BYU Cross Country Runner Places First in National Championship

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 24 June 2019

BYU athlete and returned missionary Clayton Young sets the pace during the 10,000-meter race of the 2019 NCAA Outdoor National Championships in Austin, Texas, on June 5, 2019.  Photo by Nate Edwards, BYU Photo.

Article Highlights

  • A BYU senior claimed the men’s 10,000-meter title at the recent 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
  • His coach instills a belief that hard work and “consistent competence brings eventual excellence.”

“It’s cool to be part of a team that realizes there is more to life than running.” —Clayton Young, BYU cross country

For national champion distance runner Clayton Young, serving a Spanish-speaking mission in eastern North Carolina presented the young elder/athlete with a dietary yin-yang.

Yes, diving into a plate of Carolina barbecue with a side stack of Mexican tortillas was a not-so-guilty pleasure for a foodie like Clayton.

But he admits that’s not exactly the optimal meal for an elite college harrier.

When he completed his mission in 2014 and began training with the BYU men’s cross-country team, coaches and teammates good-naturedly relegated him to the team’s “fat camp”—the mythical squad for well-fed returned missionaries.

“When you’re with a bunch of guys, it’s kind of an endearing name,” he said, laughing.

But Clayton traded fat camp for fast camp a long time ago.

The BYU senior claimed the men’s 10,000-meter title at the recent 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Austin, Texas. Several of his Cougar teammates finished close behind—including Connor McMillan and Conner Mantz, who placed third and fourth, respectively.

When the Church News asked Clayton how it felt to win one of college racing’s most storied events, the lifelong Latter-day Saint focused his comments on his team.

“A couple of weeks out from the race, I had this overwhelming feeling that one of us would win the title,” he said. “My personal expectations were more focused on the team and scoring points. But I knew that I had a chance to close well.”

Clayton was also anxious for his final NCAA championships to be his best championships.

“Honestly, I had underperformed at the national championship level, year after year.”

He’s quick to credit BYU coach Ed Eyestone and his staff for allowing him and the other distance athletes to perform high-volume workouts almost up to championship race day. Finding a training “sweet spot” is always a race prep challenge—and many coaches opt to taper intensity sooner rather than later.

But the sustained hard work, said Clayton, “definitely kept me focused.”

Success in a 10,000-meter race demands patience and discipline. Start too aggressively, and a runner risks cracking before the finish line. Conversely, a slow start is often impossible to overcome.

BYU runner raises his arms in celebration after winning the men's 10,000-meter race during the 2019 NACC Outdoor National Championships in Austin, Texas, on June 5, 2019. Photo by Nate Edwards, BYU Photo.

BYU runner Clayton Young enjoys his victory at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor National Championships in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Ashley Young, and their infant daughter, Lucy. Photo by Nate Edwards, BYU Photo.

Despite the Texas heat and humidity, Clayton felt fresh throughout the race. He opted to hang near the back of the lead pack for most of the competition. With some 600 meters remaining, BYU director of operations Isaac Wood hollered at him to pick up his pace.

“I flashed him the BYU hand sign to let him know that I was just chilling—I was fine,” he said.

With about a lap to go, Clayton overtook Alabama’s Gilbert Kigen for the lead.

“At that point, I was all in.” If his rivals could catch him, so be it. They could not.

“The feeling that overcame me in the last 100 meters was overwhelming, just knowing I was going to be a national champion,” he said.

Coach Eyestone was thrilled to see so many Cougar athletes show well in a big event.

“I often jokingly say that the 10,000-meter is the most exciting race, and tonight it was,” he said.

BYU’s team culture played a pivotal role in Clayton’s emergence as an elite college runner. As a former BYU track star and a two-time Olympian, Eyestone instills in his athletes a belief that hard work and “consistent competence brings eventual excellence.”

Clayton feels blessed to compete on a team that helps him simultaneously develop as an athlete and as a Latter-day Saint.

“It’s cool to be part of a team that realizes there is more to life than running,” he said. “But we do love to win, and we do it well.”

Now Clayton adds his name to a long list of BYU track and field legends.

He discovered a love for distance running while in elementary school in Yakima, Washington. After Clayton’s family moved to Utah County prior to his freshman year of high school, he began competing for American Fork High School and its elite cross-country program. State championships and an invitation to compete at nearby BYU would follow.

But before joining the Cougars he answered a call to the North Carolina Raleigh Mission. Serving a full-time mission had been a lifelong goal, “but, yes, there was a little bit of anxiety about trying to stay in shape.”

A few of his companions enjoyed running. Others did not. So he opted to place his trust in the Lord. As he learned to say in Spanish: “Que será, será”—whatever will be, will be.

“Not only did I fall in love with the Southern hospitality but also with the Hispanic people that I served.”

Missionary work also taught him lessons in patience, persistence, and perspective that serve him well as an elite runner. “I was able to witness people changing their lives,” he said, “but the changes that happen personally on a mission are priceless.”

Returning to optimal fitness wasn’t easy for Clayton. It rarely is for returned missionaries. BYU All-American distance runner Erica Birk-Jarvis recently told the Church News that getting back in shape after her mission was more difficult than returning to competition after having a baby.

But Clayton’s journey from “fat club” to national champ was never a solitary one. Besides his Cougar coaches and teammates, he’s also enjoyed the daily support of his wife and fellow returned missionary, Ashley.

The Youngs are parents of a six-month-old little girl named Lucy.

Clayton is now focusing on his upcoming professional racing career while continuing his graduate studies in engineering at BYU. He hopes to one day represent Team USA at the Olympics. It’s a busy life, but he makes time to serve in the Church.

“I just recently received a calling as a ministering coordinator in my young married-student ward.”