* L.C. Bird senior Jayson Ward excelled at the Grant Holloway Holiday Invitational
Photo Credit: Mary Ann Magnant/MileSplit
By Brett Haffner - MileSplit Correspondent
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The indoor track and field season is known for mixing things up with 'off-distance' races from what is typically seen across the world.
This can include the likes of the rare indoor steeplechase mile, the sprint medley relay (SMR) and sprint events like the 300m and 500m.
While digesting times in those events are not the easiest to extrapolate into the common distances, success in these off-distances clearly translate to events like the 200m and 400m.
Enter Jayson Ward. As the current U.S. No. 1 in both the 300m (34.08) and 500m (1:03.32), the Chesterfield (VA) L.C. Bird High School senior and University of South Carolina signee has capitalized on these off-distances and shifted into a sixth-gear.
"Even though I ended up running pretty fast this early, I'm still not the biggest fan of [the 300m and 500m]," Ward told MileSplit recently. "Yet these races really give me the opportunity to try many different race strategies that help me out for the 200m and 400m."
How has it made a difference? Ward has improved his 55m dash time this winter, taking the win at the Grant Holloway Holiday Invitational in 6.53 seconds. In December alone, Ward has shown the fruits of his labor over the last year, establishing himself as a top contender in the sprint events.
While everyone has been forced to adapt and take different angles of training due to the ramifications of COVID-19, it's allowed Ward to become more honed in on his craft and approach his routine with the proper intentions.
"Over the last year, I've realized that practice is the way that I can measure where I'm at and I want to try and train hard now that we can practice," Ward said. "I want to maximize every race and treat it like it's my last -- treat it like Nationals. The way I prepare with sleep, drinking water, eating a proper meal the day before, and maximizing recovery has really changed since my freshman and sophomore year."
Some of Ward's workouts could be even classified under the distance realm, having once done 8x400m intervals in 65 seconds each with short recovery, which has bolstered his abilities in the longer sprints.
He even once split 2:01 on a 4x800 relay leg.
I want to maximize every race and treat it like it's my last -- treat it like Nationals. The way I prepare with sleep, drinking water, eating a proper meal the day before, and maximizing recovery has really changed since my freshman and sophomore year."
In doing so, he said, this helped him not only have a wide range of events to compete in, but it also provided a source of inspiration for his weaknesses: His foot speed.
"I've never had the best foot speed out there, so it's something I've really wanted to work on with doing block starts and shorter, faster reps," Ward said.
"My coach and I really want to get my 55m time down and work on my foot speed ... to not have it be a weakness anymore. My start is also something I need to work on. It's not where it needs to be, but it's already improved this season."
With his L.C. Bird teammates in tow, Ward aims to repeat as team championships at the VHSL Class 5 Indoor State Championships in May, along with seeking his third straight titles in both the 300m and 500m.
His squad has taken home the state title in 2019, 2020, and 2021-- this season could make it a four-peat.
"I'd definitely like to triple at state and bring home a lot of points for the team," Ward said. "We've won indoor state all the times I've run it in high school and it'd be great to win it again."
As the next phase of his indoor season is just around the corner, Ward hopes to be competing at high-level meets like the Virginia Showcase, Millrose Games and New Balance Indoor Nationals.
He'll be gunning with the best of the best.
"There isn't as much competition as I'd like in the regular season, especially with Virginia having six classes," Ward said. "I really want to be the best by racing the best, especially in the national setting.
"Those championship level meets are the races I want to win. I want to win a New Balance [Nationals] title for all that COVID has brought and before I graduate high school."
While we'll see Ward contest some of the more even distances later in the season, the unique distances that Virginia brings to the table has given him a great opportunity to grow and excel as a sprinter in his own way.
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