Tyler Pennel on base training

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Tyler Pennel competes in the World Half Marathon Championships earlier this year. Contributed photo.

Some may know Tyler Pennel from his prep days at Golden High School here in Colorado. Others may know him from his illustrious career at Western State which featured multiple All-American recognitions. Avid track and field fans may recognize him as a fierce competitor who pushed Dathan Ritzenhein to his max. General sports fans may know him from his appearance in Sports Illustrated's “Faces in the Crowd.” Still others may know him from his distance running blog as a ZAP Fitness athlete.  No matter how you know him, you know that Tyler Pennel is fast over long distances. Recently, Colorado Track XC had a chance to sit down with him and chat about the key to his success, where his endurance comes from, and how he sets his goals.
Colorado Track XC: In many ways you are a blue-collar professional runner. Correct me if I am wrong but you went from not being a Foot Locker finalist to competing with Rtiz. Walk us through that progression, what have been some key factors to your success?
Tyler: Yes you are correct, I did not make Footlocker while in high school. In fact I was pretty far from making it. I think there are quite a few reasons that have contributed to my success. One is the coaches that I have had. They have always seen my potential, even when I did not know myself. Also they have always seen the importance of my long-term development as an athlete. Having a solid base has been part of that development in all of my coaches’ philosophies. Without this base I know that I would not be as successful of a runner. 
A second factor that led to my success is that I have always had a good group to train with. In high school on the off seasons I would go and train with a club. There I found a group of guys that were right around the same level that I was, which led me to have some very big jumps and I found more motivation to continue running. At Western State I found a group of guys who were highly motivated and wanted to win. Having much of my success due to being with a good training group, I knew that as a professional I wanted to join a group. ZAP ended up being exactly what I was looking for. 
The last and most important factor for my success is that I have been healthy for more than three years now (knock on wood). Coach Vandenbusche at Western State would often give his "Ten Things to be a Successful Runner" speech. While I do not remember the first nine, he would always finish with, "Those previous nine things are useless, unless you can do number 10: Stay healthy." 
Colorado Track XC: How did off-seasons changed from HS to college?
Tyler: In high school I did not start running until my sophomore year and even then I did not run during the off season until my junior year. During college, there were two off seasons: one in the winter after cross country and the summer after track. During these times I would just be running miles, no workouts. I would run as I felt, some days would be faster and some days would be slower, but I was getting a good aerobic base. In the summer we would often do our long runs up in the mountains well above 10,000 feet. We would come back during the season very aerobically fit, only needing the workouts and races to get some speed in our legs.
Colorado Track XC: Looking back, what do you wish you had known coming out of HS and into college running? 
Tyler: One thing that I wish I knew coming out of high school is how to listen to my body; recognize when injuries were coming on or when I needed a day to back off and not run as fast. My current teammates and I talk about finding the red line where if you cross it you will get hurt. In college, I learned the hard way where my red line was. My first few years were interrupted with injuries that were all from overtraining. I would just keep pushing and pushing until I broke, and when I broke, it was usually pretty bad. All of my injuries took me out of commission for more than two months. Eventually, after 3 years, I did find where my red line was AND learned not to cross it.
Colorado Track XC: How has base training played a role in your running? How has it allowed you to progress?
Tyler: Base training has been a vital part of my training, and as I have progressed throughout my career. When I look back at my training, I can clearly see a trend of having a good base period followed by a big jump in performances with in the next few months. In college, I would often have a big jump in the fall after a summer of running lots of miles. The best example that I have is from this last fall (2013). I came into the summer running very well, and with big road races during the summer I knew that I could do well, but my coach and I talked it over and decided to end the season at the beginning of July. This was so that I would have a long base period before I would race again almost 4 months later. I took that time to build my miles and just enjoy the process of training. When I started racing again at the end of October, I was much better shape and had some breakthrough performances, like qualifying for the World Half Marathon Championships. I think that without my big base period, I would not have had those break through races.
Colorado Track XC: How do you set goals for yourself?
Tyler: I base my goals off of what I have [accomplished] and what I think I can accomplish. At the beginning of each year I itt down with my coach and have a meeting about my goals for the year. We both share our thoughts on what I think I should accomplish, which is usually very similar. Also before big races we sit down and determine goals for the upcoming race.