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Tyler Pennel Ready To Rock Virginia Beach

The 2016 Olympic hopeful is part of a competitive field at the Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Run Festival.

More than 15,000 runners will be jamming to tunes along the course at this weekend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Festival Virginia Beach. Tyler Pennel will be one of them and there’s a good chance he may be the first to cross the line at Sunday’s half marathon.

But Pennel, who grew up in Golden, Colorado, isn’t your typical elite runner. The 26-year-old wasn’t a childhood prodigy who brought home giant trophies at a young age. In fact, if it weren’t for the insistence of his father, Pennel may not be the runner he is today: one of the fastest Americans on the road-racing circuit.

After his freshman year in high school, Pennel’s dad asked him to train for a half marathon at the end of the summer. Pennel overslept most of the training runs that he was to complete with his father and his father’s friend, but despite not logging more than 13 miles the whole summer, Pennel ended up running faster than the two adults in the race.

“Well, it turned out that I had a knack for this running thing,” Pennel recalls on his blog.

Clocking some modest times in the mile (4:25) and 3,200 (9:49) in high school, he went on to run for Western State College of Colorado (which has since been renamed to Western State Colorado University) and garnered 11 All-American titles there under the guidance of coach Duane Vandenbusche.

Upon graduating, Pennel moved to Lenoir, N.C., in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains to train with the Zap Fitness training group headed by Pete Rea. He ran 1:01:45 at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Houston earlier this year. The remote nature of the Zap Fitness training camp appeals to him, a self-described introvert.

“We are in a remote area that’s very secluded,” he says. “And that’s great, because it gives you a lot of time to rest and relax—to focus on what you can do to get better. I’m not much of a city person, so I enjoy being in the middle of nowhere.”

He also says he’s happy with Rea’s training philosophy, which he says is Arthur Lydiard-based, and so it entails a lot of miles and a lot of aerobic workouts. Pennel says his goal for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon is to treat it like a marathon simulation workout for the forthcoming Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota in October. He says Rea wants him doing the first two-thirds of the race at marathon pace (a blistering 5:00 per mile) and then picking it up in the last third.

Pennel doesn’t mince his words about Twin Cities. “I want to run a solid time there,” he says. “But mostly, I want to compete to run for the win.”

With a victory in Minnesota, Pennel hopes to continue the incredible progress he’s made since turning pro and says he dreams of wearing the USA singlet at the 2016 Olympics.

“I think I got a very good shot at it, because when I step up in distance, I always run better than I have previously,” he says. “I hope that trend keeps going.”

RELATED: The State of Men’s Marathoning in the U.S.

But serious goals aside, Pennel say he’s going to have fun in Virginia Beach. He’s never dipped his toes in the sand there and looks forward to the vibe that the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series offer. “I’ve never run one of these before,” he admits. “I like music, so it should be a great party.”

The 14th annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach race weekend begins on Friday with a health and wellness expo. Saturday’s focus will be on the beach with an inaugural 1-mile run taking place on the sand. On Sunday, the half-marathon kicks off. Both the men’s and women’s elite fields are chock-full of talent with Jeffery Eggleston and Sarah Crouch leading the American contingent. Eggleston recently ran his marathon PR of 2:10:52. Crouch has already qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon with her 1:12 showing in the half marathon earlier this year.

San Francisco-based rock band Train will keep the party going at the post-race concert Sunday night, capping three days of concerts on the beach in partnership with the American Music Festival. Throughout the weekend and through Friday, Sept. 5 runners can register for the next year’s event with a special inaugural year price of $45 to celebrate the 15th Year Anniversary in 2015.