Friday, April 16, 2021

Conner Mantz, right, runs at the 2019 NCAA cross country championship, which the Cougars took first place at. Mantz and BYU look to defend their national title this season. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

BYU distance runner Conner Mantz pushing the limits

Breaking BYU’s school record was the only thing on Conner Mantz’ mind as the BYU junior track and cross country All-American lined up for the 5,000-meter race at the UW Invitational on Feb. 12.

Not only did Mantz’s first-place time of 13:28 smash the previous record of 13:36.36 held by Clayton Young, it placed him as the world leader in the 5,000-meter this year.

“The school record is something that is prestigious here. Just to be able to get on top of the list was a huge goal,” Mantz said.

Mantz has placed first and broken records in track and cross country several times this year, but what makes his feats more impressive is that he is doing both sports at the same time.

The COVID-19 pandemic moved the cross country season, which usually happens in the fall, to the winter this year. This led to cross country and indoor track taking place in the same season, something that has never happened before.

Mantz and his teammates face the unusual situation of balancing two sports simultaneously.

“This season is very different. It’s kind of exciting because you’re able to have the variation of training and in racing,” Mantz said.

The biggest adjustment for athletes and coaches alike in juggling a multi-sport season is the alterations in practices.

BYU’s distance runners switch up their training routine based on what type of race they will be running next, Mantz said.

Fortunately, the switching of practice routines has not affected Mantz’s work ethic.

Mantz typically runs between 90 and 110 miles per week, split up into two daily workouts. In his morning workout, Mantz runs five to six miles, followed up by another eight to 10 miles in the afternoon.

In addition to the daily workouts during the week, Mantz also does a 17 to 20 mile run on Saturdays.

On top of the run-based workouts, Mantz has two days of strength training every week.

While many coaches want more effort from their athletes, cross country and track and field head coach Ed Eyestone would like Mantz to tone it down.

“I find myself more as a coach trying to hold him back in practice. It’s not uncommon for me to tell him we need to slow down a little bit on these to save your body,” Eyestone said.

Mantz (far right) running alongside teammates at a cross country practice. (BYU Photo)

Mantz’s work ethic was on full display at the Silver State XC Challenge on Feb. 4.

He was trailing Northern Arizona University freshman Nico Young throughout much of the race. Mantz was surprised to see Young pushing the pace throughout the race but had a feeling the freshman would eventually tire out.

On the last stretch of the race, Mantz sprint past Young and continued his long strides to take home first place with a 22:50.4 time.

“I was feeling good enough, I was pretty confident in passing him (and) beating him on the last sprint,” Mantz said.

Even though Mantz has been dominant in both track and cross country, he may not be able to compete in both sports’ championships because of the short turnaround from the events.

The NCAA cross country championship and NCAA track and field championship are scheduled just two days apart, making it difficult for Mantz to compete in both. The short turnaround between events has left distance runners with a tough decision: individual glory in track or a national championship for the team in cross country.

“If anyone can do that double, it would be Conner Mantz,” Eyestone said. “I think he would be capable of winning a 5000-meter individual title. If we did anything less than win as a team (in cross country) then we might have some regrets.”

The decision by the NCAA to schedule the championships two days apart has been an unpopular one in the eyes of BYU distance runners and coaches.

“They kind of have the hard decision of what’s greater, my NCAA championship or the team’s NCAA championship, so it’s kind of sad ultimately for all those guys of that level of excellence,” senior cross country and track athlete Elijah Armstrong said of Mantz and his teammates.

With the lack of recovery time between the two events, BYU has decided to “go all-in” to defend its cross country national championship.

“We feel like we have a chance to defend our national championship. In evaluating, we really felt like our best chance would be if we go all in at cross country. We’re gonna go full strength in the national championships,” Eyestone said.

Mantz will be huge for the Cougars if they want to repeat as NCAA cross country champions in Stillwater, Oklahoma on March 15. The junior will try to improve upon his 2019 finish by taking the top spot in the race.

Mantz seems to be on pace to take first place at the NCAA championships as he is the only returnee from the top five finishers in the 2019 race. In the period between the 2019 race and now, he has only gotten better, finishing in the top two at every cross country meet he competed in this season.

“I really want that national title because it seems that I’ve placed high quite a few times. A win is a lot (sweeter) than a third-place finish,” Mantz said.

When the gun fires off at the start of the race in the NCAA cross country championships, Mantz will look to do what he’s done all season: win.

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