When Tyler McCandless arrived on Kauai in 2011, he came to win a race.
And he did — that year and the next two Kauai marathons, as well.
While he loves to run fast and finish first, that’s not all that brings him to the island again this year. For that, take a jog back to the keiki races the day before the marathon last year at the Grand Hyatt. McCandless was there as a volunteer and he remembers that day well. Because what he saw was nearly 200 children dashing around a grass field, giving it their absolute all, while parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends cheered them on.
“It was beautiful,” he said.
Those three words perhaps best explain why the 27-year-old has become more than the three-time winner of the Kauai Marathon. He’s an ambassador of the event. He visits schools. He chats with students. He runs with them. He encourages, motivates and inspires. He believes in himself and those around him.
“You get a positive group of people together who want to make a difference, and you can,” he said.
If there is a face of the Kauai Marathon, perhaps it’s Tyler McCandless. It wasn’t anything he planned, but he doesn’t mind.
“It’s been the best unexpected thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said, smiling.
It’s a perfect fit for the guy from Boulder, Colorado, who is passionate about spreading the joy of running.
“It’s a sport where you have to give back,” he said. “The best way to give back is to get kids running.”
That he has done. More than 200 keiki are expected for Saturday’s Kauai Marathon Keiki Run at the Grand Hyatt. And that is a delight for McCandless.
But it’s not about being the fastest or being first.
“Just getting them to love the sport of running,” he said.
Kauai, he said, has made him feel like he’s always belonged here, like he’s family. It’s not just officials behind the race, but members of the community, too.
There were times last year when he was training in the days leading to the marathon, and someone would drive by and yell, “Good luck, Tyler.”
“I don’t get that running through my neighborhood,” he said.
The cheers will come, even if he’s not defending his Kauai Marathon title next Sunday (He won $15,000 last year by setting the course record). This year, McCandless is running the half marathon. This race is for the kids. His goal is to break 1 hour, 5 minutes and raise $13,000, the money going to a new youth program here to promote running and fitness.
“I think it will probably be the greatest athletic achievement I’ve ever done,” he said.
He knows averaging less than 5 minutes a mile for 13.1 miles, in the heat, humidity and hills of Kauai, will require mean pain.
“When I’m out there hurting, it’s not for my own gain. It’s for their gain,” he said.
Since arriving 10 days ago, the 5-9, 140-pound McCandless has been training, visiting schools, stopping by Kauai Coffee, creating buzz about the marathon and the keiki run. His sponsor, Newton Running, again donated shoes for Kauai’s youth.
One message he likes to deliver, one that’s been key to his success, is consistency. In the past year, he missed one day of running due to food poisoning and took a few days off after a marathon. Other than that, he’s on the road, pounding out around 100 miles a week.
“Consistency leads to accomplishing your goals,” he said.
McCandless was an All-American runner at Penn State. Besides three wins on Kauai, he won the Iwaki City Marathon in Japan, competed in the 2012 Olympic marathon trials and recently placed eight in the U.S. 10K championship. He’ll be competing in the U.S. marathon champions Oct. 5, with an eye toward the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in February 2016.
It’s not just about being fleet-footed. McCandless finds time for his second passion, fly fishing on the Bighorn River in Montana, and emphasizes academics, too.
He’s a graduate of Penn State, with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in meteorology. He works at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, and is working on his dissertation to earn his Ph.D. with his research on solar power forecasting.
“It helps utility companies and operations decide how to distribute their energy efficiently on the grid,” he said.
His job is complex, involving lots of computer codes and what he calls high-level math. It can be tense and demanding. Guess what helps him relax?
“Running really breaks it up,” he said.
Running, being the unofficial ambassador for the Kauai Marathon, has given him a chance to connect with Kauai’s youth and hopefully, he said, to have a lasting impact.
And, no surprise, he’s the one saying thank you for the opportunity.
“They inspired me, probably more than I inspired them,” he said.
About 1,700 runners are registered for the sixth annual Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon at 6 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 31. Both races begin on Poipu Road in front of the Poipu Shopping Village. The first 11 miles are run together before the half marathoners veer off into Kukuiula Resort to their oceanfront finish while the marathoners head up Koloa Road to the neighborhoods of Lawai and Kalaheo before heading back down to Poipu.