been thinking about the race so much and this fear of, ‘I might not finish. What if that happens?’ I was worried about all these ‘what ifs’ and I was just so stressed… Just all the stress of this race, I don't think I went to the well as much as I did in Chicago or Boston, as far as during the race. I was so nervous that I was going to mess this up, mess this opportunity up.
CITIUS MAG: The biggest thing people have been discussing is the finish. The way Clayton described it was that he was soaking in the moment. He knew you weren't feeling well and was going to be there in case you slipped back. What is your vantage point of what exactly happened at the finish?
Conner Mantz: After mile 23, I turned to Clayton and was like, “Hey, do you want to take a mile?’ It was the last windy section before the two mile long stretch with the wind at your back. Clayton took the lead and was just celebrating. I was feeling good, but it was just that anxiety getting to me. It was kind of like this debilitating anxiety of, ‘Oh crap, what if I pass out? What if my calf cramps? Clayton just said, ‘Run side-by-side side with me, let’s enjoy this moment.’ And I was like, ‘No, I'm not feeling good.’
In a lot of ways, I was pretty tired, but it mainly was that my mind was so stressed out. I just needed to make sure I finished without anyone passing me. I needed to save enough in the tank if somebody started to catch up, or enough in the tank that I just didn't blow myself up. It was this very big mental battle of, 'I don't want to pace it because I might blow myself up or I might be too cautious, so I'm going to let Clayton pace it all on his own…'
Two miles to go, I said to Clayton, ‘Hey, I'm not feeling well. I might run behind you, but enjoy the last 400m’ is what I pretty much said. I'm just trying to make sure I don't cramp. I'm just trying to make sure I get the win. It was pretty much, ‘I'm not going to help you because I just want to focus on making sure I finish.’ And I could tell he was feeling good. Clayton's the smoothest runner in the field… I could tell Clayton was feeling good because he was throwing his arms up, he was throwing his hats to people. He was doing things like that… I could tell in the days leading up that Clayton was on a whole other level. There was no way Clayton wasn't going to make the team.
CITIUS MAG: Was this marathon more fun than the Chicago Marathon?
Conner Mantz: I think this one was fun because we went into it with the attitude that it's a prelim… This is the prelim and our goal is to qualify. I still had pressure, I felt like I had to beat Clayton to qualify, but also there was the scenario where we both made the team. And that was the goal. That's all we really wanted. It wasn't like, ‘I need to beat Clayton.’ or ‘Clayton needs to beat me.’ Our goal was to make the team.
CITIUS MAG: We've seen a few workout videos come out over the last couple of weeks and all your training is up on Strava. So is Clayton's. Heading into this marathon, do you have any feeling of who was fitter between the two of you?
Conner Mantz: I think if we ran that race in ideal conditions, I might be fitter – but it was in the heat and I think Clayton is a lot better in the heat. He is naturally gifted when it comes to heat, but instead of just being good at running in the heat, he trains himself to be amazing in the heat. I think either way, it was going to be close… Coach Eyestone is very much of the opinion that fitness is all that matters. Whether you're good in the heat or not, it doesn't matter. The fittest is going to come out on top.
On where Conner sees him and Clayton finishing at the Paris Olympics:
Conner Mantz: I think we're in a good spot to do well, whether that’s tenth place for us or eighth place for one of us or if it’s a medal. Getting that qualifying box checked off puts us in a very good spot because we train together.
CITIUS MAG: How much of a combination of luck and hard work did it take to get on this Olympic team?
Conner Mantz: There have been a lot of times that I've had a lot of luck, whether it be going through injuries very quickly or not getting hurt when I should have. Working hard is very important, but I think everyone's working hard. I think I'm very disciplined. In my mind everyone's working hard who is at the trials, so I don't know if I had anything on anybody with working hard, but maybe I did. Maybe I sacrificed more.
CITIUS MAG: What impact did living in Ghana have on you?
Conner Mantz: I realized that running is just a sport. It doesn't matter that much. In the whole grand scheme of things, I'm extremely blessed to live in this country, to have so many people around me and to do well financially. I think Ghana kind of rewired the way my mind worked – just being incredibly grateful for everything I have and for the people I'm surrounded by. You think about it, a lot of Africa doesn't have clean drinking water. Sports are the least of their issues. So it just made a huge difference on me.
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Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.