Taking It in Stride

Track star Ed Eyestone doesn’t let roadblocks bother him—he just keeps on running.

Oh no—a roadblock! Is there anything more frustrating? There you are, running through life at a good, strong pace, when suddenly, something completely out of your control appears and it stops you dead in your tracks.

When you come to that kind of a roadblock, you have three choices. You can wander around whining about it, you can ditch that path completely and give up, or you can find some way to get around it.

Meet Ed Eyestone, whose distance running has broken both world and national records. He attained his championship status by conditioning himself to run right around any roadblocks that got in his way.

Today, Olympic medalists and international record holders fear Ed’s presence at track meets and road races all over the world. Ed’s main event is the 10K, or 10,000-kilometer run, but not long ago he set a new 5K world road racing record. In between his grueling workout and racing schedule, Ed manages to squeeze in masters degree studies at Brigham Young University.

The road to his current position hasn’t been a smooth one, though. There have been numerous obstacles along the way. And the interesting thing is that the lean, six-foot-one runner never emphasizes those problems. If you ask him about his career, he’ll tell you, “I guess I’ve just really been blessed.”

As a matter of fact, Ed became involved in track in the first place by going over a roadblock. When he was in seventh grade in Ogden, Utah, he desperately wanted to be involved in sports and tried out for the junior high baseball team. He was disappointed when he didn’t make the team, but instead of giving up on sports altogether, he decide to go out for track.

Ed began running the mile, and while he beat everyone at his school, he wasn’t the best in town. He plodded along through eighth, ninth, and tenth grade winning his share of victories, but “there was no real indication that I would be that good,” he said.

“Then in the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I don’t know what happened. Maybe I finally went through puberty, but I started beating everybody in cross-country.” His times went down. His reputation went up, and it looked like he would win the state championship.

But along came another roadblock. This time it was in the form of a stress fracture in his foot— diagnosed three weeks before the state finals. The same thing happened in his senior year.

At that point, the obstacle he faced was called discouragement. “It seemed like every time I was doing really well, I would come down with an injury. I began to think that if I was going to be injured every six months and wear a cast around, I didn’t know if it was really worth it.”

But the “glimpses that I might do well,” were what got him over that roadblock. “I wasn’t ready to trash my spikes yet,” he said. “I had run well in my senior year and I had an offer to come to BYU anyway, so I thought I’d go down to Provo to see how I’d do.”

That was a wise decision. Ed gained a seed in the World Cross-Country Championships in Paris and managed to finish third. He was unaware at the time that that race would later affect his mission.

In the meantime, however, Ed had set his sights on All-America status as a freshman in college. To be All-America, you have to finish in the top six among collegiate athletes at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) finals. It was an ambitious goal, but Ed’s times weren’t too far off, and, if he worked hard enough, he saw no reason why he couldn’t reach it.

He came close to reaching that goal, too, but another roadblock popped up. The finals were held in Austin, Texas, right in the middle of one of the severest heat waves on record. Ed, however, was paying more attention to the race than to the heat. He was running the 10K, which is 25 laps around the track, and about halfway through, he was in the sixth position, which is exactly where he wanted to be. Suddenly, one of the runners in front of him started to wobble, then passed out on the side of the track from heat prostration.

Ed was now in the number five position. If he could hold it, he’d be an All-American in his freshman year for sure. Then, with about three laps to go, Ed felt the two runners behind him begin to gain on him. He knew he couldn’t let them pass, and he exerted all the effort he could to stay ahead. But suddenly, “everything went fuzzy around the edges, and instead of running straight, I was running to the left and to the right. I was doing what the guy in front of me had been doing before he dropped out. I guess I was feeling the effect of the heat. I don’t remember much after that, but a half a lap later I was dragged off the track by my coach and a few teammates, and I remember waking up in the training room in a tub of cold water with some ice in it. I went back to my hotel room just thinking that I blew it,” he said.

But this time there was a hand outstretched, waiting to help him over that particular barrier. “One of my coaches came by to talk,” Ed relates.

The coach was also a rancher and said, “Ed, I’ve worked a lot with runners, and I’ve worked a lot with animals, and I just want you to know that today you ran like a horse.”

“I didn’t exactly know how to take that,” Ed confided, “but then the coach explained, ‘You can take a good mule out and work with it, and it will do what you want it to until it gets tired. Then it will just sit down. And you can kick it and beat it and do whatever, but until it’s good and rested, it’s not going to budge. But you can take a good horse, and that horse will work for you until it drops over from exhaustion. Today, you ran like a horse, Ed.’

“I learned a great lesson that can be applied in jobs or studies or any aspect of life, really,” Ed relates. He realized that the endurance to follow a job through and give your all is more important than the final outcome. It’s the ultimate effort you put into anything that makes it worthwhile.

Ed would go on to become an All-American ten times before his college career was over. But that path was not to be a smooth one either. At the end of his freshman year, another opportunity arose that the world might consider a roadblock, but that Ed considers one of the greatest blessings of his life. He turned 19—time to serve a mission.

He was called to serve in Barcelona, Spain, and ran off to the mission field without giving track a second thought—except when he used his knowledge and experience to interest members of Spanish track clubs in the gospel. It was under these circumstances that he once again met up with Jorge Garcia, the winner of the world cross-country meet in Paris. Jorge listened to several discussions, and though he wasn’t baptized, “he has a positive attitude about the Church,” Ed says.

Ed did very little running on his mission, but when he returned, his career seemed to improve with each race. He applied the “patience and perseverance” he’d learned in the mission field to his running. By the time the national finals rolled around in his senior year, his times were good enough to garner his second cross-country championship and he was expected to win both the 5 and 10K events.

But a week before the national championships, something that could have proved to be the biggest roadblock of all obstructed his path. Ed’s older brother Robert was killed in a boating accident.

“It’s tough to deal with death,” Ed commented. “Even for us, with the knowledge we have of what lies hereafter, it’s still hard. Knowing that we’re not going to be able to see that loved one or be with them or share their many talents is a loss, no matter how strong a testimony you have. You just have to pull together as a family. And the knowledge that someday you will be together again, even though you won’t see them for a long time, helps.

“The only thing that kept me going through it was that I knew deep down inside that my brother would be disappointed if I didn’t run,” Ed added.

Ed did run, and finished the NCAA finals first in both events.

Since his collegiate running career ended, Ed graduated with honors from BYU in psychology and is certified to teach high school. He minored in Spanish and coaching. His education continues as he works on his masters in health promotion and corporate fitness. He plans on getting his PhD.

He also plans to continue winning races for about the next ten years. When not in class, Ed is working out twice a day. Most of his weekends are spent running races all over the country, and during the summer he spends several weeks running in Europe. He takes advantage of trips to do missionary work, trying to fulfill his father’s challenge of giving away a Book of Mormon every time he travels.

Ed took advantage of a track opportunity to place a Book of Mormon in some of the most prominent hands in the world. He and fellow LDS runner Farley Gerber were competing in the World University Games in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. They were excited to see that Prince Charles and Lady Diana were there as dignitaries, and even more excited to learn that the royal couple would be greeting the athletes individually. Ed and Farley decided it wouldn’t hurt to present them with a copy of the Book of Mormon, so they wrote their testimonies in one and presented it to the prince when it was their turn to shake his hand.

“He was very cordial about the whole thing,” Ed recalls. “He said, ‘Oh, you chaps are Mormons, are you? So that’s what keeps you going.’ When he walked off, he tucked the Book of Mormon in the crook of his arm, and seeing him carrying it, if you didn’t know who he was you might have thought he was a representative of the Church,” Ed recalled.

Ed’s road for the next ten years seems clear. Among his goals are competition in at least two Olympics, and racing in a host of track events along the way. He never knows when roadblocks will obstruct his path, and really doesn’t think much about the ones behind him. In the meantime, he heeds his own advice to just keep trying. “In my career,” he says, “it seems that any successes that I have achieved have been through consistent training and have been very slow in coming. Most improvement has come on a long-term basis.”

Roadblocks, victories, whatever crosses his path, Ed is conditioned to take it in stride.

[photos] Photography by Eldon Linschoten and Lisa A. Johnson

[photos] Ed has always managed to wear the shoe that fits—whether he was running in an international distance meet, tracting the cobblestone streets of Spain, or relaxing at home with his guitar. His timing, or the knowledge of when to run, when to rest, and when to serve, has been a key factor in his success.

[photos] When Ed started running in junior high, he wasn’t exceptional. It wasn’t until high school that he glimpsed what he could achieve in college and beyond. Without support of family and friends, or of prayer and the scriptures, Ed feels he wouldn’t have accomplished much.