Conner Mantz has very little time to get a lot done over the next few short months. Later this summer, Mantz heads off to the African nation of Ghana to serve a mission for two years for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He has some fast personal records he would like to hit and top post-season meets that he would also like to qualify for before he spends two years in a situation where time to run for the normal high mileage high school long distance star from Smithfield, Utah will be at a premium.
Mantz, who recently officially signed with Brigham Young University, heads into his final Utah State Track Meet this weekend at his future home college track in Provo. A three-time state champ, Mantz will be attempting the same triple as he did a year ago when he won the 4A boys 3200 and 1600 meter titles along with a 1:56 personal best run in the 800.
"I'm excited because I feel fit and ready to go after some fast times," said Mantz.
Last year, the three-time Foot Locker finalist ran his 1600 meter PR of 4:10 as well another impressive time at altitude of 8:57 in the 3200 at the Utah State Championships. That set him up well for the post-season in receiving invitations to the adidas Dream Mile and Brooks PR Invite 2 mile which both all-expense paid for trips he paid back with lifetime bests of 4:07 in the mile and 8:56 in the two mile. This weekend's weather forecast doesn't look as hospitable for fast times, but Mantz is looking forward to it.
"It's going to have some pretty rough weather, but I like running in the rain," he said. "It makes it more fun."
The two main things on Mantz's mind this weekend? The state records and a state team title.
"Ben Saarel has the state records of 4:07 in the 1600 and 8:49 in the 3200, so I'd like to go after those," he said, referring to the current University of Colorado star.
Mantz may have even a fourth race in the cards as well this weekend.
"I'm planning on the trying the triple (3200/1600/800) again this year, but I may also be put in the medley relay for finals depending on how things go with the team. My goal is first to help my team as much as possible because we have a good chance at winning the title."
It's been a very condensed track season for Mantz up until this point as just over a month ago, he was returning from China after competing for Team USA in the junior race at the World Cross Country Championships. Mantz had earned the spot on the team by winning the junior race at the U.S. Cross Country Championships back in February in Boulder, Colorado.
Praying For A Dream Race
After China, Mantz did not waste any time. As soon as he got back home to Utah, he delivered on a promise to Foot Locker West Regional teammate Levi Thomet to help push for fast times at the Big C Relays in Anchorage, Alaska. Mantz,ile who did much of the pace work in both 3200 and mile races for Thomet, finished second in both races with solid 2015 track season debut times of 8:55 in the 3200 and 4:11 in the mile on essentially all cross country and base training.
Mantz believes the extended cross country season of races and training will be to his benefit for the rest of the outdoor season because of the base he regained after an injury curbed his mileage at the end of this past fall's cross country season.
"I've felt good about my training this spring," he said. "I've had little injuries that were just bumps in the road, but I felt like the World XC Championships helped me build a good base."
Mantz is looking to show improved leg speed and a kick this weekend and moving forward into the post-season.
"As my speed workouts start to help, I'll be running fast soon," he said.
One race that Mantz is especially looking forward to throwing down a fast time this weekend will be in the 1600 meter run, as he hopes to earn a second straight invitation to the adidas Dream Mile. With so many guys in the country this spring under 4:10, Mantz knows even at elevation, he needs to outperform his 2014 state meet 1600 meter performance of 4:10.47 to strongly state his case for adidas Dream mile consideration.
"After the state meet, I'm hoping to run some big meets, like the Dream Mile or possibly U.S. Junior Nationals," he said. "I haven't been invited to the Dream Mile yet, but I'm hoping if I can run fast enough this weekend, I could get an invite again."
If he did receive an invite again to the adidas Grand Prix on June 13th, he would certainly have a good time period of training ahead with his early state meet to raise his level of fitness even more.
"It will be nice to have the state meet out of the way," he said, "so I can get back into the regular training routine before racing again."
Already on his schedule for the month of June is the Brooks PR Invitational, which he has been invited to for the second year in a row to compete in Seattle on June 20th with the nation's best two milers. Mantz led much of last year's race before finishing back in fourth place with a lifetime best of 8:56.
Running In Africa? Not As Easy As You Think
Another definite in his running future when he returns back from his mission is a spot on the BYU cross country and track team under the direction of Coach Eyestone. Mantz always wanted to attend BYU, but he did entertain others as well.
"It was a very hard decision," he said. "All the schools I looked at were amazing and I really liked all of my visits, which made the decision even harder. The BYU team has a lot of guys out on their missions, and their freshmen are very good right now."
Coach Eyestone is no stranger to working runners back into shape after serving two year missions often in a difficult conditions to train in third world countries from Africa and South America. Mantz feels like he is in good hands to go to next level when he returns from Ghana.
"I know a lot of the guys that will be coming home from missions and they will be awesome teammates. Coach Eyestone knows what he's doing and I'm excited to see what I'll be able do while I'm there."
Prior to October 2012, young Mormon males had to wait until the age of 19 to serve church missions. Typically, that meant the summer following their first year of college. The rule throws off many BYU distance runners, as the tough transition into collegiate training is abruptly interrupted.
Since October of 2012, the church changed its official policy to allow male members to go on missions as young as the age of 18 (and females at age 19), so many high school graduates elected to go on missions before starting college. For Conner Mantz, that means he will not be running in his first college race at BYU until the fall of 2017. To put in perspective of the time that Mantz will be gone: He will be a freshmen in college when today's high school freshmen will be seniors in high school.
"I think it will help out with the running, especially focus-wise," he said. "It's hard to focus on getting better at running when you know you're going to take two years off. It discourages you in training, but being able to go after high school helps you separate the two levels. It makes the transition easier."
Mantz, who has already traveled to two continents in the past few months between South America for the Pan-Am XC Championships in Columbia and Asia for the the World XC Championships in China, now will truly be a seasoned world traveler. He recently learned that he was called by his church to go be a missionary in Africa.
"I learned I was going to Ghana in the first week of March," he said. "I was very surprised. I didn't expect to be going to Africa, but I'm very excited."
Long days on his feet sharing the gospel and his church's beliefs with those who will listen in a foreign land will be his primary purpose each day starting at summer's end, so Mantz realizes that his love of running will be taking a back seat for a while. "I'll try to run if I can get my companion to come with me, but if not, I'll survive. You get 30 minutes every day to exercise, so hopefully I'll be able to run 30 minutes everyday. If not, I'll do core, jump rope, or something else".
Even if he loses his great aerobic fitness while in Ghana, Mantz knows he'll grow as a runner even if he's not running on his mission.
"When you come back from your mission, you've learned to work hard and are more focused on life," he said. "Returned missionaries are usually more mature physically, mentally, and emotionally."
However, he admits that life without running might be a tough adjustment.
"It will definitely be different, but I know if I'm working for the Lord and serving others then I will keep the right mindset and be alright," he said.
Holding Onto Something Worth Believing In
His faith certainly has served him well in being able to handle the many setbacks and disappointments in his running career.
"[My faith] played a bigger [role] than anything else," he said. "It has kept me trying when times have gone downhill. It has kept things in perspective. My faith is the most important thing to me (possibly other than my family, but they go hand-in-hand."
His faith was really tested this past October after the Utah State Cross Country Championships.
During the race, Mantz - the defending 4A state champion - collapsed on the final straightaway while leading the race. The fall was due to a stress reaction in his femur and caused him to lose to eventual Foot Locker finalist Josh Collins.
Hopes of qualifying for a final Foot Locker National appearance were doubtful.
A stress reaction or fracture around the femur is nothing to take lightly or ignore and is one of the more serious areas to have an injury for a runner, but somehow and someway, Mantz was able to get healthy enough to qualify out of a difficult Foot Locker West Regional at Mt. SAC. He went on to earn All-American honors at Foot Locker Nationals with a remarkable 10th place finish.
It wasn't Mantz's fastest time or highest finish in a race, but it was the high school moment he will most remember.
"I'm most proud of sticking with it, especially after the last state cross country, but that was thanks to my faith, family, and coaches," he said.
Mantz could have shut it down following the state meet fall and a serious injury scare, but he had too much support to not keep going.
"I had a lot of encouragement from the local runners and the runners I'd met from all the national races like Matt Maton, John Dressel, Thomas Pollard, Elijah Armstrong, and a lot of others were texting me, encouraging me, and generally supportive which helped me want to continue with the sport," he said.
Early in The Book of Mormon, there is a story about an iron rod. Many people struggle to hold onto the rod throughout the journey of life, but those select few that do will be rewarded at the end. Mantz sees a lot of parallels with his running career and the iron rod story.
"Holding onto the iron rod is like staying on a straight path and enduring to the end," he said. "In running, I can hold onto an iron rod through dedication, discipline, and persistence to achieve my goals in running. I need to focus and not get distracted."
One of his final goals in the last few months of running and racing before a long two year hiatus in Africa, is "Do whatever I can to help inspire others to be better."
Conner Mantz can already check that goal off on his to-do list before he leaves for Ghana. Mission accomplished.