Only a matter of hours now until the 50k World Championships kick off in Dohar, Qatar. New England will be represented out there as local stud Tyler Andrews will be suiting up for Team USA and running with some other top Americans such as Zach Ornelas and Camille Herron.
Some background on Tyler and how he made it to Dohar…
At the end of 2014 after qualifying for the Olympic Trials Marathon, I sat down with my coach to talk about goals for the coming year. The biggest focus was to prepare to run well at the 2016 Trials, but that left a fair amount of time for some other intermediate steps. We began looking at races for the 2015 calendar with the tentative goals of running some personal bests and also trying to make a US National Team.
One race that seemed like an interesting experiment was the US 50K National Championships. The timing worked out pretty well in my spring build-up and it was a qualifier for the US National Team to the 50K World Championships, to be held in Doha in the late Fall. And so, I started emailing some of my HOKA ONE ONE teammates – guys like Mike Wardian – who had experience with the ultra distances and began asking for advice. I had done some long runs in training of up to 28 miles (45km), but the idea of really racing 50km seemed quite intimidating. The marathon still felt excruciatingly far.
But, somehow I ended up on the start line in Caumsett, NY for the US 50K National Championship on March 1. I felt good about my fitness and build-up and felt confident in my ability to contend for my first national title and team selection. The race was going well until about the 14km point. Partly thanks to a snow storm which had begun shortly after the race, I stepped into a pothole and torqued my hamstring in a way that immediately caused me to start limping.
I was in a lot of pain but stayed in the race to see if I could “run it off” after a few miles. By about 20km, I had dropped off of the lead pack and was just about ready to drop out when I saw one of the three in front of me walking on the side of the race-course (meaning I was now in third). I knew that third place might still earn me a team spot, so I decided to hang in for as long as I could until I got passed. I figured this would be fairly soon, but it seemed like a lot of runners were having less than ideal days. Somehow, I made it to 45km and saw the runner in second who looked like he was really struggling. I ended up catching him at about 49km and finished 2nd.
It was absolutely brutal race. I found out afterward that I had a minor hamstring tear from the pothole incident. I was lucky in my recovery and I wouldn’t recommend anyone run 36km with what could have been a serious injury Still, in finishing second, I knew that I now had a chance to qualify for the US Team. Only the winner was given an auto-spot and so it wasn’t until the middle of August that I actually received confirmation from USATF that I’d been selected.
Now, I’m on a plane passing over Iceland with my first ever USA singlet tucked safely in my carry on. It was a bit rougher road than I would have hoped for a year ago, but here we are.
Training has been going super well – hit a new all-time mileage high of 164, lots of great long runs with long sections at goal 50K race pace (~3’20-25/km) – Hartford was one of those. Feel like I’m in a great spot to do something cool at worlds and then take that big 50K engine and fine tune it down to marathon speed for the Trials.
Here’s a little Q&A with Tyler to get you warmed up for it:
How much more mileage is this than what you had been doing? Clearly you’re a volume guy, but what would you view your limit as?
I think I can be called a “volume guy” in that my body has been able to respond well to heavy volume and I’ve been able to withstand the stress of consistently high mileage. I’ve always worked to push the limits of what I do in training every block and every season. For a long time, that meant increasing volume gradually and consistently.
There has come a point, though, in the past year or so where my coach and I have begun to back away from higher mileage as the main increase in training stimulus. I think we are coming up to what you called a “limit” to mileage but what I would probably call a point of diminishing returns. That is, there may still be some gains to running higher volume, but I think that those gains are increasingly insignificant while the risks are increasingly high.
So, this build-up has not been that different from others in terms of overall volume. My peak volume in the last 12 weeks was about 160 miles; this is quite comparable with my spring season. The biggest difference is how that mileage was distributed. Since the 50K is such a long race, my coach and I wanted to focus on doing a lot of longer singles. This sometimes meant just having an easy day be a 15-16 mile run in the morning and a 6-7 mile run in the afternoon. Or, sometimes we would do very long runs (in terms of minutes) as easy days. I did several runs in the 2h50-3h00 range, which is something I’d never done before.
You certainly are building a big 50k engine. When you do put that to use in the marathon, how much time do you think you can shave off of your PR?
This 50K is really a stepping stone towards the Olympic Marathon Trials in February. Part of why this seemed like a good idea from the start was because of the timing with relation to the Trials. We generally look at a marathon build-up in two chunks – the first one focusing on strength, with lots of longer runs at slower than marathon pace, and the second with lots of marathon-specific work, running long intervals and continuous runs right at goal marathon pace. This initial period of strength has lined up well with my training for the 50K, so I feel very strong and ready to run that distance.
I do think that this sets me up well as I return to training after this race and begin to focus more on the marathon. I’ve touched my goal marathon pace some in the last few months, but mostly I’ve been running much faster for shorter intervals or a bit slower for longer periods. I had a great last long-run, though, where I ran 25km with the last 20km around 2h14 marathon pace.
I think it’s a bit too early to start thinking about specific time and pace goals for February (and the specific day can change everything anyway), but I do feel like I’m in a great place with 11 weeks to go.
You have lots of experience in racing overseas and at altitude. What is the biggest challenge in racing so far from home?
For me, the biggest challenge is definitely the logistics of traveling and getting settled in a different and far-away place. I’ve had some crazy race experiences (there was a 30 hour journey to Trujillo, Peru when I was living in Ecuador), but I’ve found that as long as I allow myself time to recover from travel, I can still race well. One of the things my coach and I talked about before this trip to Doha was to basically expect to feel really bad for a few days. I’ve got a 14 hour red-eye flight, an 8-hour time difference, it’s going to be 80 degrees – just very different and somewhat stressful on the body. I think if you can be prepared for that mentally and not let yourself get freaked out because you don’t feel perfect or you didn’t get your normal training or pre-race runs in, then you’ll be fine. Once you get to the starting line – it’s just another race!
All of the details of Tyler’s training can be found on his blog, where he posts everything publicly each week. You can also find out the story about that 30 hour journey to Trujillo there. Best of luck to Tyler and the rest of Team USA!