Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Unreal Treadmill Sessions Push College Coach to Olympic Trials

Runners at the University of Illinois Springfield abide by two rules: Be a good person, and work harder than anyone else in the room.

Their coach, 26-year-old Tyler Pence, labors right alongside them, picking up trash during community service projects and logging up to 120-mile weeks in preparation for February’s Olympic Marathon Trials.

After a successful collegiate career, Pence wasn’t sure he’d continue running competitively. But when he headed back to his hometown to coach at UIS four years ago, he found himself motivated and challenged by his athletes. “I’m a big believer in practicing what you preach,” he told Runner’s World. “Here I am telling them what it takes to be good, and I wasn’t doing it at the time.”

By December 2018, his efforts paid off. In his second attempt at the distance, he ran 2:15:36 at the California International Marathon, finishing in 17th place and earning a Trials spot. At the same time, he’s led the UIS Prairie Stars from a brand-new program into contention for conference titles. The men’s cross-country team was the runner-up at the Great Lakes Valley Conference Championships in October, and the women placed sixth. And two of his runners, Taryn Christy and Blake Jones, qualified for this year’s NCAA Division II Cross-Country Championships.

“When you’re around hard workers, that’s contagious,” he said. “We hold each other accountable.”

His Trials training has also included a three-week stint at altitude in Colorado Springs over winter break, and he’ll line up at the Houston Half Marathon on January 19.

He doesn’t have a specific goal in Atlanta, and knows his first experience may come with a learning curve. As he tells his athletes, “You don't become great overnight.” Eventually, he hopes to mature into one of the fastest U.S. marathoners. He has big goals for his runners, too—for example, taking the full men’s and women’s cross-country teams to nationals next year—and he sees the two pursuits as entirely complementary.

His running has served as a valuable recruiting tool for the young coach, in addition to the personal fulfillment it brings. “I won’t be able to do this forever,” he said, of the dual roles. “But I don’t want to leave my life having questions of, ‘What if I would have tried?’”

This story appeared in Runners World on January 14, 2020.

Read the entire article online.