Tyler Andrews became the latest New England area runner to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials in the marathon. Tyler, who works for STRIVE Trips and spends quite a bit of time at altitude in Peru, ran a 2:16:59 and finished in 9th at the California International Marathon (or CIM for those in the know). For those following Tyler’s progress, especially over the last year, this comes as no surprise. Now the 2014 Vermonty City Marathon champion can add Olympic Trials competitor to his resume, along with world treadmill half marathon record holder and Hoka athlete.
Here’s our Q&A with Tyler:
Was it a worry free venture from wire to wire or were there moments in there where you had any doubt?
I don’t think the marathon is ever worry-free! My coach and I were both confident going into the race - training had gone super well, the weather looked great, the field and pace groups were already established - but I wasn’t counting my chickens until I crossed the finish line.
I actually felt almost TOO good in the early stages of the race. There was a pace group going at 2h18 pace and another group at 2h15 pace. I’d really been training to run 2h16, so while it felt great to run with a big pack of guys, I was feeling antsy after the first 10km or so. I was pretty nervous about leaving the comfort of the group, but since there was very little wind and I was feeling great, I decided to make a move around 10 miles (~52’20).
There was a BIG gap at that point between us and the 2h15 group with no one in between. I tried not to think about it but just run the pace that felt comfortable. Unfortunately, I got a little TOO amped up and ran the first kilometer after leaving the group in 3’05 (~4’55/M pace) and the forced myself to slow down but was still running too fast (3’07-11/km, 5’00-5’05/M). It just felt too easy - I think this is a danger of being really fit and really well tapered!
So, I actually got a little freaked out when I came to the half under 68 minutes (67’58) and actively pumped the breaks. I had run the 5km between 15-20k in 15’47 and still ran the next 5k in 16’00 (my goal pace was around 16’10/5km). I was just having a hard time controlling myself. Rookie mistakes, I know…
As expected, that fast 10k caught up to me around the 18-21 mile point and I had a few miles where I really had to regroup both mentally and physically. That was the first time in the race where I really started to doubt myself and question whether I’d made a fatal mistake earlier in the race.
Luckily, though, at that point, all the packs had split up and so I was catching a lot of guys from the front pack that had fallen off (I was around 25th at the half and finished 9th). I also had a couple of guys from the 2h18 pack catch up to me and pass me, which I actually found really helpful because it forced me to pick up my pace to match them, even if just for a couple minutes.
I was literally trying to do the math at mile 24 and 25 and - seeing that I was 24-25 miles deep into a marathon - I was struggling to figure out if I was going to make it. I thought I still had a good chance, but it wasn’t until I passed the 26 mile marker that I could see that (unless I collapsed or something) I was going to run fast enough to qualify. I wasn’t thinking about the 2h17 barrier but was very pleasantly surprised to hear I’d slipped right under after the race!
It seems like you’ve been on the cusp of this for a while now, but the results just weren’t there. Getting hit by a car leading up to Boston, then running VCM on short rest, etc. Was it starting to get frustrating at all? Or did you know that you were running very well despite those not so ideal circumstances?
On one level, I think it was frustrating, because it was just like this weight on my shoulders, this pressure to hit the standard and get it out of the way. But at the same time, all of those “not-perfect” circumstances made me realize that I had a lot of room to improve.
My father always told me that it’s more important how well you can perform on an “off” day, and so I think having a seriously interupted build-up this spring (getting hit by a car caused me to miss about 3 weeks of training at a pretty crucial point) but still running pretty well was a great confidence booster. I was able to run 2h21 in Boston in my first marathon off of far-from-perfect training; that just made me think about how much faster I could run with a full build-up on a faster course.
Similarly, I ran 2h20 just 34 days after that at VCM, which made me realize that - again - if I can run 2h20 on tired legs, running under 2h18 is definitely not out of the question.
So, going into this Fall, I was very confident that I had the ability to run that fast IF I could stay healthy through a whole training cycle, find a good race, get good weather, etc.
I think the frustration came because I actually had two other pretty good chances to qualify this fall. First, I ran at the NU Hartford Half Marathon back in October. I was in great shape at that point - I’d done 8M at 4’55 pace in training - and was pretty sure I could run ~64’45. Then, race day was pouring rain and windy and I ended up leading the race through like 11M and then just got destroyed in the last two (finished 5th in 65’47).
Then I actually ran another marathon 5 weeks out from CIM at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. This was essentially a long workout - I had done this in my previous building, a long run of about 40km at about 95% of MP. My coach and I decided to do it at an actual marathon mostly for the support (fluids, road closures, etc.), but also because we thought I was in good enough shape that I might actually be able to run under 2h18 even at that point with no taper (I ran 145 miles the week before).
Anyway, it ended up being awful weather again (28F at the start, 20MPH winds) and I ran 2’20’03 for 3rd.
Again, it was a bit frustrating because I had an opportunity and life (outside of my control) got in the way, but it also gave me a ton of confidence to know that I could run a PR and just 2 minutes off what I needed to run with no taper in bad weather.
So, all that said, I think I knew based on how my workouts had gone that I could do it; it was just a matter of getting a bit lucky on the day with weather, pacing, etc. All of that really worked in my favor at CIM, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to me, even though it was a big PR.
How much do you think be able to train so much at altitude helped you out here?
I think I benefit a lot from altitude. The physiologists will tell you that everyone responds differently and I think that’s definitely true. Luckily, I’m one of the people that DOES respond super well to altitude. My body adapts well and holds those adaptations for a long time and I’m able to run quite fast at altitude, which allows me to train there.
Working with STRIVE each summer gives me the opportunity to train at almost 10,000ft for a couple months, which gives me a super solid base going into the fall. I actually was living near Boston from August to now, though, so I’ve been a sea-level dweller for most of this build-up. Still, I think having that big aerobic base at altitude for a couple months was definitely a huge help.
Will you be going to train more at altitude between now and the Trials?
I’ll almost certainly be leading programs for STRIVE again this coming summer, so I’ll be spending 1-2 months in the Andes of Peru at around 10,000ft. It’s one of my favorite times of the year - getting to meet lots of high school and college runners and work on really meaningful service projects together is really rewarding.
Plus, I get to run on dirt roads through one of the most beautiful places on Earth! Can you beat that??
How happy was Hoka when you got the standard?
They were pretty pumped! Jim van Dine (the president of Hoka) actually sent out a company-wide email after the race as my time was actually the fastest marathon time EVER run in Hoka shoes. I ran in the Hoka One One Cliftons and they felt amazing!
It’s funny because Jim actually took interest in me before I’d even run a marathon (they heard about me via the Treadmill Half Marathon World Record I set in March). Even then, though, he said “based on your training and progression, I think you’ll run around 2h16 this year.” That was 9 months ago, but I guess he’s a good predictor.
Now, he’s saying I can run under 2h15 and get the A-Standard, so I hope his predictions continue to stay accurate!
What did you do to celebrate?
I was really lucky and - thanks to support from both Hoka and the CIM elite program - my parents and my girlfriend were able to come out and support me in Sacramento. It was so amazing to be able to share that moment with them - just running across the finish line and into their arms.
I’ve literally been thinking about qualifying for the OT marathon since I started running in 2007 as a high school senior. I was an 18’30 5k runner at that point (and had been a 20+ minute 5k runner at the start of that season!). For some reason, that goal just stuck with me and I kept chipping away, little by little, for years and years and years.
I feel like there aren’t that many things in my life that I’ve thought about and worked towards for seven years and then actually accomplished. It’s really hard to express how it felt to cross that line, especially with all of the imperfect opportunities in the last year when I’ve been “on the cusp,” as you said.
The longer answer to your question is that I’m still processing it. I’m celebrating it every day when I wake up and remember that - this time - it wasn’t a just a dream, that I actually did it. There’s this enormous weight and (albeit self-imposed) pressure that’s been lifted. There’s an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.
And so, I do want to celebrate that and enjoy it, but at the same time, I don’t want to rest on my laurels. I know I’ve got more room for improvement and I’m excited to get back to the grind stone and see what 2015 has in store.
What will you be doing for the next couple of months now?
That’s a great question! I wish I could totally answer it.
I guess this goes back to celebrating, but I’m actually on a plane right now and heading to Quito, Ecuador for a vacation with my girlfriend (gotta use that time off when you’ve got it!). I’ll take a couple weeks off from really structured training and then start getting back into it in early/mid January.
For next year, I’ve been talking with my coach and sponsor about what we want to do. The big goal is to hit the A-Standard (2h15). April marathons seem to be too short of a turn-around, so we’re looking at a couple races in late-May/early-June for now. We’re also looking to run some faster shorter races, maybe try to run a 10,000m at Stanford or Penn.
But honestly, anything that we get done in 2015 is just a bonus. The big goal is getting to the Trials healthy and fit. I’ve already got my ticket, so we’ll definitely be more conservative this year. For now, though, I just want to enjoy the ride and keep doing what I’ve been doing - try to get a little faster!