Slow and steady wins the race: Lucas Bons’ climb to become one of the top milers in the country

Kelly Clarkson famously sings, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This could be said for many aspects of life, including sports. One athlete familiar with adversity is Lucas Bons, a junior for the BYU men’s track and field team, who battled through countless months of sickness before winning the Championships in March.

The Dublin, Ohio, native is majoring in mechanical engineering, loves country music, and enjoys black raspberry chip, an ice cream flavor from a store called Graeter’s, back in his Ohio hometown. Bons served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (West Africa).

Lucas Bons at the NCAA Indoor Championship NCAA Indoor Nationals at the Track at New Balance in Boston, Massachusetts. March 9, 2024. Photo courtesy of BYU Athletics.

Bons is the fifth of six kids. Many of his older siblings enjoyed running, one of whom, Clarissa Bons Whiting, ran for BYU in 2013-2014. It is said that younger siblings learn from older ones, and Bons would soon follow suit. “I started with soccer and figured that running was the natural course,” he says. “I progressed and got recruited by BYU my junior year (of high school).”

In 2021, Bons’ first year, he recorded the second-best mile time in school history with a 3:55.45 finish at the Husky Classic. Things were going smoothly. The course was being cleared. However, no success in sports comes without a price.

Sickness and faith

“Running is the type of sport where if you are not in top shape, you will not compete well,” Bons says. “Two years ago, I got COVID, and I was out of all activity for six months, and then affected by long COVID symptoms for a year after that.”

Six months of no activity, plus several months of continual symptoms, could prove overbearing for some athletes. That is to be expected. But for Bons, a person who can snap, whistle, and raise one eyebrow all at the same time, anything was possible.

“Lucas has always had an indomitable will to succeed,” said Becky, Bons’ mom. “His faith to keep going when things get tough inspires me. I could not be happier for him!”

Faith also encourages people to keep going strong. Bons’s favorite scripture is 2 Nephi 1:23, which reads: “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.”

Lucas Bons. Photo courtesy of BYU Athletics.

“That verse always reminds me of my potential as a son of God,” Bons said. “When I’m feeling discouraged, I read it and remember that I can do hard things.”

Championship Run

With time, Bons was able to recover. In 2023, he was a first-team All-American. Perhaps most notably, in his third year at BYU, Bons competed in the finals for the mile event at the D1 Indoor Track and Field Championships in Boston.

“It is super competitive with guys who run in the Olympics,” Bons said. “I went into it wanting to get top five.”

He finished the race unconventionally. Bons powered through contact with other athletes—briefly stepping outside the track in the process—and regained footing before sprinting to the finish line.

“I put myself on the inside, which means you run less distance than others, and it sets you up to have a better kick,” Bons said. “My goal was to keep it as smooth as possible and then wait for the last moment to strike. I got pushed on the inside of the track and almost fell but passed a few guys right at the end. It was everything I could have hoped for.”

Bons was initially disqualified due to stepping outside the track, but upon protest by BYU, the disqualification was removed, and Bons was awarded third place with a time of 3:54.82, second all-time for the program. BYU coach Ed Eyestone praised Bons for “[running] an intelligent race” as “one of the top milers in the country.”

As the proverbial tortoise would tell the proverbial hare, slow and steady indeed wins the race. Bons slowly and nonetheless steadily has worked his way back into the swing of things and has seen success, such as placing third in the championships. Despite a recent right calf injury, he generally has been able to return to full activity with BYU, participating in warmups and workouts, indoor and outdoor, multiple times a week.

Lucas Bons in the NCAA Indoor Nationals at the Track at New Balance in Boston, Massachusetts. March 8, 2024. Photo courtesy of BYU Athletics.

Another day; another lap

It’s a pleasant, sunny spring day in mid-April. A lone man walks around in the center of a large, open field, playing with his dog. Some distance away are packs. Not packs of dogs, but packs of runners—some in BYU uniform, some shirtless—circling the edge of the park repeatedly. Sweat trickles down their faces, breathing labored, ready for a water break. Orange cones serve as a guideline for where to run, and the path to follow.

Practice field for BYU Men’s Track and Field team on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

It’s another day and another practice for Bons and the rest of BYU men’s track and field team. Favorable weather, the right shoes, and adequate space were all that was needed. “Run at your own pace if you get caught!” A coach calls to his team. Groups of five or so runners take off, a few seconds at a time. The laps continue. The breathing and panting grow heavier.

Three minutes, nine seconds. Timed. “Looking good, guys,” says another Coach as runners pass where he is standing, finishing their laps. “Don’t get sucked into the vortex.”

What is this “vortex?”

Bons leans up against a brick wall, stretching. He is at the peak of recovering from his right calf strain. “The vortex is based on speed,” he explained. “The slowest group is first, the fastest group is last, separated by 30 seconds. You go 1,000 meters. As each rep goes along, the groups eventually merge once the fast group catches up.”

What happens when a group or individual runner catches up? “Don’t worry about catching up to them,” Bons says. “The point of the workout is to run at a consistent pace.”

“Threshold pacing” is the consistent speed a runner will find to avoid overworking themself. A quick Google search describes this threshold pace as a kind of run that “feels comfortably hard”. Comfortably hard seems to be an oxymoron, as comfort and difficulty are not thought of as existing together. As a wise man once said, “There is no comfort in the growth zone.” Another synonym for comfort could be “confident”, meaning one could be dependent upon the idea of adversity to facilitate growth, knowing they could work hard to achieve it.

Lessons learned

“Never back down with anything you have to do, you have to spend time in the lows,” Bons said of his career. “But the lows make the highs high…I think this attitude will carry over into other phases of my life.”

Support from those closest to you can make all the difference. Bons has received an outpouring of support from family and friends. “Luke has been through so much in the past few years. To have COVID wash that all away was heartbreaking to see,” Bons’s wife Sydney says. “He never stopped but kept working hard. It has been great to see those years of determination pay off!”

Generally speaking, how does one become a better chef? Cook. How does one become a better writer? Write. How does one become a better runner? You guessed it: run. Run, run, and then run some more; alliteration would agree that such is the life of a runner who wishes to improve.

Bons returns to BYU for his senior season, where he hopes to continue to lead the team to new heights. He also aims for loftier goals such as the Olympics. In the meantime, he offers this advice to aspiring runners.

“Believe in yourself and enjoy the process,” he said.

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