HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
At age 38, elite endurance runner Dylan Wykes of Ottawa can finally say he has started and finished the Boston Marathon.
Wykes has had three Boston Marathon experiences, but it all came together Oct. 11, 2021, in the first-ever, fall version of the 42.195-kilometre race. He finished in 30th place in a time of two hours, 21 minutes, 45 seconds and was the third Canadian male runner.
As a student/athlete at Providence College in 2003, he had a curbside seat, so to speak, of what the famous American spring marathon was all about.
He was part of a group of students, who drove about an hour to Boston and planted themselves at Newton Hills, which have often been referred to as Heartbreak Hills. From kilometres 25 to 36, the tiring runners must conquer four hills, which have two- to four-per-cent grades.
“It was the first time I had seen the Boston Marathon,” Wykes said in a recent interview.
The students cheered marathoners of all levels because at that point in the gruelling race they needed that encouragement to push them over the hills.
“The longest distance I had run at that point was 10 kilometres,” he continued. “I thought it (Boston Marathon) was cool. I figured one day I would run it.”
That day came in 2015, when Wykes, who had represented Canada at the 2009 world championships (33rd, 2:18:00) and the 2012 Summer Olympics (20th, 2:15:26), went to the Boston Marathon start line.
But he only lasted eight kilometres in that mid April adventure. He had to withdraw because of a pulled calf muscle.
Four years later, Wykes placed 33rd at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2:22.50, which qualified him for the 2020 Boston Marathon. But he had to put that goal on a pandemic pause as last year’s Boston Marathon was cancelled because of the health and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19.
That 2021 Boston Marathon was postponed in the spring, but rescheduled for the fall. He was ready to tackle the Hopkinton-to-Boston course, which would be his third marathon since the 2012 Olympics.
Not qualifying for the 2016 Canadian Olympic team, dealing with injuries and generally just taking time off pulled Wykes away from the marathon and its heavy training load. In the years leading up to the 2012 Olympics, he would run two marathons a season.
“I was part of the elite field of 50 runners and we started ahead of everyone else. It was tough to keep up with the front runners,” said Wykes, who finished six seconds shy of 12 minutes behind winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya in 2:09:51.
“I was trying to run my own race and go under 2:25. I ran with another Canadian (Thomas Toth, first Canadian in 2:21:01) and we worked together. We used the energy from the crowd to pull us through. It didn’t go quite to plan for me, but it was a good enough result.”
In the second half of the race, Wykes came across Newton Hills again. This time he was on the road sweating it out and not on the curbside as a motivational cheerleader for the masses.
“It was tough the whole way. The hills at Newton are historic and as tough as they are labelled to be. The course was tough. It was a humid day. And you had to be focused to stick with it,” he added.
He praised the course-lined spectators for their meaningful role.
“They helped a lot. It’s tough to be on your own and constantly motivating and pacing yourself,” explained Wykes, who is in the twilight of his career as a high-performance athlete.
Wykes and his wife Francine Darroch have two children, ages five and seven, and he’s co-founder with Ottawa pro cyclist Michael Woods and a coach of the 450-athlete Mile2Marathon running club.
Wykes went to the Boston Marathon not only to run, but also to coach five Ottawa runners in the race.
He did resist putting on his recruiting hat as the elite athlete co-ordinator for the 2022 Ottawa Race Weekend to bring top marathoners to Ottawa May 28-29 for the first in-person marathon since 2019.
“I haven’t started recruiting yet. I’ll start in January or February and put together the pieces,” he said.
Meanwhile, K2J Fitness of Barrhaven sent a team to the Boston Marathon. Here are the club’s results: Michael Blois, 800th overall, 2:58.23; Stephanie Gordon, 1616th overall, 165th woman, ninth Canadian woman, 3:12.25 (personal best); Jeff Smart, 3:19:19; John Tegano, 3:20:32; Mike Yates, 3:51:45; and Judy Andrew Piel, 40th in women’s 50-59 age class, 4:38:35.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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