Monday, 20 December 2010

Wykes-- 2:12:39!! How? What now?

If you're a fan of serious running, you'd have to have been living under a rock not to have heard about P-K athlete* Dylan Wykes' breakthrough victory in the California International Marathon a couple of weeks ago. (And, for those of you just crawling out from under a rock to read this: Dylan Wykes ran 2:12:39 to win the CIM, one of the top 15 times ever run by a Canadian marathoner; and, living under a rock is not good for your running!). While not quite fast enough to put Dylan on the 2012 team straight away (and a small net course drop, plus its point-to-point layout, would have disqualified this time for consideration in any case), this performance places him very much in the mix, along with Reid Coolsaet (already made the COA standard with his 2:11:23 in Toronto this fall), Eric Gillis (right behind Reid with a 2:12:06), and Simon Bairu (yet to complete a marathon, but by far the fastest of the bunch in terms of road and track bests); in the mix in terms of performance, to be sure, but also in terms of his belief that he is fully capable of avoiding being the odd-man-out within this talented group come final selection time (only 3 athletes will go to London, even if all four achieve the COA standard of 2:11:29).

Dylan has spoken at length about his outstanding performance in his blog and in a lengthy interview with Flotrack, but I thought I'd offer some of my own perspective on how he got there and what it all means, having had a unique and very close perspective on his development lo these past 5 years.

Dylan's run seem to have caught many observers off-guard. Indeed, Dylan's own delighted but somewhat surprised finish line reaction shows that he himself had perhaps been wondering if he had something like this in him-- or, if he did, if it would ever come out at the right time and place. And marathoning is indeed a tricky business, making every performance in which outright disaster is avoided both a joy and an enormous relief, with a truly great performance inducing something approaching pure, god-glimpsing ecstasy. And, indeed, this run of Dylan's should have been a surprise to people; but, not because he had not shown the ability to run this fast. His debut 2:15, on what was, by contemporary standards, a fairly modest build-up, clearly showed that he had the potential to one day run 2:12 or faster. The surprise, then, should not have been that he did it at all, but that he did it so soon.

What many failed to understand is that realizing one's potential in the marathon is a long term process, and Dylan had only just begun his journey down this path. In an era of endemic attention deficit disorder, it may have seemed ages since Dylan's excellent 2:15 debut in Rotterdam; and, after two consecutive runs in the 2:16-18 range, those without an understanding of the event, or a knowledge of the details (including atmospheric conditions and performance relative to his competitors) of his post-Rotterdam marathon attempts may have begun to conclude that he had "plateaued" at his debut level. The truth is, however, that the total time between Dylan's debut and his run at the CIM was 32 months! To drop from a debut of 2:15 down into the 2:12 range between the ages of 25 and 27 is certainly not unprecedented, but it is remarkable, particularly for an athlete with relatively little road racing experience, and who has only barely broken 29mins (once) and 1:04 for HM (twice). Examples abound, but consider by contrast the fact that it took Canadian record holder Jerome Drayton 6 years and several performances as slow as 2:16 to finally lower his then Canadian record of 2:11 down to where it sits today (2:10:09). Dylan's CIM performance only confirms what his debut race back in 08 clearly suggested: That he is an athlete with the ability to run a marathon in the 2:10-11 range, given sufficient time to develop. In fact, he has a special aptitude for the event and a developmental momentum that could well carry him past his currently faster and more experienced (i.e. in terms of high level racing) compatriots-- Mssrs Coolsaet, Gillis and Bairu (with all due respect)!

The question, then, is how did he managed to go from 2:15:12 to 2:12:29 so quickly, and in spite of not having lowered any of his personal bests for 5k to HM during this period? The short answer is that he remained relentless in his determination to improve in this event, and left no stone unturned in pursuit of an edge. Even at rest between his marathons, Dylan was seeking out new means of doing things a little better next time. As his coach for 5 years, I can attest that he never let me or anyone else do all of this thinking for him. Instead, he read and studied, and took advantage of the wide circle of experience and expertise in which he found himself. The result was that he (with the help of first me and later his B.C. coach Rich Lee) attempted to make adjustments and improvements in each of his successive marathon build-ups, and to add slightly more total volume to his regimen, from 95-100 miles per week in mostly single sessions during his first build-up to over 120mpw in double sessions in his latest one. The main stimulus remained the same-- very long sessions with significant portions at or slightly faster than marathon pace/effort-- but the details altered in subtle ways each time. Among these was the greater use of conventional track intervals during the latest build-up (something that, with the lack of suitable training partners and usable track, it would have been impossible to do properly here in Kingston). The ability to run high speed track sessions in the middle of a marathon build-up, Dylan has said, gave him confidence that he was becoming not just a better prepared marathoner, but a faster distance runner overall.

Other factors accounting for this sudden drop were simply that he had spent the past two and a half years dedicated to improving in the marathon, and that this was his fourth attempt during that period; and, that he was, for the first time in his life, a truly full-time athlete this fall. Adding together all of his build-ups since he began training for the marathon in January of 2008, Dylan has spent roughly half of the past 3 years training for or recovering from a marathon, thus accumulating tremendous physiological and psychological benefits in a relatively short period of time. When the opportunity finally presented itself to focus all of his energies on training and recovering, the result was predictable-- or as predictable as marathoning ever gets!

In terms of the basic supports of his training-- those elements not specifically related to run-programming itself-- Dylan has also made continual improvements over the past couple of years: from quitting his full-time job and going to grad school; to establishing a long term personal relationship (not to say he was ever lonely or desperate in this regard before!); to nearing completion of his M.A. here at Queen's; to availing himself of a great, year-round training climate and regular partners out in B.C. Among all of my local athletes, school-based and otherwise, Dylan was the only one without regular training partners. And, he was the only one training specifically for the marathon on a regular basis. Relocating to B.C. over the past few months has supplied the final ingredients necessary to reach his goal of representing Canada in 2012, and there is most likely where he will spend the next couple of years, at least.

*With his now likely permanent relocation to B.C. and membership in Rich Lee's group, Dylan will not remain a formal member of P-K beyond the end of 2010. I'm sure, however, that he will always consider himself a "member at large", due to his long-standing connection to the group here in Kingston. And the group will continue to root strongly for him as he progresses towards 2012. Being close friends with Rich, and very like-minded in all things running related, I will remain a part of Dylan's inner advisory circle for as long as we both think my input adds value. Having always encouraged him to do what he feels in necessary to reach the next level (and actually fully agreeing that the move to B.C. and into Rich's group is necessary towards that end), I'm happy to see him move on in this way. As I have said on many occasions, Dylan is a model athlete and a pleasure to work with. It has always been clear to both of us, however, that his progress as an athlete, and not any personal enjoyment we may have gained from working together, was the bottom line in our relationship.


Anonymous Greg Lehman said...

Wonderful insight Steve. A pleasure to read. Hope all is well.

Greg Lehman (now in Toronto)

13 January 2011 at 20:47  

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