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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5 thoughts on “Interview with professional runner Tyler McCandless

  1. Hi Janice, great questions!

    What do I eat for nutrition? I try to eat a well balanced diet that has several servings of fruits and vegetables each day. I especially try to “eat the rainbow” of fruits and vegetables each day because then you’re getting all the different vitamins if you’re eating all the different colors.

    Do I eat more before a race? Well this depends on the race distance. If I’m running a 10k or shorter then glycogen depletion isn’t an issue so I eat about the same or a little less if I’m running less mileage. If I’m tapering for a marathon I’ll continue to eat about the same but I’m running less miles so I’m over-eating those days. I’ll also shift my focus to more carbohydrates in the last 3 days before a marathon. I’ll try to keep foods more simple the day before a race … i.e. no rich deserts or very fatty cuts of beef or spicy foods.

    Do I eat less if training less? Yes, you need to balance your energy intake but it’s not perfect. If I’m trying to maintain my body weight and I’m running 20 miles one days that’s about 4,000 caloriesto maintain my body weight. If the next day I run five miles that’s about 2,500 calories to maintain my body weight. I might eat a little less than my energy balance on the high mileage day, so maybe 3500 calories and I might eat a little more on the recovery day, so I might eat 3,000 calories.

    How about sleep? I wake up without an alarm each day. I go to bed early, generally by 9pm or 9:30pm and wake up around 5pm. I average between 7.5 and 8 hours of sleep and that’s what my body needs!

    Hope that helps answer your questions!
    -Tyler McCandless

  2. This is great information! I think hearing from a professional runner that taking time off is very important for people. Often I read other people talk about how they run everyday and strive not to take days off. As a beginner that can be very overwhelming and intimidating.

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