Penn State Track Alum Tyler McCandless Hopes Third Time Is The Charm At Olympic Trials

“Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

This quote takes on a literal meaning for Penn State track and field alumnus, Tyler McCandless. Next February, he’ll compete in Atlanta at the Olympic trials in hopes of making the Unites States’ marathon team for next year’s Tokyo games. It’ll be his third attempt to qualify for the Olympics.

However, competing in marathons and training for the Olympic trials was never what he had in mind as a kid.

Growing up an avid soccer player, McCandless had dreamed about playing for the Penn State men’s soccer team since he was in the fourth grade. This dream changed after he joined his high school’s track team freshman year to get in shape for the upcoming soccer season. After his sophomore soccer season, McCandless decided to focus solely on running cross country and track. That decision ended up working out for him, as he went on to continue his track career at Penn State.

He competed on Penn State’s track and field team from 2006-2010 in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races. In his senior year, he achieved All-American status in the 10,000 meter race.

After graduating with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in meteorology in 2010, McCandless moved to Boulder, Colorado. That December, he ran in his debut marathon in a time of 2 hours and 17 minutes and qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials.

“Once I had that initial success and had a really good debut marathon, I was pretty much hooked on road-racing in marathons,” said McCandless.

He was one of the youngest competitors at the 2012 trials and he finished in the middle pack of runners. His first time competing gave him some insight for what to expect in in round two.

McCandless has competed in the Chicago Marathon, Los Angeles Marathon, and New York City Marathon. Most of the marathons he’s competed in, however, have been at the US Championships. The best finish of his career came at the US Championships last year when he took second place.

McCandless prepares for the trials the same way he would for any other marathon, but says there’s a noticeable difference while training for the Olympic trials as opposed to other marathons. Then, maintaining a positive attitude and balancing the pressure are more challenging than ever.

“Balancing that pressure with the appropriate level of enthusiasm I think is very difficult,” McCandless said. “Because the marathon is not an event where you get a lot of practice at it. You can do one or two a year, and it’s easy to put a ton of pressure on that one specific day for two hours.”

Olympic trials or not, each race McCandless has competed in has been a learning experience, whether that meant making sure he was wearing the proper sneakers or preparing for drastic weather changes. However, the most important lesson he’s learned is the patience it takes to run a great marathon.

McCandless isn’t preparing or finding that patience on his own. He’s coached by former world champion and Welsh marathon runner Steve Jones, who set the world record at the 1984 Chicago Marathon.

The two had first known each other through the running community. And after they met for coffee, McCandless was convinced he wanted Jones as his coach. Jones began coaching McCandless shortly after the 2012 Olympic marathon trials and has been coaching him for the last six and a half years.

“Having a long term dedication to the process and focusing on consistency and making the appropriate next steps in training and racing really allowed us to mature together and to learn from races and training and make adjustments and also just enjoy the journey along the way,” McCandless said.

Jones has also been a great source of motivation for McCandless in preparing for the trials. He’s pushed McCandless in training to help shave time off of his personal best times for half-marathons and marathons.

After working with Jones for a few years, McCandless competed in Los Angeles in 2016 for his second Olympic trials. In the race, he started out strong, but the California heat affected his performance and ultimately led to him missing the cut for the second time.

Unlike his first two trials, McCandless currently has the seventh fastest qualifying time out of all the competitors who will compete in Atlanta, meaning he is a real contender for the Olympic team.

“Going in for 2020, I feel like I have not only the confidence that I’ll run a faster time and I’m more relevant to the front of the pack,” he said. “But I also have the confidence in the mistakes that I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned.”

McCandless will compete in Atlanta in the Olympic marathon trials on February 29, 2020. He’ll need to finish in the top three to qualify for the Olympics.

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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