Boston Marathon day always has been one of Tyler Andrews' favorites.
In recent years, he and his buddies from the Tufts University cross country and track teams would run from campus to the house of a teammate's parents near the Mile 24 mark, settle in and watch the race on TV. When the leaders neared Mile 24, Andrews and Co. would sprint about a block to the route and watch them go by, then return to catch the televised finish.
After grilling and eating some burgers, they'd run back to school. "It's always been a really, really fun day," says Andrews, 23. For a Massachusetts guy raised in Concord, the race on the annual Patriots' Day holiday couldn't get much better, but this year will beat even barbecued burgers.
Andrews -- who's never run a marathon -- will make his 26.2-mile debut in the race he's watched since he was a boy. After taking some long-distance zigs and a world-record zag, Andrews will be on the starting line at Hopkinton on April 21 having taken a route all his own.
He says it's "a little bit intimidating" to make his marathon debut in Boston, yet it's equally exciting. And with so much attention and emotion involved in this year's race after the 2013 bombings, it's just one more variable to add to the equation that includes weather, inexperience and the difficulty of a course that's humbled even the best.
"I think it will be a really interesting experience to be on the other side," says Andrews. "I've been a spectator for so many years, and especially this year there's gong to be a lot of emotion from everybody: the runners, the spectators, the whole city."
Any prediction of a specific time at this point would be as accurate as an NFL mock draft. But Jon Waldron, who coached Andrews at Concord Academy and has been a mentor and sounding board for him ever since, believes Andrews could not be more prepared for his Boston baptism.
Waldron says Andrews is smart, scientific in his training approach and "one of these really rare people that have the ability to dream but then have the ability to put an awful lot of effort into realizing those dreams."
"Tyler may not be as talented as the best runners in the race or as fast as the best runners in the race, but I really believe he's training as much as any of the elite runners," says Waldron. "I mean, his training has reached 150 miles a week and there are not a lot of human beings doing more than that to prepare for a race, so the one thing I'm certain of is he will be prepared. What happens, that's a matter of some chance."
Focused on longer races
Andrews started to take running seriously as a senior at Concord Academy when Waldron came on as cross country coach. After he graduated, Andrews became even more serious about the sport during a year off from school when he traveled, did service work and ran.
Following his freshman year at a college without a cross country or running program, Andrews transferred to Tufts, where he ran cross country and track and majored in mechanical engineering. He qualified for the NCAA Division III nationals in the 10,000 meters as a junior and in cross country as a senior. His coach at Tufts, Ethan Barron, says Andrews was never the No. 1 runner, but always a solid contributor.
Andrews' time of 30:22 in the 10K ranks No. 5 all-time at Tufts, and his 14:45 for the outdoor 5K is No. 8. Barron says even when Andrews was running at Tufts, he was preparing himself for the marathon.
"He's been looking forward to this date for years," Barron said via e-mail.
"Tyler was an incredibly hard worker," he added, noting that he was always putting in many more miles than necessary for a 5K or 10K.
Andrews agrees, and points to his first post-college race last year, Boston's annual Run to Remember, a Memorial Day half-marathon, as the kickoff to a longer-distance career. He won the race for a third straight year and lowered his time from 1:10:36 in 2011, to 1:11:48 in 2012 and then to 1:07.03 last year.
"I kind of had an inkling that the half-marathon, marathon were going to be my best distances based on how I responded to workouts and high-volume training, because even in college I was running 120, 130, 140 miles a week sometimes," he says. "So I kind of knew that I wanted to move to that place after college."
Since graduation, Andrews has spent most of his time in South America working for the nonprofit he co-owns, called STRIVE Trips, that offers summer service trips to Peru and Kenya for student-athletes. He worked with STRIVE during the summers of his college years, too, where he learned about the theories and practices of high-altitude training.
Then, this past fall, while living in Quito, Ecuador, Andrews put together a strong series of results in 10Ks and a 20K that helped him get an invitation to the Boston Marathon. He broke 30 minutes for the first time in a 10K in Peru (29:48) and ran 1:02:12 for a 20K, which is equivalent to about a 1:05 half-marathon.
"I had a very good fall season in terms of racing, so I felt like in October, I was ready," he says. "Let's try to find a race in the spring to tackle, a marathon."
Originally, he and Waldron weren't thinking about Boston. They were picturing a less challenging course for a debut, but when Boston offered in invitation, Andrews was pleased to accept.
"Boston was super gracious in offering to come in without a qualifying time, just using my half time and 10Ks and stuff," he says.
Marc Davis, communications manager for the Boston Athletic Association, says about 70 percent of this year's field will be comprised of official qualifiers for the race. The rest are granted invitational spots because of a variety of reasons. In this case, Davis says Andrews was invited because of his previous accomplishments.
Fast on a flat track
Andrews' most noteworthy splash came after he'd already been invited to Boston when, in early March, he set the world record for the half marathon on a treadmill.
Running in front of a small group of shoppers and running fans at the Marathon Sports store in downtown Boston, Andrews ran 1:07:18 for 13.1 miles to break the treadmill world record of 1:07:29 held by British Olympian Andrew Lemoncello.
"Random people walked in expecting to buy a pair of shoes and ended up seeing my crazy spectacle," he says, laughing.
The record-breaking effort was sparked by a treadmill run he had done in November as a fund-raising effort for STRIVE. Then, his idea was to see how many miles he could run at a 5-minute pace. People pledged to donate on a per-mile basis.
"I was going to run at a 5-minute pace basically until I got shot off the back or something," he says.
Andrews ran 13.2 miles in about 66 minutes that time, raised some money and didn't think much about it until somebody posted on his Facebook wall, "Hey, did you know you just ran under the world record for this?"
But because the run had been done on a treadmill that wasn't officially certified, and it wasn't done in a public place, it wasn't considered a record. So, Andrews set out to try again and, with the help of Marathon Sports -- which provided the treadmill and public place -- Andrews broke the record in another run for the benefit of STRIVE.
Andrews says running long distance on a treadmill has some pluses and minuses. On the plus side, there's no bad weather, no hills and no wind. And the mechanical pace doesn't change, which forces a runner to either keep up -- even if exhausted - or manually change the setting.
"Which I think is really interesting, because in some ways it almost makes it easier to push through because it's like, 'OK, I really don't want to press that button and slow my self down, so this sucks and it's going to keep sucking, but I'm just going to keep pushing through it,'" he says.
The downside: it's monotonous. It's much more interesting to run with landmarks, competitors and crowds.
"It's a little easier to break up [a race] in your mind mentally," he says. "Like, 'OK, I'm going to get to this point, then I'm going to get to this point,' instead of having the little dial click every every 100th of a mile. That can get tedious."
A "bit of a crapshoot"
Because Andrews is familiar with the Boston Marathon, he knows its unpredictability.
"Boston is a little bit of a crapshoot because of the weather," he says. "You can have a 30-degree day or you can have a 90-degree day. Growing up in Boston, I'm pretty sure I've seen both."
And as a novice, he's never run the full course. He'd run many portions of the route, but hadn't experienced the first miles of the race until December when he was home for a Christmas visit. He ran 24 miles of the route, seeing the roads in Hopkinton and Framingham for the first time.
"I feel like it will be an interesting juxtaposition, because it was like 25 degrees and I was the only person out there," he says. "Comparing that to April, where it's going to be thousands and thousands of people lining the streets and in the race ... It will be interesting."
It's the emotional element of this 118th Boston race, says Waldron, that may be the biggest wild card for Andrews.
"The things that I'll tend to emphasize are the importance of keeping your emotions in check, especially early," says Waldron. "It is very, very easy, because of the way the Boston course is laid out and also the event is laid out, to get extremely excited at the beginning, and it's even more that way this year."
Andrews has come a long way from watching the race with his friends last year to making his marathon debut in it this year. He and Waldron have had countless conversations about his preparations and the race itself.
"We talk about training and splits and all that kind of minutiae, but to just be there is going to be pretty amazing, even if I wasn't running," says Andrews. "To be there, but really to be part of that huge exodus of people, is going to be really powerful."