Dylan Wykes' Olympic dream quashed by bad luck, injuries

In the first of our "Shattered Dreams" series, runner Dylan Wykes says walking away from competitive marathons at age 32 would simply be too difficult. The Canadian will watch the Olympics on TV after a virus halted his training and ended his hopes of competing in Rio.

'I wasn't patient … didn’t listen to doctors,' says Canadian marathoner

Canada’s Dylan Wykes, who finished 20th in the marathon at the 2012 London Olympics, will not compete at the Rio Summer Games in August after he contracted a virus similar to mononucleosis that forced him to miss weeks of vital training in March and led to his withdrawal from the Olympic qualifying process. (Stu Forster/Getty Images/File)

This is the first in our series, "Shattered Dreams." Come back to our Olympic site in the coming days for more stories that look at the heartbreak associated with narrowly missing out on Canada's Olympic team, and how the athletes are coping and learning from the experience.

Early in his marathon career, Dylan Wykes probably would have said his being stubborn and highly motivated would have led to more success than heartache.

From 2008 to 2012, Wykes competed regularly and posted a marathon time just 38 seconds shy of Jerome Drayton's then-37-year-old Canadian record of two hours 10 minutes and nine seconds. Wykes also placed 20th at the 2012 London Olympics.

But injuries have since prevented Wykes from completing a marathon, and might have played a big part in his missing the 2016 Rio Olympic qualifying window that closed May 29 as Wykes's recovery from a tendon injury in his lower right leg stalled in February.

No one will ever know, however, as the Vancouver resident was forced to close the door on Rio in mid-March while battling a virus similar to mononucleosis that cost Wykes weeks of training.

"There were a few weeks when I thought I should probably stop [running marathons] altogether," Wykes told CBC Sports. "I'm pretty firm in my decision now that I would like to continue."

Walking away from competitive marathons at age 32 would simply be too difficult, he said.

Wykes remains committed to the sport and has the support of his wife Francine, who is expecting the couple's second child – a sister for one-year-old daughter Sasha – in September.

And despite the nagging injuries, marathon running has provided Wykes a good lifestyle. While he doesn't receive the funding of other national-level athletes, he isn't separated from family for more than six months of the year and the flexibility in his training allows for him to spend up to six hours a day twice a week at home with Sasha.

"I think I'll always be involved [in the sport] at some level," he said.

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For the foreseeable future, Wykes wants to run, first at the Canadian Cross-Country Championships in his hometown of Kingston, Ont., on Nov. 26 and at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia.

While pondering his decision to stop training for Rio, a reflective Wykes pored over four years of on and off injury troubles and his ignoring of advice from doctors that likely would have made the past different.

A stress fracture in Wykes' sacrum – a large, triangular bone at the base of the spine in the upper back part of the pelvic cavity that supports weight of the upper body – wasn't diagnosed until November 2012, but he's convinced it occurred four months earlier at the London Summer Games.

"I just wasn't patient enough in my rehab," recalled Wykes, who had been training 20 hours per week, on average, since London in preparation for the Rio Olympics. "I gave it time to heal but I was so motivated at that point. I wanted to break the Canadian record.

It's hard to listen to someone tell you that you should run 50 per cent less and spend that time in the gym when all you want to do is go running.- Canadian marathoner Dylan Wykes

"Once I felt I was healthy again, I pushed myself and didn't listen to the physio [therapists] and doctors that were advising me to take a step back from pushing the running, so that structurally and functionally my body was going to be ready to handle the training again.

"It's hard to listen to someone tell you that you should run 50 per cent less and spend that time in the gym when all you want to do is go running," added Wykes, laughing. "Those years weren't that important, in terms of putting results on paper, but in the moment, they felt like a big deal."

At some point, Wykes has learned, you have to take things as they come. He admitted to "plowing through" an injury and "pretending nothing was going on" rather than taking time to understand the cause of his various ailments and how to avoid a recurrence.

Wykes will spend the next few months resuming his training, coaching and sharing the successes and failures of his marathon journey with the young men from his training group.

"I think it's good for them to hear from an athlete that's been through to where they want to get to, and encourage them," said Wykes, who has a master's degree in epidemiology from Queen's University in Kingston. "Maybe I'll get out for an easy run with them to try to keep their spirits up."

In turn, Wykes will probably lean on a very pregnant Francine and Sasha while sitting in front of his television on Aug. 21 to watch the Olympic men's marathon, the final event in Rio.

"I'm still good friends with [marathoners] Eric [Gillis] and Reid [Coolsaet] who I'm pretty sure will be selected [to the Canadian team]," he said. "But it'll be hard to watch, for sure."