Benjamin Pachev hit the ground running after his mission—literally.
He arrived home to Utah after serving in Kiev, Ukraine on a Tuesday, and by Saturday morning he was competing in a half marathon. Other recently returned missionaries might balk at the idea of participating in an endurance sport so soon, but for Pachev, it comes with the family name.
Before Pachev left on his mission in 2017, he and his 10 siblings gained national attention for their unique family pastime: long-distance running—while wearing Crocs. Of the Crocs, Pachev’s father, Sasha, told LDS Living in 2017, “The economy is really not structured toward large families, [so] you have to think of creative solutions to problems.”
But it turns out that Crocs don’t just ease financial burdens, they also work—and people across the world are noticing. In June of 2021, Pachev ran the Utah Valley Half Marathon with a time of 1:06:33, which is a pace of 5:04 per mile. The family posted a video of Pachev running the race, in Crocs, of course.
To their surprise, just a few weeks later a popular Russian sports commentator, Alexandar Skryvlya, was talking about them online. Pachev's father is from Russia, but the family has no connection to sports community there.
Skryvlya posted a video on YouTube in which he said he had been inspired by the Pachev family to invite 2012 Olympian Nikolai Chavkin, who also took third place in the 2021 Russian marathon championship, to come out for a test run. Chavkin wore three pairs of shoes—Nike, Adidas, and Crocs—to see which shoe would produce the fastest time in a workout. The results? Chavkin’s time was the same while wearing Nike and Adidas, but two seconds faster while wearing Crocs.
Now, if the video detailing Chavkin’s test reaches 42,000 likes (a marathon is about 42 kilometers) and 195 comments, Chavkin has committed to running a marathon in Crocs. Pachev hopes this new development, as well as other previous media attention the family has received, serves a missionary purpose.
“I think the point is just to show that families produce great results. The media attention, for me, gets people to know about a family from Utah who are members of the Church, and it helps break down negative stereotypes. Having a family with 11 children is not common in Russia, and so that’s something that they [will] notice,” Pachev says.
While Pachev has lofty running goals of his own—he’d like to qualify for the Olympic trials one day—he has viewed his passion through a gospel perspective. When it came time to serve a mission, Pachev was nervous about what two years with limited time for exercise would do for his fitness, but he knew he was called to a higher cause.
“I knew [going on a mission] was the right thing to do because, at the end of the day, running isn’t why I’m here; It’s not the purpose of life,” he says.
The Saturday before his mission, Pachev completed a half marathon with a time of 1:11:53. On the Saturday after he came home, his time was about three minutes slower at 1:15:26. And while his pace may have slowed a bit, he picked up skills as a missionary that have since proven useful in races.
“On my mission, I was able to develop a little bit more mental toughness, a little bit more ability to push through hard things,” he says. “I’ve noticed I don’t get psyched out by races as much since my mission.”
Pachev returned home in 2019 and has stuck to an intense training schedule ever since, despite not being able to compete in races during the pandemic. He runs every day of the week except Sundays, running 12 miles a day on weekdays and between 16 to 18 miles on Saturdays. He still has some work to do before he can qualify for the Olympic trials, but in the meantime, the short-term goal is to get his half marathon time under 1:06:00—and he still does it all in Crocs.
And evidently, running isn’t the only thing Pachev does fast. He was homeschooled before starting at Brigham Young University at age 14 and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics prior to his mission. Upon returning home, he completed a master’s degree, also in mathematics. He is now 22 years old and a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin studying computational science for the next four years.
“Running makes the rest of [my] life better. It has a huge stabilizing effect on my emotions,” Pachev says. “During COVID-19 I didn’t get to race as much, and you’d think, ‘Oh, your life’s better because you’re not doing all these miserable races.’ But that’s not true. You don’t have that sense of accomplishment and the thrill that comes from finishing it. . . . Challenges are good for life; a little bit of pain and suffering for a cause makes your life sweeter.”