Kauai’s marathon man sharing sport’s spirit on Big Island

The day after Tyler McCandless finished fifth in the USA Marathon Championship in the Twin Cities on Sunday, you would have expected him to sleep in.

Way wrong.

Instead, the 27-year-old was up before dawn to catch the 6 a.m. flight for his journey to Kona on the Big Island, where he is doing what he loves: Sharing his passion for running.

McCandless will spend this week visiting schools, giving away 400 pairs of Newton Running shoes, talking to triathlon groups and, of course, running with kids — no matter how sore he might be from racing 26.2 miles just a few days ago in a personal best of 2 hours, 15 minutes and 26 seconds.

“Newton (his sponsor) loved what I did on Kauai,” he said. “They want me to duplicate that here in Kona before Ironman.”

The three-time winner of the Kauai Marathon who set the course record for the half marathon this year has been one of the island’s greatest advocates for exercise and fitness. He arrives well before the race, makes the rounds to schools and talks up his sport, leaving many thrilled keiki behind with new Newtons on their feet.

He’ll have lots to talk about in Kona, before Saturday’s Ironman championship, as he recounts Sunday’s marathon that saw him run with the leaders for the first 20 miles. It was a race he had long been building toward, averaging 91 miles a week for the past year. He made no secrets of his goal: Win.

In a field loaded with fast and experienced runners, he felt confident in the early miles and ran with pride and purpose — to inspire youth, including those on Kauai who spent time with him here in late August.

“I came to the national championship, feeling ready, just feeling happy,” he said in a phone interview with The Garden Island on Tuesday.

McCandless bounced around the lead pack that started slow and increased the pace as the group ran the second 10 miles faster than the first 10.

“I just covered every move,” he said.

At mile 19, fewer than 10 runners were in contention, McCandless one of them. He was ready to take the lead.

“Right as I was thinking that, another person threw in a big surge,” he said.

Tyler Pennel of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, the eventual winner in 2:13:32 and two others, Jared Ward of Provo, Utah, and Scott Smith of Oklahoma City, broke away. McCandless and Ian Burrell of Colorado held steady and stayed within striking distance, hoping to reel in the front runners later on.

“I got with Ian and said, ‘Let’s work together.’”

With five miles to go, McCandless was thinking the leaders had gone too hard, too early. But they stayed on pace. Burrell pulled away to take fourth.

While disappointed he didn’t win, McCandless set a personal record for the marathon in a major race and covered surges over a hilly course. Given a flat course, he believes his legs have yet more speed inside them.

“It shows I could run faster,” he said. “I learn a lot every time I run a big race,” he said.

He earned a little more than $5,000 and landed another top 10 finish — he already did so in the 10K, 10 miles and 25K — in USA championship races. The Boulder, Colorado, man said he’ll continue to build his running career and is excited about the future.

The Penn State graduate, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in meteorology, continues working on his dissertation to earn his Ph.D. with his research on solar power forecasting. He also hopes to return to Kauai in the not-too-distant future and will bring along his zeal for all things running, encourage education and expanding youth fitness programs.

He plans to compete in the Olympic Marathon trials in February. Until then, he might try to find a flat marathon course, such as in London or Rotterdam, to push his limits yet again and go for another PR.

“At the 2016 trials, if I want to be competitive, I need to go out strong,” he said. “Wearing the USA singlet is kind of the ultimate goal.”

Hard to imagine anyone more deserving.

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