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October 12, 2018

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Chicago Marathon Race Recap by rabbitPRO Tyler McCandless

Photo Credit: Kristin McCandless / @mccorkl

There are three main lessons to convey from my experience running the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. First, the marathon will teach you humility. Second, the marathon will test your character. Finally, the marathon will always inspire you.

Rewinding back to the 2017 USA Marathon Championships at CIM, I was in a group of about ten guys at 19.5 miles when I felt fantastic and had broken away from a group to ten guys to just one other competitor. I never felt so strong running ~4:55/mi during miles 20-24. On an ideal weather day, a perfect pace with a large group of competitors and a fast course I set a massive PR (2:12:2 to take second at the National Championships. After about a dozen marathons, I finally felt like I now understood how to really race the marathon!

After a post-marathon break, my coach Steve Jones and I came up with a purposeful plan to first get faster and focus on shorter distances, and then move back to the marathon in the fall. Chicago was an ideal opportunity because it’s an IAAF approved course put on by a great organization and has many fast competitors. In 2018, my training hit new levels, certainly a function of the confidence built from the marathon result in December. I ran every type of workout faster than I had ever done before, exemplified by my favorite workout of 4x10 min hard off 3 minutes recovery where I ran on average 8 seconds per mile faster than I did in my best workout before CIM…with less effort, more control and more relaxed running. It resulted in stepping on the track at the rabbit5000 and taking nearly 20 seconds off my 5K PR to run 14:03, just five days after winning the open race at the Bolder Boulder. The training also resulted in a 2+ minute PR for 25K with a 4th place finish at the USA Championships and splitting 1:03:16 for the half marathon, just two seconds off my PR. Although I did have a few clunker races in the build-up, I showed improvement over a range of the fitness spectrum and had carefully crafted my fitness for the marathon.

Photo Credit: Kristin McCandless / @mccorkl

Enter lesson 1: the marathon will teach you humility. My always supportive and incredibly encouraging wife Kristin came to Chicago, as well as both my parents, her parents, my coach and my agent.  Additionally, Aaron Braun was running Chicago and two of his teammates Scott Smith and Scott Fauble came out to set an ideal pace of 5:00-5:02/mi for the first 17 miles, which was a huge benefit to a large group of American athletes running Chicago - I’m very thankful for them for doing that for all of us. However, race morning I wake up to pouring rain and windy conditions. By the time I was on the start line, the rain had stopped but the roads were quite wet and slick.

The race started and it was time to run down my goal of setting a new marathon PR by executing another marathon race plan. However, it was quickly evident that each step I was slipping a little bit on the wet roads and therefore losing a bit of energy that was exaggerated as the pace picked up. At mile 3-4 I trusted my instincts to hold back a little bit more, and the group of guys led by pacers gapped me as I split 5:03 for mile 3-4. Between miles 3 and 14 I split 5:03-5:07 every single mile running solo. But, the wind picked up and it started raining and the effort felt more than that pace I was running. I looked up at the group and used positive self-talk to reassure myself I made the right decision to be patient as they slowly pulled away working together. I heard my wife and family cheering for me at halfway and gave them a smile and thumbs up, trying to keep the optimism for the second half of the race. However, for as easy as the first 14 miles were at CIM, the first 14 miles at Chicago were far from easy…both mentally and physically.

At mile 15, I caught Yuki Kawauchi who had fallen off the pace up front. Yuki’s a hero of many in the running community. Not only did he win Boston Marathon in April, he has the world record for the most sub 2:20 marathons (81+)! And much like me, he (currently) has a full-time job and career. When he won Boston, I felt that truly one of the good guys in the sport won, however, this was clearly not Yuki’s day to shine. My pace had started to slow to 5:10s, and when I caught him I told him, “stay with me Yuki.” When I caught him I said, “come on Yuki, stay with me” and tapped my side. I looked back a minute later and he was right on my tail and I said “good” to him. Enter lesson 2: the marathon will test your character.

Photo Credit: Adam Barcan / @barcanshoot

I was continuing to push into the wind, rain and wet roads where I felt I was putting more and more effort in yet was progressively slowing down. The vision in my mind’s eye that I rehearsed over and over again feeling strong, passing people and running down a PR were fleeting visions. At this time, I knew that I was going to have to be really tough, to dig really deep and to feed off the energy of running with a competitor, the crowd, and remain positive for the next 50 minutes.

Yuki stayed on my heels until about mile 21 at which point my pace slowed and he tried to push past me. Now it was my turn to latch onto him. We went back and forth over the last few miles many times. Once, he slipped on a turn, nearly fell and looked concerned - I said to Yuki “you’re okay, you’re good.” At this point, the rain and wind were fairly miserable and neither of us were running near where our goals were. But, we worked together to push each other to the best we could on “off” days. Although we slowed down, not a single competitor caught and passed us the entire race.

Photo Credit: Crash Kamon / @paws_and_pros_foto

Enter lesson 3: the marathon will always inspire you. By this point, it’s clear I’m not setting a PR and am going to finish far off my pre-race goals. In the last half mile we ran side by side, I led, he led, and we simply did everything we could to try and beat each other. Although we were both struggling and deep in the pain of the marathon, with 300m to go he found another gear and blew me away. There is no doubt in my mind that he found that gear from pure mental toughness. I’m inspired. Why couldn’t I have matched that surge? Although I may have been stronger from miles 15-21, ultimately his toughness and belief in himself proved he deserved to be one spot higher than me in the results.

Photo Credit: Crash Kamon / @paws_and_pros_foto

In conclusion, the marathon will teach you humility. It’s a fact that not every one of your marathons will go great. Another fact - it’s okay that not every marathon will go great…even Eliud Kipchoge lost a marathon once. Learn from each marathon, push yourself and others around you to do your best on that day, and ultimately, you’ll mature not only as a runner but as a human being from the experience. The marathon will certainly test your character every time you run it. It may be the weather, it may be the course, it may be your competitors, it may be internal battles, or it may be a combination of all of them. Take the test with optimism and know that even if you don’t ace the test, you may learn the most from the days you fall just short. Finally, the marathon will always inspire you. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to run with Yuki and experience his mental fortitude firsthand.

Although I did not leave Chicago with the shiny new marathon PR I was hoping for, I’m leaving with more gumption and inspiration than ever before. Always take the opportunity to find the positives and use that inspiration to fuel the work necessary, giving yourself the best chance to achieve your goal the next time around.

Photo Credit: Crash Kamon / @paws_and_pros_foto

rabbitPRO Tyler McCandless finished the 2018 Chicago Marathon in 2:16:37, good for 20th place in challenging conditions to say the least. Look for him to use all that he's learned not only in Chicago, but all of his other races, and find redemption the next time he pins a number on his chest.


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