Tyler McCandless, 25, of Boulder, Colo., is a two-time winner of the Kauai Marathon, setting the course record in 2011 with a 2:23:19 clocking. The Penn State grad, who was an All-American in the 10,000 meters in 2010, narrowly missed his own mark this year, winning in 2:23:52 on September 2. He also won the Iwaki City Sunshine Marathon in Japan this past February in 2:27:35.
We recently caught up with McCandless, a 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier with a marathon best of 2:17:09, who is currently enrolled in a meteorology PhD program through the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He also coaches high school cross country and track at Centaurus High School in Colorado, as well as online athletes at tylermccandless.com.
You’ve won the Kauai Marathon two years in a row, setting the course record two years ago and narrowly missing it just a few weeks ago. What have those victories meant for your career?
These victories have had the most [impact] for my career outside of my Penn State experience, but the two victories had different feelings. Last year I was in phenomenal shape and feeling invincible in training and racing. Winning felt easy and [it] was extremely satisfying to get my first marathon win. However, after Kauai in 2011 I ended up overtraining preparing for the the Olympic Trials and finishing with a time and place I wasn’t very happy with. I spent most of the next year not feeling quite right and was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. I finally started feeling better in the last few weeks before Kauai 2012 and ran the toughest race of my life. I was alone from the start, fought through rain, wind, hills, heat, and humidity to run only 32 seconds slower than last year. When I collapsed after the finish I’ve never been as proud of a single race because I literally gave it everything I had. These races are the days that make you come back and fight through the tough times. More important than winning the two races were meeting the people on the island and learning the aloha spirit. Jeff Sacchini, the race founder, is one of those special people in the world of distance running that created an event to promote the sport, health and wellness, as well as helping bring tourism to the island! Next year I’m planning on going back to defend my title, but I’m really looking forward to help Jeff organize a kid’s race the day before the marathon.
Building off the last question, what does a 2:17 marathoner have to do make it as a professional runner in this country?
Anyone that runs between 2:13 and 2:19 in this sport is unfortunately in a tough position of trying to make a living in the sport. That being said, you can do it if you race enough and pick the right races. I’ve been very lucky to have been sponsored by Mizuno, Core Power, and SIX Nutrition, who financially support my career. I get a significant amount of criticism because I’m vocal about my training, supporters, and races. I tend to get criticized for being self-promoting. The fact is that running fast is obviously the best thing to do to make it as a professional runner, but if I can help bring people to the companies that believe in me, then it’s a win-win situation for both! I’ll never turn down an interview, promotional idea, or blog post. I keep my training log completely open and available to anyone on athleticore.com. I love the sport, the people you meet, and more than anything motivating others to improve their health and “ha.” (Editor’s note: “ha” means life energy in Hawaiian.) I was and still am a student of the sport, so if I can help someone improve their training, racing, and recovery by talking about both my failures and successes, then I feel like I’m giving back to the people that helped me. My best advice is train smart, promote the good in the sport, talk about your training, and motivate others.
How does coaching high schoolers impact your own running career?
I’ve had multiple conversations with head coach Devin Rourke about how the three hours of Centaurus cross country & track practices are our favorite hours of the day. High school cross country is the purest form of the sport. You get 15-to-18-year-old high school students learning valuable life lessons through hard work, determination, and learning to do their best. I try to be the most positive influence I can be on these kids’ lives. I’ve had two spectacular coaches in my career — my high school coach, Megan Duerring, and my Penn State coach, Beth Alford-Sullivan. They both were incredibly positive and shared the journey of working hard to attain a goal with me. Two of my favorite coach-athlete moments were breaking my high school district record in a sprint finish and continuing to run to hug Megan and giving coach Sullivan a high-five after a big PR at Stanford to rank me sixth all-time [in the 10,000 meters] at Penn State. You have to be full of positive energy in running and I try to bring that every day to the high school team as well as in my own training and competing.
An interesting thing about you is that you’re into meteorology and are currently enrolled in a PhD program. How much are you analyzing weather forecasts and patterns before workouts and races?
Haha surprisingly not [a lot] — I rarely look at the forecast ahead of time! The research I’m doing at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is very interesting and has many applications: weather forecasting, fire-weather prediction, and wind energy prediction — but I’m not a weather geek. I made a couple mistakes in 2010. I should never have left the meteorology program and I should not have left my college coach. I had really good, positive momentum and a really fantastic support system. I love Boulder and now I have found a good dynamic again with finishing the PhD work at NCAR in collaboration with Penn State. It’s important to have balance in your life, and I’m really happy that the PhD program enables me to train my mind and get in my miles. A big goal of mine is to have my PhD completed by the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials and be a contender at the race, with the hope of inspiring others to get out the door when they are busy with school and work.
Finally, as an online coach of age-group athletes, what do you see as the biggest mistake that they make in their training? And how can they fix it?
The biggest mistake I see people make is having expectations that are too high and only setting one goal. I really like Greg McMillan’s theory of having stratified A, B, and C goals for races. You need to have the vision of the runner you want to be in your mind’s eye, but distance running takes patience. Enjoy the successes along the way and be happy with a personal best, even if it wasn’t the exact time you were looking for. Be positive, evaluate what you’ve done, and be energized for the future. For example, in my mind’s eye I envision myself crossing the finish line in a marathon in 2:09:59, but I’m not there yet. I’m a 2:17 marathoner that hopes to improve by an average of one minute per year. I ran 2:17 at 24 years old so that puts my 2:09 at the age of 32 — just in time for the 2020 Olympic Trials!