Conner Mantz: A story of starting lines, finish lines, and everything in between.
Story, graphics, and selected photos by Jake Roper.
If you know anything about running – or even just racing– it’s that the finish is the most critical part of the race. After all, crossing the finish line first means victory, and victory generally implies success, and success indicates some level of greatness.
If you know anything about Conner Mantz, it’s probably that he runs, he’s fast and he’s a finisher. An elite finisher. A championship-winning finisher time and time, as he’s stood on numerous podiums and medaled at countless races throughout his running career.
But as significant as the finish line may be, perhaps there is a more important line to consider. One that provides new opportunities and offers life a deeper perspective.
That line is the starting line. And for the 25-year-old Mantz, this year has been full of those.
Mantz transitioned to the professional realm late 2021. He signed with Nike and launched himself into multiple professional debuts. He’s faced longer distances and tougher competition than ever before, but nothing stands out more than his latest endeavor.
In early October, the former NCAA champ lined up for his first professional marathon. The race was a monumental stepping stone for Mantz and quite literally changed the pace of his running career.
When the gun sounded at the 2022 Chicago Marathon, Mantz embarked on his maiden voyage of 26.2 miles to cross the starting line leading to his longest expedition yet.
How he arrived here were copious amounts of starting lines, countless finish lines and everything else in between.
Spring of 2012 seems like eons ago. For Mantz, it’s more like thousands of miles ago.
It marked the beginning of Mantz’s high school track career, even if it wasn’t the spark that lit his burning passion for the sport. That fire was lit within him long before joining any team. In fact, it was team Mantz that got him started.
Mantz’s dad and brother, Rob and Garrett, got into running half marathons when Conner was 9 or 10. Conner wanted to follow in the family’s footsteps but had to wait until he was 12 to register.
“This kind of stirred the pot and motivated him to run some 5Ks and other runs,” Rob Mantz said. “When he was 12, he ran two half marathons, then he ran a couple each year when he was 13 and 14.”
Those race results can be found on Conner’s personal website where for over 10 years he has recorded his runs. Mantz’s effort to track his running speaks to his dedication and meticulousness.
His most impressive result in the half marathon was the 1:11:24 time he ran as a 14-year-old. Some runners train their entire lives for a time like that, and Mantz was doing it as an adolescent.
“I didn’t do a ton of training, but I just had fun,” Mantz wrote on his website’s home page. “I got more serious about it as high school got closer.”
By the time high school finally rolled around, Mantz himself was ready to roll.
A new starting line.
Scrawny little freshman Mantz lined up at his first high school competition, which turned out to be quite memorable.
Who wouldn’t remember their first time putting on a singlet with school colors and logos, lacing up a fresh pair of spikes and staring down the red rubber track waiting for the gun to go off?
As fun and exciting as the newness of high school track and field may have been, the freshman was there to win.
When the meet ended, Mantz walked away crowned the men’s varsity 3200-meter champ. That came by way of absolutely crushing the competition of upperclassmen by an astronomical 31-second gap.
That initial race would set the standard for what became an outstanding high school career.
By Mantz’s final two seasons of high school competition, he simply could not lose. Between the 1600 and 3200 meter events — 27 of which he competed in — the young phenom placed first in 20 races and podiumed in five others. Do the math.
He lapped the state record books winning three three state championships, two national titles and one silver medal at an international level.
With a trophy room like that, Mantz had every right to coast in the spotlight. But Mantz is built different.
“Running has taught me that hard work and humility can really bring success,” Mantz said. “I think that’s the biggest thing running can teach anyone.”
The three-time state champ decided early on that more important than victory, humility was always going to take first place in his career.
That approach would eventually carry over into his collegiate running days.
The year 2018 came fast. Nearly six years after his high school debut, Mantz was back from his two-year church mission in Ghana and was once again a freshman, but this time living 130 miles from his hometown.
Mantz and his unconditioned, distance-hungry legs were ready to run and represent Brigham Young University, a school with a rich running history.
Another starting line.
Competing at the college level proved to be a tough transition.
Mantz’s times through two seasons aren’t the only signs of the hard transition. A quick scroll to the bottom of his Instagram feed show that he felt sluggish at the start.
“This weekend didn’t have the races I was hoping for,”
“Outdoor nationals last June was a struggle,”
“The 5k was disappointing,”
“Bill Dellinger invite was a tough race,”
The captions of his four posts may seem like the college runner wasn’t having any success. However, Mantz’s humility and positive attitude emerge at the end of those captions:
“…it was still a great experience with the greatest teammates anyone could ask for.”
“…but I bounced back and helped the team place second at cross country nationals.”
“…but I was able to bounce back and finish well in the 3k.”
“…but I came away with the win! Couldn’t do it without my teammates pushing me.”
Mantz wasn’t just great at keeping his head up through the tough times. He showed that when he did win, it wasn’t just about him.
Positivity, combined with the humility he already possessed, became the theme of his collegiate career. He’d need it, especially with the stiff and elevated competition that came.
“One of the things I’ve learned is to accept that sometimes, despite the hard work I put in, I won’t hit my goal, and that’s okay,” Mantz said. “Sometimes you can’t control everything.”
Mantz chose to focus on balance, understanding that success would come if he put his head down and did the work.
Well, the work got done, and success did come.
Mantz’s first place finish at the Bill Dellinger invite was just his third through 30 college races, but that victory — and the patience he had learned to cultivate leading up to it — set in motion another wild stride of success.
The final 20 races of Mantz’s college career all resulted in top-five finishes, of which 17 were on the podium and 12 were atop the podium.
Not only was he winning, but he was also running faster than ever before.
The waning months of Mantz’s BYU career included five personal bests in five different events and were capped off with back-to-back national titles. Such feats were a testament to Mantz’s grit, determination and ability to push through adversity.
“In terms of running style, Conner is a never quit type of person,” BYU track and field coach Ed Eyestone said. Mantz’s coach and mentor saw the grittiness in him from the beginning and never doubted his ability to come out on top.
As Mantz ended his college days and transitioned to the professional phase of his career, he wanted to keep Eyestone in his corner.
Mantz wouldn’t take just his coach and support system with him to the next starting line. He also made sure to carry with him the same humility, hard work, patience, and perseverance he’d exercised so well.
All of those attributes positioned him right where he wanted to be heading into the next starting line of his career.
The year was now 2021. Mantz was fresh off the college scene with a Nike contract in hand, facing a myriad of new starting lines to cross as a professional runner.
As was the case for most things he’s experienced, Mantz found himself adjusting pretty well to his new lifestyle, despite having the added weight that comes with being a professional athlete.
“I think there is some pressure being a pro because your sponsor wants you to do well, and that’s who pays your bills, you know?” Mantz said.
While income is a large benefit of the pro transition, flexibility is another huge bonus. He gets to create his own schedule and work out when he pleases, so long as he puts in the necessary work.
“He realizes it’s his job,” Eyestone said. “Conner pays attention to the little things and takes the time to make sure he’s eating properly, hydrating, going into the training room and working out, things like that.”
All of those little things added up to his pro debut at the USATF Half Marathon Championships in South Carolina where Mantz placed first accompanied by his two-minute personal best.
In the following months, Mantz kept up the fast pace and left his mark on every course he competed on. One of those courses included the prestigious track at Hayward Field, home to the U.S. Championships, where Mantz finished fourth in the 5000-meter event.
Finishing one place higher would have qualified him to represent his country. Mantz, disappointed, looked forward with the same humility to the next starting line.
If he’s proved anything, it’s that he is ready to compete at the highest level, and at the furthest distance, with some of the world’s most elite athletes.
“He is focused,” BYU alum and Olympic marathoner Jared Ward has observed. “Most people need a bit of a transition from college to pro because it takes a tough and gritty characteristic and patience, but Conner already checks all of those boxes.”
Ward, like Eyestone, has kept tabs on Mantz throughout his exciting career and has been a huge role model for the young professional.
“Jared is very inspirational,” Mantz commented. “People see how good of a mentor he can be and being around him makes me excited to run. Absolutely inspiring.”
Mantz wanted to follow Ward’s steps and transition to a professional marathoner. Ironically, Ward’s pro marathon debut was at the Chicago Marathon nine years ago. Fitting.
Mantz’s plan all along was to transition to marathons after college and he knew he needed a team to help get him there.
So, why not team up with the likes of Jared Ward and Ed Eyestone, two great marathoners with whom he already had close ties?
Mantz then completed the super squad of marathoners by training with his old teammate Clayton Young.
Young has put together a notable career of his own, including a national title in 2019 and a few years as a pro. He too had his eyes set on the Chicago Marathon.
It couldn’t have been crafted more perfectly. The Utah running spectacular. Four BYU alums training in the same state, combining their strengths and efforts to make marathon magic happen.
Mantz and Young, with the support of veterans Ward and Eyestone, worked day in and day out to prepare for the big race.
Most days consisted of waking up for early morning training sessions, running for 60-90 minutes (or more) and carefully following principles of fuel, rest, and recovery.
Other days included weight lifting, double runs, and physical therapy or massage appointments. All to stay in tip-top shape and ensure maximum performance ahead of race day.
From Mantz’s perspective, everything was pretty much the same as it had always been. All except for the distance. Every week was suddenly a high mileage week that demanded a lot of running, designed to break down muscles and build endurance.
“Pro Conner Mantz seems like the same as college Conner Mantz,” Ward joked. He continued, “just with longer long runs.”
The funny thing is, Ward was right. Mantz meticulously prepared for the starting line at Chicago, just like he had for every other race in years prior.
All the positive traits Mantz had developed from his years of running went directly into the making of his first marathon.
“Conner is tailor-made for the marathon,” Ward said. “He’s fast and has a patient mindset and he’s savvy with his training and recovery. He seems so experienced.”
Ward has witnessed the kind of athlete that Conner Mantz is. More importantly, Ward has recognized the qualities and characteristics that make Mantz the kind of human that he is.
“The outside doesn’t fuel his hard work,” Ward continued. “His humility takes the pressure off. He’s not talking about competition and winning records, he is focused on the work.”
Eyestone also praised Mantz’s preparation for the 26.2 mile debut.
“All the key markers would indicate the marathon is something he’s going to be very, very good at,” Eyestone said. “Obviously he has the mentality for the event and that’s why we’re so excited about it.”
Excited is the perfect word to describe those who have followed Mantz throughout his career and would soon have the opportunity to see him race at arguably the biggest stage of his career. But Mantz may have been the most excited of all.
Another starting line.
On the morning of Sunday, October 9, Mantz lined up with 40,000 other runners in front of a packed crowd of spectators. He donned a striped Nike top, deep green shorts, and the Nike Alphafly 2 — the fastest shoe in the world — on foot.
Mantz’s training was complete and his anticipation was boiling over. He was ready to go.
When the gun sounded at the 2022 Chicago Marathon, Mantz embarked on his maiden voyage of 26.2 miles, crossing the starting line that would lead to his longest expedition yet.
The rookie had plenty to think about over the next two hours. Mantz has his eyes on 2:07:56, the American marathon debut record, but also his wedding at the end of the week.
That’s right. Mantz ran his first professional marathon and got married in the same week.
Mantz did what he’s always done and focused on running fast and chasing a great finish. After two hours, eight minutes and sixteen seconds, his finish was just that.
Mantz’s time of 2:08:16 made him the top American finisher with a seventh-place finish and gave him the second-fastest debut in American history.
“The goal was trying to beat the American debut record,” Mantz stated after the race. “But it was a good experience nonetheless.”
Again, that famous Mantz humility.
His first words to the press after his race demonstrated the same positivity that he displayed while struggling through his early college days. If one thing is obvious it’s that his mind is where it needs to be to continue competing at such a high level.
“Conner wants to build and progress because it’s not all about the debut,” Ward commented. “He was very capable of hitting 2:08 but was willing to exercise prudence with it being his first. Sometimes you need gradual and continual progress.”
Prudence and baby steps are qualities that Mantz has added to his growing list of positive attributes. Those are both important qualities the hero of this story will need as he works toward his goal of one day representing Team USA in the Olympics.
“His times are improving,” Rob Mantz said. “And if he can continue training as he has been and avoid injury, the sky is the limit.”
If you’ve learned anything from running, it’s probably that there is so much more to it than, well, running. It’s a sport that demands countless hours – and miles – of work and offers countless life lessons in return.
If you’ve learned anything from Conner Mantz, it’s probably that cultivating positive characteristics like hard work, humility, positivity, patience, and prudence is likely to result in a lot of first place finishes in life.
Surely everyone wants to win in life, and Mantz has shown us that it’s doable. Perhaps the biggest lesson? You’ve just got to be willing to cross new starting lines.