Before anyone else knew — before his coach or his family or the crowd of curious onlookers who had gathered to watch the skinny runner thrash out miles on the fancy treadmill knew — Tyler knew that he was feeling very, very good, and that he was on the verge of doing something special. About fifteen minutes and three miles into his latest treadmill half-marathon, Tyler glanced over and shouted over the motor noise, “I think I can run under 64!”
It was Sunday morning, and we were at the Boston Marathon Expo. For the third time in 18 months, Tyler was on a treadmill running fast to raise money for STRIVE and the service work that it does in Peru and Kenya. The first time had been in back in November 2013, when Tyler first had the idea of raising money for STRIVE by inviting people to watch a live stream of him running 5:00 miles on a treadmill for as long as his legs held out. To his own surprise, he covered a half-marathon’s worth of distance on the treadmill before he had to quit. In the days after that first effort, he discovered that his time, set unofficially and without proper documentation or protocol, was almost two minutes faster than the existing record for a treadmill half marathon (1:07:29, set a month earlier by Olympic steeplechaser Andrew Lemoncello).
It had been almost too easy, and it immediately suggested the idea of repeating the effort, but this time in a public place with more media attention and proper documentation for a record. With the help of STRIVE parent, runner, and radio producer Karen Miller-Medzon, Tyler arranged for the world record attempt to occur on March 1st, 2014, at the Marathon Sports store in Back Bay. Unfortunately, five weeks before the event, Tyler was struck by a car in Lima, Peru, and missed nearly three weeks of training. In the end, he decided to go ahead with the run, but with only two weeks to prepare he was far from fit. What had been intended as a hard, but under control tune-up for the Boston Marathon turned into a do-or-die struggle to not fall apart, and he only just managed to dip under the old record by a few seconds.
He had accomplished the goal, but the result left him unsatisfied.
Following that treadmill run in March, Tyler focused on the roads. He ran his debut marathon in Boston, finishing 29th in 2:21. Five weeks later he won the Vermont City Marathon in 2:20. After a summer of STRIV-ing in Peru, he began his build-up for a fall marathon. Races in Hartford and Indianapolis led up to the most important race on his fall calendar, the California International Marathon in early December where he ran 2:16:59 and qualified for the Olympic Trials.
It had been an amazing year, with success after stunning success. But still, the memory of that brutal treadmill half marathon lingered like unfinished business.
Then, a few weeks ago, the company that was promoting the official treadmill of the Boston Marathon reached out to Tyler over social media. Would he be interested in repeating the world record attempt at the Boston Marathon Expo? Tyler was already planning to be in Boston that weekend, didn’t have any races on the calendar that would interfere, and received a positive and supportive response from Hoka One One, his sponsor. Sure, he said. He would love to take another shot at improving the record.
With two previous events to learn from, Tyler and I approached this run with much more care and planning. We discussed hundreds of details, from how to display information to the spectators to how to deal with the hot stuffy environment of the Marathon Expo. We reached out to Steve Vaitones, Managing Director of USATF-New England, for his advice about how to make the attempt as official and well-documented as possible. Tyler arranged for live-streaming, social media updates, and other coverage.
But what we didn’t know and couldn’t entirely predict was how Tyler would feel once he stepped on that treadmill, set it to 12 MPH, and punched the START button.
Now, after only a few miles, Tyler had the answer. He was feeling great. He hit 5k in 15:28, and the five-minute miles he had been running so far felt like a jog. “I think I can run under 64,” he said, and I hastily replied he should try a faster pace for a kilometer and see how that felt. That was the last instruction I gave or he needed. Looking stronger with every kilometer, he passed 10K in 30:38 (running the second 5k in 15:10, or 4:53 per mile). He passed 15k in about 45:38 (running the third 5K in 15:00 flat, or 4:50 per mile). With a little over 6k to go, he still felt good, and decided to ratchet the tempo up even more.
It’s the nature of our sport that we put in a lot of work and only rarely do we get to experience a day when everything clicks, and running fast feels like the most natural, the most simple thing in the world. Sunday was a day like that for Tyler. It’s probably impossible to account for it perfectly, but on that morning, in that cramped corner of the Hynes Convention Center, hassled by officious reps from the treadmill company, but supported by a crowd that included his parents, his high school and college teammates, and others who had supported him in his mad dreams to be a professional runner, Tyler had everything click.
Seemingly stronger with every step, he blitzed his fourth 5k in 14:46 (4:42 per mile). He ran his last mile in about 4:39, and his last 400 meters in about 63 seconds. As agreed, he kept running until the treadmill display read 13.13 miles (13.11 plus a “short-course correction factor”) and then stopped the belt. The clock read 1:03:37 (later rounded up to 1:03:38), 3 minutes and 40 seconds under the old record.
In his 2014 treadmill run, Tyler had finished sprawled on the floor of Marathon Sports, calves throbbing with pain and chest heaving as he gasped for breath. On Sunday, he finished with a radiant smile on his face and plenty of breath for thank you’s to the crowd of about a hundred people who had cheered him on the last few miles.
For the next twenty minutes, he graciously gave himself over to interviews, posed for photo ops and selfie requests, and greeted and thanked everyone he could. It took another twenty minutes for all of us, including me, David, Tyler’s STRIVE partner Rob, and Tyler’s parents to pack up everything. The treadmill people wanted their booth back so they could continue inviting people to take the “one mile treadmill challenge” for the chance to win a $4000 treadmill. After two days of the expo, the fastest mile anyone had run was 4:45. Tyler had run his last 10K at 4:44.8 pace.
In an otherwise perfect day, I had just one regret. Mindful that I would be in the public eye for the morning, I had dressed in jeans and a clean CA Track and Field coach’s shirt. As we headed down to the street, and Tyler prepared for a well-deserved and long-overdue cool down jog, he invited me to jog with him. I would have liked nothing better, but I looked at my jeans and reluctantly declined.
It was too bad. The morning was warm and fine — a beautiful Spring day for a run — and we still had much to talk about.