Dylan Wykes cannot be sure how he’ll feel when he arrives at the Olympic Games later this month, he has never lived the experienced, can’t imagine what emotions will course through him.
He does know, however, that after a long and arduous journey, one that saw him step back from the precipice of retirement at the very last moment, that the time will be special.
“I think there’s going to be a bit of ‘wow’ factor,” the Canadian marathoner said. “It’ll really be special, a sense of satisfaction that everything has come together and I’ve achieved my goal.”
It will be a wonderful feeling, one he never expected to have scant few moths ago.
Wykes, a native of Kingston who now lives and trains in Vancouver, thought his Olympic dream was dead in March. Needing to meet the Canadian qualifying standard, he headed to a marathon in Japan with dreams of the Olympics foremost in his mind.
Stomach problems forced him out of the race, and he figured out of the Olympics. He thought about giving it up — “I wanted to quit, to forget about it,” he said because the single most significant goal had proved too elusive.
“Definitely thought it was over,” he said. “I felt a lot of pressure, I put a lot of pressure on myself … that was really stressful. I wasn’t a good person to be around.”
But there’s obviously something deep in Wykes’s soul that wouldn’t allow him to give up that easily, to give in to the disappointment and despair and walk away from decades of training and commitment.
He found another race, trained privately and without much fanfare, placed no expectations on himself and didn’t allow others to, either.
He toiled in relatively anonymity getting ready, went to Rotterdam in April and simply ran the second-fastest marathon ever by a Canadian, two hours, 10 minutes, 47 seconds; almost a minute inside the Olympic standard and just off the 2:10.09 run by Jerome Drayton 37 years ago, a mark that stands still as the gold standard for Canadian marathoners.
Wykes did it single-handedly, without fanfare, without pressure internal or external.
“We don’t get a lot of attention usually (but) a lot of people were interested in my attempts to qualify,” he said. “I didn’t really want to talk about it … The outlook for that race was just don’t put much pressure on myself … I just numbed my emotions going into that race.”
What propels a long distance runner is often a fascinating look at a desire to push oneself to physical and mental limits at every opportunity. The dedication necessary is tremendous, all those hours of training for very few competitions — Wykes’ two marathons in Japan in March and Rotterdam a month later is a terribly compressed competition schedule — takes a single-mindedness few have.
For Wykes, the decision to turn to running came because of a level of competitiveness that burned inside him. Sure, he tried team sports as a youngster but he was an impatient teammate always wanting more.
“I wasn’t a very good team sports person,” he jokes. “I always wanted to do everything myself. Running really appealed to me (because) it’s all on your shoulders.”
Despite a workload that doesn’t suit many athletes.
Wykes said this week he’s still in a “circuit of high training” in the Swiss Alps that includes about 200 kilometres of running each week, twice a day, six days a week with three trips to the gym thrown in for good measure.
He has no idea about the conditions in London — it’s been rainy and cold and could turn warm at any moment before the Aug. 12 marathon — but wants to put himself in the best possible condition and see what the day brings.
“I think it’s just being in the best shape possible and be ready for whatever the conditions are,” he said. “I keep telling myself it will be good.”
Wykes may feel a special connection to London and Great Britain when he gets to the starting line at the Olympics and during the period leading up to the race.
In the period between the disappointment of the Japan bid and the success of the Rotterdam race, he had a tattoo etched on his right shoulder.
It’s a Shakespearean quote taken from Julius Ceasar: “Now bid me run and I will strive with things impossible.”
It is thought provoking and out of the norm (“Not too many people have Shakespearean quotes running down their shoulders,” he said) and he found it while fiddling around on a computer, it’s a quote used by the legendary miler Roger Bannister in one of his books (He was probably a bit more versed in Shakespeare than I,” joked Wykes) and Wykes just felt it kind of fit.
“I liked that it wasn’t something that was completely explanatory,” he said.
Kind of like Wykes’s journey to the Games
COMPLETE LONDON 2012 COVERAGE
It will be an event dominated almost assuredly by Kenyans and Ethiopians but when the men’s marathon begins on the final day of the London Olympics, there will be a trio of Canadians chasing history.
For the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Games, three Canadian men have qualified for the marathon — Kingston’s Dylan Wykes, Hamilton’s Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis of Guelph.
Wykes has the fastest qualifying time, two hours 10 minutes, 47 seconds; Coolsaet qualified in 2:10.55 last year at the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon and Gillis ran 2:11.28 in that same race, beating the Canadian qualifying standard by a second.
The Canadian men, who will be chasing Jerome Drayton’s 37-year-old national record of 2:10.09, certainly aren’t seen as medal hopes against the brilliant African runners.
Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang is seen as the favourite for the gold, he’s run the second-fastest marathon in history and won the London marathon in April, with countrymen Abel Kirui and world record holder Emmanuel Mutai also favoured.
The men’s marathon is the last event of the Games, to be run on The Mall in London.
The women’s marathon goes Sunday, Aug. 5 on the same iconic course in central London.