Interview with professional runner Tyler McCandless

Tyler winning the Iwaki City Marathon in Japan Photo via tylermccandless.com

Tyler McCandless is one of America’s top distance runners.  Tyler was an All-American runner at 10,000 meters in 2010, has won 3 marathons, was one of the youngest U.S. Olympic Marathon qualifiers and is currently competing on behalf of the Newton running shoe company while completing his PhD and training in Boulder, Colorado.  Tyler was kind enough to step away from his workouts and studies for a few minutes to share his running knowledge and experiences with teachtorun.com’s readers.

Tyler, tell us about how you started running, how old were you, where was it, how did it go?

Tyler McCandless:  I started running my freshman year of high school with the purpose of joining track to get in shape for soccer.  I had a good freshman year running 10:11 for the 3200 and placing 4th in the district meet.  Soccer was my focus but over the next year and a half I transitioned to cross country rather than soccer.  After I graduated high school in 2005 I continued to run in college and have been running competitively ever since.

When did you really start getting to an elite level?  When did you reach a level where you knew you had become elite?

That’s a tough question because I felt I was a good collegiate runner, but my fifth year when I earned NCAA All-American honors in the 10,000m run was when I considered myself in elite status.  Then I proceeded to run “professionally” signing a two year contract with Mizuno before recently signing with Newton Running.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?

There’s nothing in particular that I wish I would have known previously.  I felt I was naive as first on training and didn’t have the access to the flotrack, runnerspace, letsrun, etc.  This was for the best because it allowed me to grow and learn to love the sport instead of comparing myself to what others were doing in racing and training.

What do you think many runners today don’t know that they should?

Consistency is key.  With the social media platforms we have I share a lot of workouts as do several other athletes.  However, there’s no magic workout. The secret to success is consistent and intelligent work.  I specifically didn’t say “hard” work because over-training is much more likely when you think of it as being hard, rather than being ready for a challenge.

What other activities such as stretching, strength work, etc. do you engage in to support your running and prevent injury?

I do strengthening exercises in the weight room and core several times a week, but honestly the most important ways to support running/stay healthy is by eating and sleeping right.  I do not work a 9-5 as I have a flexible PhD program that allows me to make my own hours, but I basically sleep a 9-5.  I eat right and make sure I’m getting significant calories immediately after working out.

Who are you most influenced by as a runner?

My parents.  They always have been incredible supportive and always there for me.  I try to be the same way for my high school athletes I coach and the rest of the runners in the running community.  We are in this together to achieve our personal goals and dreams.

What runner do you most admire?

My coach, Steve Jones.  Not only was he a world record holder in the marathon, but he was tough as nails and not afraid to race anybody.

What race are you most proud of?

Earning All-American at Penn State University in the 10,000m and winning the Kauai Marathon in 2012.

What was it like competing in the U.S. Olympic trials for the marathon?

Disappointing actually.  Everyone has this aura about the US Olympic Trials that it’s the only race that matters, but let me tell you it isn’t the only race that matters.  There’s many other races that are important and I want to do my best always.  I knew going into the Olympic Trials I had slightly over-done the training and was feeling fatigued before getting to the start line.  I wasn’t going to the trials to ‘enjoy the experience,’ I was going to perform my best and unfortunately by over-training I wasn’t able to reach my goals.

What does your current training look like?

80-95 miles per week with a lot of quality. 2-3 workouts per week plus a long run of 15-18 miles and 2nd runs on workout days.

What is your next race?

The Mountain to Fountain 15k in Phoenix Arizona on March 10th.  Looking to break my PR (45:19) and run under 45.

What are your long-term goals as a runner and coach?

I want to be the best I can be and enjoy the sport more and more each day.  As a coach, I hope to inspire people to reach their own genetic potential and love the sport more and more each day!  Living a healthy lifestyle is what makes runners special so I hope to create an atmosphere where my athletes and running community friends aspire to be their best.

What advice would you give to first time marathoners both for training and for the day of the race?

First, don’t do anything different before the race.  Taking in a ton of carbs or cutting back in carbs isn’t going to make the biggest difference.  The most important thing is to have a positive attitude going into it and being relentless.  When I hit mile 21 of my first marathon I was struggling to get to the finish.  In fact, at one point I could barely see in front of me and almost turned the one way until the police officer directed me the right way.  It was mind over matter at that point because I had one goal – qualify for the Olympic trials – and nothing was going to stop me.  Regardless of whether your goal is finish without walking, qualify for Boston, or win the race, you need to go into the race with the mindset that you can, and will, accomplish your goal.  Also – don’t sign up for a marathon expecting that will get you out the door training but end up not running…yet still run the race.  That’s not healthy.

Have you had any failures as a runner that you think helped you learn and grow?  Can you explain those?

Yes, 2012 was a struggle for me as I dealt with chronic fatigue and over-training.  An error on several heart rate monitors caused me to get a bunch of doctors appointments and make running take a backseat.  I took two weeks completely off and jogged for 5 weeks.  Since then, I’ve been back training hard and refreshed.  If you’re over-trained mentally and physically, do NOT be afraid to take time off.  Continuing to push through only gives you a deeper and deeper hole to dig yourself out of.  Take your mind off running for a bit and have a beer (or a root beer if under 21).

Are you currently coaching a group of runners?  How is that experience going and what have you learned about your own running in the process?

I am an assistant coach at a high school and coach a handful of runners online.  I don’t advertise and I don’t go out of my way to get more athletes to coach.  If someone wants me to coach them I want them to be self-motivated to send me an e-mail and then discuss it.  With my PhD program, my own running, and coaching high school, I’m busy … but I’m very passionate about helping others achieve their goals in the sport so if it works I would love to coach more athletes who are motivated, positive, and excited about the sport.  

How can readers follow your training and race results?

My website is tylermccandless.com and I keep an active blog on there.  I also blog for Team Alchemy and Newton Running at TeamAlchemy.com. I also have a facebook athlete page facebook.com/TrackTy and twitter account twitter.com/TrackTy.  Those are the best ways to follow my running!
Have you ever wanted to ask a question of a professional runner?  What would you ask them?  What other runners would you want to read interviews from?  I am interested in your comments and questions below.
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How can you benefit from a personal running coach?

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Where are YOU headed?

To ask why someone would need or want a running coach is a valid question.  My mindset for many years was that I would just run a lot, get in a workout here and there and the results would take care of themselves.  As I continued to run and read about running and talk to other runners I became more and more aware of the overwhelming amount of information on websites, books, magazines and elsewhere about how to train for running.  Anyone with a subscription to Running Times or Runner’s World can verify that there seems to be a new favorite workout or series of workouts each issue that often seem to conflict with one another.

After a lot of injury, trial and error, and years of experimentation with different plans, theories, and coaches and feel as though now I am able to pull together the best knowledge from all of these experiences and apply them to myself and others, saving others many headaches and countless hours of reading.

Improvement by design 

Effective personal coaching, unlike the previously mentioned magazines (and there are many more websites offering one-size-fits-all training plans), provides training based on runner feedback that involves asking a number of appropriate questions.  Even the best runners need independent feedback on their training before moving on to the next series of workouts and cycle of training.  A good coach helps runners set a goal and then works backward from the goal to the runners current ability, devising a path to get there.

Investing in a personal coach provides the independent and reliable voice of reason as to when and how to stretch, how to train to avoid injuries, how to treat common running injuries, when and how to add speedwork to a training plan, when to add mileage, how to maximize fat loss, what and when to eat, how to warm up and cool down, and all of the little things that you only think to ask when there is no one around.

the little things that you only think to ask when there is no one around

Effective coaches will take a long term approach with their runners, helping them overcome the urge (that is human nature) to race workouts or go too easy or lay in bed some days.

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Wouldn’t we all rather be in bed some days?

Accountability

A runner who utilizes a coach has made an important agreement with themselves to set goals and be accountable to them.  In any endeavor goal setting is a key factor in success.  To get where we want to go we have to be heading in the right direction.  To head in the right direction we need to identify that direction first and then find then most efficient route to get there.  A coach can keep us going in that direction just when we might feel the temptation to quit.

Confidence

Having a coach write up your workouts, give you motivation and inspiration, prepare you for races and overcome rough patches is a major confidence booster when standing at the starting line of a race.  It is incredibly reassuring to know that you are not just running for yourself but for friends and family and you have been prepared well and will have an opportunity to test and show your preparation.

You will know that, unlike many other runners, you did not just complete random workouts at random paces.  You did not just run each day.  You TRAINED for this race on this day.  You’ve hit paces for certain amounts of time that have prepared your mind and prepared your body for this.   Your coach has physically and mentally prepared you to be your best.  It is possible to be the you that you dream of.

Time and money

Life is increasingly fast paced and hectic for almost all of us.  There are only so many hours in the day to sleep, prepare and clean up from meals, hang out with family and friends, work and run.  What percentage of people have the time to do all of that and still read through books, magazines and websites weighing the pro’s and con’s of various training plans?  Not many.

We don’t all have time to become plumbers, investors, mechanics, dry cleaners, electricians, pilots, doctors, etc. so we hire specialists to do these things for us.  The decision to hire a coach is no difference though I would argue that decisions regarding your mental and physical should be weighted towards the top of our priorities.

For less than the prices of a Starbucks coffee each day (I love it too) or less you can make an investment to be not just a better runner but a healthier you.  Knowing that you have committed to working with a coach you will have another reason to avoid that extra serving of dessert, that extra push on the snooze button, that extra hour watching tv.

At this time next do you want to look back and say “YES!!! I finally did it this year,  Look at all I have accomplished!” or do we want to look back and wish we had taken that step and not procrastinated again?

Why failure is good (in life and running)

It is human nature to fail at something and get frustrated and give up.  There are countless forms of failure in running (not hitting a goal time, not hitting a weight loss goal, getting injured, etc.).  How can those things possibly be good?

Photo from Arnold Inuyaki
How did Michael Jordan learn from failure?

Some people never understand how failure can be good and until recently I was someone who didn’t really understand this either.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison

We must look at failure as learning experiences in everything we do.  When we fail at something we must reevaluate how we could have done something not just differently but more effectively.  In running this might mean looking back after a race and asking why you fell off your goal pace halfway through?  (Possibly not enough work at goal pace, overtraining, etc.).

Not only should failure not be looked at negatively but it must be embraced and used as a tool to reassess yourself.  These are learning experiences and having a positive outlook on them can change your worldview.

Write down your runs in a journal and look back once in a while at your comments on each run.  What could you have done better?  Sure, this is a hassle but the cost-to-benefit ratio is worth it if you know what factors of your training and life to monitor and change as needed.

What have you failed at?  In hindsight, what could you have learned from it?

Update: While attending the ICE Conference today in St. Charles, Illinois I was able to view one of Diana Laufenberg‘s presentation. Her presentation was on the topic of using failure as a tool and she played this Honda commercial about learning from failure and I found it worth adding to this post. You should watch this. After watching please leave a comment below as to how you can use this in life, business, sports, education, etc.

Custom coaching service giveaway

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While thinking back to all of the thoughtful advice I have received from many coaches and runners over the past years I am going to make the month of February 2013 an experiment I have not seen and since I like being the first to do new things I am going to extend an offer to the next 15 people who comment on this thread a unique opportunity.

I am offering an opportunity to receive a month’s worth of free customized running coaching.

The coaching will begin with an interview about your running goals and background and within a few days I will have a week’s worth of training available for you based on your specific situation.  From there we will remain in contact and adapt your following workouts and training sessions based on how your body is responding to those workouts.

Why would I do this?

The reason for doing this is in the mindset of the “The Lean Startup” as written by Eric Ries.  While I currently do have a number of athletes I am coaching, with greatly varying goals, I am looking to gather feedback as to how I can improve my services as well as pay back to the running community all that it has done for.  If I coach those who come forward well, hopefully they will be impressed enough with the services they’ve been rendered to refer friends and continue on.

So if you are looking to take that next step, looking to fulfill that New Year’s resolution, or just ready to test what your body is really capable of (it’s more than you think) I invite you to join us.

Sample week of 5k training

Many of us have experimented with a number different running schedules while training for a 5k.  In my opinion there is definitely not one schedule that is going to work for everyone and to some extent there are multiple schedules that are going to benefit an individual runners.  The order of workouts can be tinkered with but most runners are going to benefit from running at a variety of efforts throughout the week and particularly hitting certain paces that are related to their goal race.

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If someone were training for a 5k and were nearing their target race they would be best served by hitting as close to goal pace as possible and there are a number of ways to do that and also hit on all their systems but a sample week that will get most runners close to this is below.

Monday: Easy run + strides (distance will vary based on the runner but pace should be comfortable)

Tuesday: Intervals or tempo run (intervals are anywhere from 200 to 1200 at goal race pace, rest should be slighter longer than half the time the repetition took).  A 10 minute warmup and cooldown should be included. Tempo run is 20-40 minutes at a moderately hard pace.

Wednesday: Easy day again

Thursday: Do the opposite of what you did Tuesday

Friday: Easy + hill sprints (3-10 x 6-10 sprints uphill with full recovery between)

Saturday: Race or steady state run (similar to tempo run but more relaxed)

Sunday:  Long run of 90 minutes, give or take

Now, if the Saturday race were a big one I’d push the workouts to Monday and Wednesday for an additional easy day before the race.  There is obviously a lot of things not mentioned here such as stretching, nutrition, cooldown, strength and core work, etc. but a skeleton is in place with the week above.  It is nothing fancy and improving as a runner doesn’t depend on fancy, it is usually built on steady aerobic improvement over a long time coupled with adequate strength building to protect yourself from injury.  Adding time and mileage to your easy days over a long period of time is the way for steady growth.

Thoughts on what has best worked for you would be greatly appreciated in the comments.

Coaching services

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Despite reading many years of worth of Runner’s World and Running Times magazines, reading a number of highly recommended running books, and reading countless online running websites I was still unsatisfied with my rate of improvement.  I was particularly unsatisfied considering the amount of time I spent computing formulas for the “perfect” running schedule.

Is there a “perfect” running schedule?

Last year I began working with a running coach and have been extremely pleased with the results both in terms of the ease of mind it has given me, the confidence, and the independent analysis that I needed.  Having gone through this experience has validated some of the information I read in many books and magazines as being sound and worthy of passing along to others.

Train smarter, not harder!

I currently use all of the lessons I have learned over the past 20 years through trial and error, reading, listening/learning to coach a number of runners currently.  These runners come from all ages and ability levels and I will be relaying some of their success stories in the coming days and weeks.  I have tried to help save them the hassle of having to reinvent the wheel that so many of us have had to do before realizing how to make the best of our training to avoid injury, improve our health, and run faster and farther.

The time to start is now!

For the month of January I will be offering monthly coaching for runners at the rate of $59.99 per month.  This coaching will include a customized running schedule based on your history, current ability and goals.  We will work together to asess this and set up an appropriate schedule.

To initiate your free consultation please click here if you are ready to be the best YOU this year.

Gift ideas for runners

Medal board

All my medals from the past few years

 

My wife found the directions for creating this fantastic gift idea on Pinterest.  We now have it up in our house.  If you have a runner that you’d like to get a gift for this idea will really light them up.  The board can also be used to hold bib numbers, which all finishers receive.

Please leave a comment with your most cherished running related gift below.  There will be a free month’s worth of personalized coaching to the first commenter.

Welcome to Mark’s running and coaching website!

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Thank you for visiting my site! I am in the process of setting up http://teachtorun.com (The thought process behind the name of the site to be posted soon) and wanted to get an online presence up in the meantime for those seeking to contact me.

In brief, I have been running since 1988 (approximately) with a few years off in the middle and absolutely love the sport. Running is a sport that can bring you great satisfaction and health benefits if you stick with it. This site will be a compilation of the tips, tricks, and advice I have gathered over the past 20 plus years from my previous coaches, fellow runners, books/magazines, trial and error, and internet research.

I currently utilize this knowledge to coach a number of runners at a wide range of ability levels and a wide range of goals. If you are interested in making the best of your time running (and not having to reinvent the wheel like so many of us have) please post a comment below and I will contact you to see how I can help you!