Interview #14 - Dylan Wykes

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Dylan Wykes interview by Steve Weiler, Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

Photo: 2019 Canadian 10k champs in Ottawa

Steve Weiler: Hey Dylan, tell me something nice!

Dylan Wykes: Well first, thanks for having me on! And I must say, Malindi Elmore is a tough act to follow, her and her family seem to be thriving in this pandemic. Over here, we are very much in the surviving category. Nonetheless, some very nice moments amongst the chaos. I'm typing with sore and swollen hands from some manual labour. Building a fence and a play structure in the backyard for the kiddos. That's been a nice experience. We live in such a fast paced world that we often just look for the quickest solution to a problem. in this case I suppose that would've been to buy some sort of crappy plastic pre-made play structure. But to slow things down a bit and go through the process of really building something from scratch was really fun, interesting, and rewarding. And it was nice to try to get the kids involved in the process a bit and now to see them out enjoying it, though I'm still in the middle of building the fence!

SW: Back in the 90s, as a fellow EOSSAA competitor, I had the privilege of watching a young Dylan Wykes in his early high school races. Can you share a bit about your years at Frontenac SS and how that shaped you?

DW: Frontenac SS was a great environment for me to develop as an athlete. We had a really strong team atmosphere. I believe we had 40-50 kids on the cross country team and often had several teams competing at OFSAA. Dave Grant did a great job of creating a fun environment where we also worked hard. I had some great mentors there as well. In grade 9 I got to train with Krestena Sullivan, who had just finished up a stellar carreer at Villanova. We were the same speed and did workouts together for a year, while she was at Teachers College in Kingston. She taught me a lot during that year about how to manage my expectations and enjoy the highs and the lows.

There was also a great passion and excitement for the sport on the team. I was genuinely excited to show up everyday and put in my best. I think that went a long way in my development.

I really feel for all the high school kids in the Kingston area, right now, trying to train alone, without their teammates, friends, and coaches. I can't imagine how difficult it is to stay motivated. But, my advice - keep going, keep listening to your coaches and the solo training will be worth it when we can all get back to training together and racing.

SW: Sounds like a great environment. Doesn't hurt that you had a wonderful nearby training venue in Lemoine Point, which at that time was still in use for races as well. What were some of your favourite training and racing venues from those years?

DW: Lemoine's would be at the top of the list for sure. I raced cross country there going back to my elementary school days. I remember at that time I just loved the feeling of running fast through the narrow trails in the woods. I also grew up close to Lemoine's so ran there a lot. We trained at RMC a lot too. Mostly on the soccer fields, which keep getting smaller and smaller as they put up more buildings. But we had a ~1km grass loop there that we hammered out reps on. I didn't really run anywhere else as a kid. I only ran about 30-50k per week. So I didn't do a lot of exploring. In terms of racing, I loved the course at Trinity College in Port Hope. That hill (I think they called it Mountain Something!) was killer. And the meet they hosted there early in the season was always stacked.

Photo: Canadian cross country in Kingston in 2018

SW: Key transitions are often an interesting part of runners’ stories; can you, first, detail your transition between collegiate running to your peak road racing years?

DW: Yes, those transitions are most definitely difficult. For me, sadly, I got a stress fracture in my sacrum in my senior year at Providence College. So, I left there having not trained for the final 4 months of University and not really sure what place running would have in my life. I moved back to Kingston and Steve Boyd starting coaching me. He was pivotal in getting me back into it. Both from a training standpoint and just in terms of exuding an enjoyment of the sport that rubbed off on me. I remember starting back up with a workout of 6 x 400m. It was such a low volume workout. But Steve had a plan and things came back together nicely over that summer. I was injury free and enjoying training again. At the end of the summer I actually moved to Australia for 5 months, where my dad was doing a teacher exchange. Boyd continued to coach me and I was lucky to fall into a really good running club and scene in Australia. It was in 2005 and everyone there was getting amped up for the Commonwealth Games set to take place in March of 2006. I started racing on the track circuit there and started running PB's.

The transition from there, upon returning home was more difficult. I decided to go back to Providence, RI and took a full time job working as a research assistant at brown university. I continued to try to race primarily track, but it was really diffciult with a full time job. I wasn't able to go to Europe for the track season there and I found myself not having many racing opportunities. So, this is when I started road racing. Steve had a strong road racing background, so he wasn't against it. And the New England area has such a rich history of road racing that there were many opportunities to race. It definitely wasn't a traditional transition, as I was pretty young (22-23 years old) to be doing a lot of road racing. But, I was still working on all of the key development areas (I think), thanks to Steve.

SW: Can you describe the community support you received during your peak years. I can't help but have noticed several signed pictures adorning my favourite watering hole - shout out to KBC!

DW: The support from the community in both Kingson and where I ended up living for many years, Vancouver, were really great, especially around the build up to the 2012 Olympics. KBC went as far as to name a beer after me, Wykes' Gold, I believe it was called. Anytime I returned to Kingston during those years I made a point of connecting with the Physi-Kult group. It was really great to watch, from afar, some of the young kids in the group at that time develop. And I felt really connected to a lot of the individuals in that group, even though I wasn't around very much. Al Cantlay from Runner's Choice was also a wonderful support and organized some fundraising events that went a long way for me. The folks out in Vancouver were great too. Particularly Peter Butler from Forerunners. He was a fantastic supporter throughout my career. I trained pretty much alone during those years and often the only person I was communicating with on a regular basis was my coach, Rich Lee. But I felt really connected to the running communities in both cities the entire time.

SW: There was perhaps never a better time than right now to remind runners of the importance of community when running alone! Your next major transition was moving away from high performance sport, which can often be a harsh transition with little to no support. What has that looked like for you?

DW: I really don't think anyone can properly prepare you for when your high performance days come to an end. For me it was after failing to qualify for the 2016 Olympics that I gave up on the goal of really trying to achieve my absolute best in running. But it was difficult because there isn't really much closure in that process. It's not as though you can just go from being focused on high performance goals for 16+ years to immediately doing something else. I was lucky to have a young family at the time and I really threw myself into being a dad. I was a full time stay at home dad for a while. I didn't really know what my relationship was with running at that time, but I knew I wanted to stay involved in the great community that had embraced me. So, that was the impetus for coaching. For me that was much more a desire to be a part of a community than to really hone my craft as a coach.

I think I did a decent job of finding new things that I was passionate about; family and coaching. But I definitely still missed running at a high performance level and struggled for a number of years to really come to a place where I could make sense of what running meant to me.

SW: Do you have any other favourite memories, or anything at all, that you’d like to share before we get into the Finishing Kick?

DW: Obviously the 2012 Olympics is a favourite memory of mine. But, I think the past few years have been the most rewarding for me. Finding a balance between family, work and running is pretty great.

Let's get into the Finishing Kick! I was just reminiscing yesterday about my finishing kick at last years Ottawa 10k!

SW: Okay, rapid round Q&A: Favourite race distance?

DW: Half marathon

SW: Favourite post-run beer?

DW: Dominion City Sunsplit IPA

SW: Can you please tell them not to sell out so quickly; us Kingstonians haven't been able to order any this spring! Favourite running route (any city)?

DW: Pacific Spirit Park trails, starting from the Ranger Station, in Vancouver.

SW: Complete the song lyrics or song title (for the 1st one): 1. How to Disappear
a) A Little Bit
b) Completely
c) Mostly

DW: B

SW: 2. (blank) 'round the wailing world
a) Ran
b) Hopped
c) Circumnavigated

DW: A - love some future Islands

SW: 3. We ain't going to the town; we're going to
a) get some ice cream!
b) the majestic ocean
c) the city

DW: C!

SW: And final question, what is the most valuable kind of ship?

DW: Friendship!

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