Kauai’s Marathon Man

You’ve most likely heard about the benefits of cross training.

You’ve heard about the importance of strengthening your core, and how this is key to athletic performance.

Tyler McCandless isn’t buying it.

He doesn’t bike or swim or lift weights as part of his training.

“I don’t even do core. I haven’t done a pushup in six months,” he said, smiling.

What he does, is run.

He runs fast, he runs often, and he runs far.

And he’s back on Kauai to run some more.

The 26-year-old from Boulder, Colo., is on island to defend his Kauai Marathon titles of 2012 and 2011.

He’s ready.

“I’m very fit,” he said, noting that since November, his training has focused on Sunday’s 26.2-mile race.

It shows.

He’s posted several personal bests, including at the U.S half marathon championship, where he covered the Duluth, Minn., 13.1 miler on June 20 in 1 hour, 3 minutes and 16 seconds. He posted a 10K road best of 29:27 in Chicago in July. He won the 8.15-mile Great Aloha Run in Honolulu in February, setting a course record in 39:46.

Next, McCandless is after his course-record on Kauai, 2:23:19 set in his winning 2011 effort.

“I feel very confident I can break the record,” he said.

The Penn State University graduate, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in meteorology, is working on his doctorate through PSU and works at a lab in Colorado, researching solar power forecasting.

When he’s not studying or coaching part time, he shares the joy of running.

Since arriving on Kauai last week, McCandless has visited Kalaheo Elementary, Koloa Elementary, Island School, Waimea High School and others to promote his sport.

His message is simple.

“Running  is fun,” he said. “You can have wonderful experiences, meet a lot of people and have a great time. It’s not a chore.

“I think we need more kids getting out and running, doing more races and seeing that this is fun. It’s so healthy for everybody.”

McCandless practices what he preaches.

He didn’t begin running until his freshman year at Northampton High School in Pennsylvania, and even then, he still played soccer and was a kicker on the football team.

He became an All-American runner at Penn State, where he was co-captain of the cross-country team for two years.

After graduating, he’s continued his studies and his running.

In 2011, he won the Kauai Marathon in record time.

He noted he had never been to Hawaii. But he logged 100-mile weeks and wore extra clothes during training runs to prepare for the heat and humidity.

It paid off.

“It was a very, very rewarding experience to win,” he said.

He finished 50th in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials in Houston, posting a time of 2:19:56.

Later that year, he defended his Kauai Marathon title — in a pouring rain —  winning in 2:23:50.

More important than winning, though, is giving 100 percent at what you do, he told Kalaheo students.

Hard work, he said, will be rewarded. McCandless has his share of medals and ribbons, but there’s more at stake.

“Regardless if I’m winning the race or finishing 20th, if I know I put everything into it and raced to my potential, there’s no better runner’s high than that.”

Running, too, has taken him around the country.

“The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, unbelievable,” he said. “You can’t put a price tag on that, on how incredible it is.”

And he wants others to share that experience.

“That’s why I’m here today,” he said.

McCandless, who is sponsored by Newton shoes, espouses the health benefits of physical activity (“You prevent sickness by exercising”) of being disciplined (“Planning is what gets you out the door”) and of the need to set goals (“You’ll find yourself getting fitter and faster”).

He’s done that this year, with his sights set on being first across the finish line Sunday. His 5-9, 140-pound frame is trim and toned. His training has included weekly 22 mile runs, another 14 or 15 miler, and two or three speedwork sessions.

“It’s a lot of intensity,” he said.

So, what’s his race strategy for Sunday? No secret here: Prepare for pain.

“It’s such a hard course, you have to be patient with the hills and humidity,” he said.

Will he win?

McCandless smiles. No bold prediction.

“There’s great competition this year, it’s going to be tough. In a marathon, anything can happen. I feel very confident in my preparation.”

And he didn’t even do a single pushup.

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