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Most days, Boulder runner Tyler McCandless wears three hats -- elite athlete, solar energy researcher and coach.

He'll get his own workout in by around 8 a.m., quickly shower and head to work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) where he's working on a doctorate in conjunction with Penn State. At around 3 p.m., McCandless heads to Centaurus High School, where he's an assistant coach for track and cross-country, and then it's time for another run and some strength training.

As for how, and more importantly why, McCandless wears so many hats has a lot to do with his running performance under pressure.

"When I'm really busy, I'm just very focused," McCandless said. "I took two years off of school and was running a lot worse. You plan your whole day around your one or two runs. I was just thinking about running too much."

McCandless finished his bachelor's and master's meteorology degrees at Penn State in 2010 while running track and cross-country for the Nittany Lions. In his final year at Penn State, McCandless tackled the ultimate multi-tasking challenge by running 100 miles a week while writing and defending his master's thesis.

At the 2010 NCAA Championships, McCandless earned All-America honors in the 10,000 meter, finishing 12th and becoming the first Penn State runner since 1994 to earn the honor in that event.

After graduation, McCandless decided to run full time, and found himself missing the stimulation and distraction of his studies and research.

So last September he reconnected with Sue Ellen Haupt, his advisor at Penn State who moved to Boulder to work for NCAR. Haupt is an adjunct professor at Penn State, so she proposed the idea of him researching at NCAR while working toward his doctorate under her direction.

Boulder runner Tyler McCandless finishes the Great Aloha Run, winning the race and breaking the course record by three seconds in February. Photo courtesy
Boulder runner Tyler McCandless finishes the Great Aloha Run, winning the race and breaking the course record by three seconds in February. Photo courtesy of Tyler McCandless ( Picasa )

McCandless will research under a three-year solar power forecasting project, funded primarily by a $4.1 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy. The team of researchers will design a solar energy forecasting system so that utility companies can anticipate the amount of solar energy available at a given time.

McCandless' specific role within the team will be to forecast within very short time periods, which is referred to as "nowcasting," Haupt said.

While working with McCandless at Penn State, Haupt said she was impressed with McCandless' ideas. His work on the effects of missing data on temperature predictions was published while he was still an undergraduate, and later as a master's student, his work on improving snowfall predictions was also published. He definitely doesn't fit into the "dumb jock" stereotype, she added.

"There are a lot of intelligent runners, and Tyler is their poster child," Haupt said.

Running while balancing other goals is what made McCandless a good fit for Team Alchemy, a 12-person team sponsored by Newton Running. The Boulder-based footwear company seeks out elite runners who have other interests and commitments, and are on their way to the peak of their running careers, said Newton Running's Stephen Gartside.

The 26-year-old McCandless said he hopes to complete his doctorate in August 2015, while at the same time qualifying for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. He said he wants to be "Dr. McCandless" while running the marathon in Rio -- but he knows that will be tough to do.

"I don't want to say that's my only goal," he added. "I want to be a contender, and go in there and compete the best. If I finish fourth (at trials) and it's the best I gave, that's what I want to do."

McCandless most recently won the 8.15-mile Great Aloha Run in Honolulu, breaking the course record by three seconds with a time of 39:46 in February. In early March, he finished fifth at the Mountain to Fountain 15K in Fountain Hills, Ariz. His next race is the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in April in Washington, D.C.

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.