As I sit here on a flight back to Colorado, I cannot help but smile. The past week has really been a dream come true. When I decided to try for the Kauai Marathon Speed Challenge back in May/June I was excited for the opportunity ahead. What I didn’t imagine was that I would leave the Garden Isle with many new friends and a true sense of the saying ‘aloha spirit’ where Hawaiian’s truly enjoy life. If I would have come back from Kauai with a DNF and a loss to my bank account, this would still have been one of my favorite race experiences simply due to the wonderful people I’ve met these last few days.
The dream trip all started when I was on the six hour flight from Los Angeles to Lihue and was lucky enough to have an entire row of seats to myself. I curled up in the fetal position and dreamed of a great week with a race I trained with ultimate determination. After running both the California International Marathon (2:17:22) and Grandma’s Marathon (2:17:09), which are both net downhill and fast courses, I was looking forward to the challenge this hot, hilly, and humid marathon presented. After deboarding in Lihue, I went to Enterprise for my rental car. I had spent hours researching rental car coupon codes and was able to find one that eliminated my under 25 year old fee and gave me a discount. Taking my car total from $380 to only $192 for the week I was pretty excited! What really made the week was that they were out of compact cars, so I was given a Ford Mustang Convertible! I then drove to the place I was staying for the week, located a few miles inland of Kapa’a. I could not afford a hotel on the island, but I found a weekly rental through AirBNB.com for only about $40/night! I pulled into the driveway and meet my host Mary, who basically becomes my Kauai mom for the week. After having a delicious home-made pizza with pineapple, zucchini, peppers, garlic, basil, tomatoes, and avocadoes that were all grown on her property, I headed to bed on that Monday night thinking of how I could perfectly prepare for the marathon on Sunday.
Every day of the week I went to bed between 7:30pm-8:30pm so that I could get up at around 3-3:30AM to make breakfast before running at 6AM on a flat bike path along the ocean. I wanted to run everyday at 6AM because that was the same time the race started. I had trained specifically for the heat by wearing full sweats in the dry heat of Colorado and was pleasantly surprised when a 4 mile tempo in 20:24 on Tuesday at 6AM felt relatively easy and cool. That day I drove the course, while forgetting to wear a hat with the top down in the convertible was a poor decision as I winded up with sunburn on my scalp, and realized just how challenging the course is. It was definitely going to be the hilliest run, never-the-less race, of my life. There were no flat sections on the entire course with brutal hills in the open sun. I knew I needed to negative split to get under the 2:30 barrier. I spent the rest of the week being very conservative. Almost every time I went out to eat I used a coupon I had found and printed online or found in a local coupon booklet. I hit the Safeway grocery store for the essential foods for the week too. My only splurge before the race was a 5 hour deep sea fishing charter, which of course I found a direct-booking discount that saved me more than 30%. Ironically, the ship capsized the next morning and was front headline in the paper next to an article with a picture of me preparing for the marathon.
On Friday afternoon I went down to Poi’pu to the race expo and received my first taste of the aloha spirit the marathon staff and volunteers had. After several great conversations with Jeff Sacchini who was the race founder, JT Service who won the inaugural Kauai Marathon, Bart Yasso of Runnersworld, Bob Craver the race director, and many other excellent staff from the race, I couldn’t wait to toe the line at 6AM Sunday morning to try and compete for the win while breaking the 2:30 barrier. They welcomed me to the Kauai Marathon running community and was very gracious to attend dinners on Friday night and Saturday night.
The night before the race I actually had a little trouble sleeping. I was not nervous at all but filled with excitement and the anticipation of the 26.2 mile challenge ahead. I had done everything to prepare for this race, from 23 mile long runs on Magnolia Road at 8200-9000ft where I only took an electrolyte drink, to heat training, to waking up at 3:30am to run at 6AM every morning, to coming to Kauai five days early to finish acclimatization to the heat, to even letting my hair grow until the day before I left for the race for an added heat training effect. Regardless if it did or not, it felt awesome to lose 3 inches of hair off my head. I purchased a $20 hair clippers instead of going to Supercuts and spending $15 every couple of months. I had researched the course months in advance, I knew the average temperature and dewpoint for Kauai in early September, looked at my competitors recent results, examined the weather in relation to the averages the last two years. I had left no stone unturned in my quest to try and win and break the 2:30 barrier.
The race, of course, exceeded expectations and had plenty of port-o-potties, water, Gatorade, coffee, food for those that wanted it, gels, etc. Why would I expect anything less from one of the most organized races I’ve ever done? The start was exactly at 6AM after several Hawaiian customs with torches lighting the sides of the road. Several seconds after the start, I’m hanging in a group of a couple talented East Africans, Mike Wardian, and another American. We cruised the first 8 miles uphill, into the wind, temperatures 75F with a dewpoint temperature around 70F (exactly the temperature and dewpoint I had anticipated), and through the magnificent tree tunnel splitting consistent 5:30s – significantly under the 5:43 pace we needed to run for sub 2:30. On the downhill, a major move was made and I relaxed behind the East Africans and I split 5:07 and 4:59. I knew I needed extra calories during this hot, humid, and hilly course, so I tucked a GU Roctane gel in my shorts and took that at mile 4. At mile 8 there was an aid station with GU and I grabbed two, taking one instantly and putting the other in my shorts, which I took at mile 12. At mile 14 there was another GU aid station and I grabbed another two, taking half of one then and saving the second one for mile 17. On the way back I grabbed two more gels at mile 21, taking half of one and saving the other in case I really need it.
The race had well organized and helpful aid stations almost every mile and I proceeded to use every single one, grabbing at least two swallows of water each time. I had trained by depleting my body on a lot of the runs at high altitude but now I was trying to keep getting energy (calories) and hydrating. Two East Africans and I had crossed half-way in 1:12:30, which I was a little worried might be a little too quick and could be a challenge to negative split. During a long uphill climb during mile 15 I dropped one of the East Africans and it was left to only two of us. The other East African threw in a big surge from 16-18 with mile splits in the 5:07-5:19 range on net uphill miles. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw Mary, my Kauai mom & host, and her son Michael out on the course cheering for me as well as a big sign that was made by a new friend Gary, whose daughter is actually the captain of the cross country team I help coach at Centaurus High School. The sign said “#1 Tyler McCandless #1” with a Penn State hat on it. Gary and his wife Helen both embody the aloha spirit, loving life and having fun. I was repeating in my head to not make any more until a long climb after mile 20, but all of a sudden the last East African drops back and I’m left in control of the pace so I push slightly forward and immediately create a huge gap. At that point I knew I had the race won and I would crush 2:30 if I didn’t blow up. I decided to just keep the same pace even though I was running 20-30s per mile faster than I needed because I feared cramping or seizing up if I changed my stride and/or pace. The last six miles were some of the most fun, yet scariest miles, I’ve ever run. I was running past the half-marathoners/marathoners (going in the other direction) who were all cheering, I had a camera crew focused on me hanging out of a jeep, the race founder Jeff on a vespa, and a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean. The last six miles are a net downhill and I started to really cruise. At mile 25 I still felt fine and knew the time was mine, so I started to enjoy it. I gave the hang loose sign to the crowd and soaked it in. I hit my watch at mile 26 to stun myself with a 4:45 mile split! I had done everything to prepare for this race. Besides running a ton of miles, I had done the heat training, practiced hilly long runs without calories, studied the course, and mentally prepared for a challenging race. The feeling when I knew I had accomplished my goal was unlike anything else – the ultimate runner’s high- and I enjoyed it by smiling as I came across the finish line (see video HERE).
I cannot thank everyone enough for the support, encouragement, and congratulations on this race. I’ve never experienced so many facebook posts/messages, text messages, phone calls, tweets, and conversations as I did from this event. I feel that I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have the friends that I do. You all help so much. Those days when it was 95F and I was putting a warm-up jacket over a long sleeve t-shirt were easier to do because I know I have friends that support me. A huge thank you to all of the aid station volunteers and everyone at the Kauai Marathon for the perfectly organized, fun, and exciting event. I hope to carry the ‘aloha spirit’ back with me in training and racing from now on. Also a big thank you is needed to my sponsors Mizuno and Honey Milk and my supporters Chia Chargers, Sigvaris, GU Energy, Evol Foods, and Julbo USA. Without their support I would never be able to train and compete at the level I am trying to. Lastly, Race Founder Jeff Sacchini and wife Liz, thank you so much for all of your kindness and hospitality. You’ve certainly reached your goal of creating a major marathon on the garden island!
Some fantastic articles below. Thanks Robin Jumper for the press releases and information!