It takes a long time and a lot of miles to be in the best shape of your life, but it only takes a moment for all of that work to be put in jeopardy.
For Tyler, the year 2014 started off with great promise. He was living and training in South America, logging up to 250 kilometers a week at altitude, running on soft trails and mountain roads. With six months of solid post-collegiate training, he was in the best shape of his life. He was looking forward to running his first marathon at Boston in April, having earned a coveted spot in the first corral based on his 1:07 victory at the previous year’s Run to Remember Half Marathon. His work on behalf of Strive Trips, the service organization he now owned, was going well. He was in love.
And then he was hit by a taxi.
It was on January 24th when the taxi in question ran a red light and side-swiped Tyler, who had just left his apartment. Thankfully, although the encounter left him badly shaken, his only injuries were bruises and a sore back. Running was out of the question for a while, but it could have been a lot, lot worse.
Having lost much of his training momentum, Tyler attacked the stationary bike with a vengeance. After about ten days, he began running — gingerly at first, but with growing confidence as he found that each run felt better than the last, and that he could do them without any limp or hitch in his stride. Now he turned his attention to regaining his fitness.
The thing was, at this point he had little room for error. Before the accident, he had arranged to travel to Boston at the beginning of March for a Strive fund-raiser. The main focus of the fund-raising effort was an event that would take place at the Marathon Sports store in downtown Boston, in which Tyler would attempt to break the world record for running a half marathon on a treadmill. What had seemed like a fairly sure thing before he missed two weeks of training (Tyler had managed the feat comfortably the previous fall, but without all the organization required to claim the record), now became a do-or-die proposition. With terrific pressure on him, he managed to break the record by about 10 seconds, but it was a much harder effort than he had planned.
Six weeks later, he ran Boston, finishing 29th in 2:21:33.
Instead of breathing a sigh of relief and taking time off to begin another build-up, Tyler assessed his recovery and his level of fitness and decided that he could handle another big race before taking an extended break. He entered the Vermont City Marathon, scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, only 34 days after Boston. Running your second marathon five weeks after your first is the kind of decision that really leaves you open for criticism if things go wrong. Tyler was flaunting the conventional wisdom, and if he ran poorly, it would just seem stupid and over-reaching. He didn’t run poorly. He ran a smart and gutsy race, moving up from 8th at halfway to 2nd with a couple of miles to go. In the final miles he caught and passed the leader and finished in 2:20:26, a minute faster than Boston.
Next came summer in Peru, and all the work for Strive. It was a welcome break that also included a ton of running, although now most of it was accompanying his students on runs at a wide range of paces. When the Strive programs were over, Tyler went back to training for the fall, with the goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials Marathon.
After a lot of thought, Tyler put together a race calendar that included the Hartford Half-Marathon in October (Runners can qualify for the OT by running 1:05 or better for a half marathon) and the California International Marathon in December. On a cold, rainy day in Hartford, Tyler ran a HM personal best of 1:05:48 on the rolling course, leaving him almost a minute shy of the qualifying standard.
The next eight weeks included some ferocious workouts. Since Tyler publishes his training log, you can read the details (http://www.strivetrips.org/category/tylers-training/), but several approached the difficulty of the marathon itself. In fact, one of his workouts WAS a marathon. Three weeks after Hartford, he flew out to Indianapolis (transportation and hotel covered) to do his final long run at 95% of his target race pace in the context of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. The result of THAT day’s training was a nice payday and a PR of 2:20:03, but those things paled in comparison with the main goal of running sub 2:18 and earning that coveted spot in the Olympic Trials Marathon field.
And so, on the morning of December 7th, 2014 Tyler was up at 3:00 a.m. local time, making his final preparations for the race that would, for better or worse, would put the capstone on the year of running dangerously.
It was still dark when he reported to the elite tent, and the area was illumined by the glow of streetlights in the fog. It would be a good day for running, with temperatures around 50 and hardly a breath of wind. It wouldn’t be like Hartford with its driving rain, or like Indianapolis with its bitter cold wind out of the North. For one, the weather was cooperating with the careful plans that had been made months before.
I won’t attempt an account of the race itself, because Tyler will provide a much better one. But here are the basic facts: Tyler started conservatively, tucking into the group that was running 2:18 pace and passed 10K in 32:33 (5:14 pace). It felt too slow, so Tyler left the safety of the group and accelerated. After the fact, maybe the move was over-aggressive, as it brought him through the half-marathon in 1:07:58 (5:12 pace), but he still felt pretty good. He passed 20 miles in 1:44:05, but the fast miles had taken a lot of snap out of his legs. Still, he just needed to hang on and he’d have the standard.
The final 10K he ran in 32:53, and the second half in 1:09:01. He got passed by a couple of people, and reeled in a few runners who were dying out of the lead pack to finish 10th overall. But all of that was secondary to the main thing: his final time was 2:16:59, a minute faster than the Trials “B” standard, and a time that would stamp him forever as one of the country’s elite marathoners.
By early afternoon, most of the adrenaline and the excitement had worn off, and now he was just tired. It had been a long day. It had been a long year. It was time for a nap.
Tyler’s marathons and half-marathons in 2014:
1:07:19 - Boston (Treadmill WR) 2:21:33 - BAA Marathon 2:20:26 - Vermont City Marathon 1:05:48 - Hartford Half Marathon 2:20:03 - Indianapolis Monumental Marathon 2:16:59 - California International Marathon
Wow, this is a beautiful recount of Tyler’s journey and perseverance! His race at CIM was remarkable and he is lucky to have such an amazing coach!
While things may look dangerous on the surface, I would never say that any of these decisions were rash. I’ve always been one to question the status-quo and I think Jon and I have been a successful pair because he, too, is open to trying things that might seem “dangerous”, but not without careful consideration.
There are LOTS of times that I brought “dangerous” ideas to Jon and he said that wasn’t a good idea (like trying to run a fast HALF marathon right after Boston this Spring), but there was always a reason; there was always a conversation. And it always came back to our understanding of running – and my running in particular – not dogma.
That was part of what was so frustrating for me about my college experience. There was never a sense of openness to trying new things, there was never any opportunity for (calculated) risk-taking. And there was never any desire for understanding, no conversation. It was based on dogma and the accepted paradigm alone, and – particularly for a scientific-minded person like me – that could be exasperating.
I am so lucky because Jon is more than just a coach – he’s been my partner this whole dangerous year (and many before that!).