The 3 Bridges Marathon- Race Recap {Breaking 3!!}

The 3 Bridges Marathon- Race Recap {Breaking 3!!}

The 3 Bridges Marathon will always be special to me.  It was my 10th marathon and my first time to go sub 3.  (And hopefully not my last!)  It was also the first time all my kids have seen me run in a marathon.

Before I get started with the actual recap I will warn you this will be a little longer than my usual race report.  Sorry- there’s no way around it!  This race has been years in the making.  There are a ton of people I should thank for making this race a success- my coach, my friends, Shela  and Jade at Massage Me and others who have influenced and helped me over the years.  But the number one person who has helped me reach this goal is my husband John.  He believed I could do this when I thought it was impossible.

The Dream
Quick back story… In November 2010 a friend from college ran in a marathon and posted some pics on Facebook from the race.  She ran a 2:59 and I couldn’t believe it.  Who runs a sub 3?!  I had never known anyone who did this and when I looked at a race pace calculator to see what her average pace had to be I cringed.  Yikes! Who could run that pace?  In my mind it might as well have been the Olympics.  I should note that at the time I was 7 months pregnant with baby #4 and the thought of maintaining a sub 7 minute pace for one let alone 26 miles seemed IMPOSSIBLE.  I made some comment to my husband like, good for her but I could never do that.  In all seriousness he said he thought I could.   It seemed almost crazy but the idea for the dream was born.  The seed was planted.

The Goal
Fast forward to 2013.  I had a 3:09 at the first of the year and I made it my marathon mission to break 3 by the end of the year.  I knew I wasn’t ready in the spring even though I gave Little Rock (3:07) and Boston (3:03) my best shot.  In the summer I switched gears and focused on improving my 5K time.  All the while I knew I would focus and go for that big sub 3 goal in the fall.  When it didn’t happen in Springfield in November (3:02) I was disappointed.  I had put in the training and was ready but I lost focus and hit the wall mentally and physically during the last 10K.  The St. Jude Memphis Marathon was going to be my race.  When it got cancelled due to weather I was desperate.  I was determined to run a sub 3 and I really want it to be in 2013.  The only question was where.

Months earlier I had heard about the Inaugural 3 Bridges Marathon.  At the time I was already planning on St. Judes so I didn’t think much about it.  After SJMM was cancelled I got on to see what other race options I had.  The 3 Bridges Marathon was in Little Rock- so close to home.  The only problem was that the website said it was sold out.  I emailed the race director who said they were opening more slots.  Apparently a lot of other SJMM runners wanted to get in as well.  So with three weeks until race day I registered for my last race of 2013.  In my mind it was the most important race of the year.  This was it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this race fell smack in the middle of Christmas and New Year’s which is sort of an odd time for a marathon (to me).  Not that it was bad- just different.  Race week was very low key.  We didn’t travel for the holidays which helped.  My miles were short and sweet so I didn’t feel like I missed any family time.  Perfect.

The weather for Saturday looked cold (upper 30’s/ overcast) but perfect for a marathon in my opinion!  There were no excuses. I laid out my gear.  Then I made sure all the kids stuff was together.  I might be running a marathon but John was going to be hauling 4 kids around to various cheering locations which is no easy task.  They all went to bed in their clothes they would wear in the morning.   John was just going to wake them up in the morning when it was time to leave.

I actually got about 7 hours of sleep which is about as good as it gets the night before a race.  My alarm went off at 4:40 and I was out the door by 5.  I carpooled to Little Rock with two friends who were also running the race.  During the hour drive  I ate a piece of toast with peanut butter and a banana and drank water.  This is my typical pre-marathon meal.   John and the kids planned on coming later.  I knew I wouldn’t see them until mile 9 or 10.  We got to the trolley pick-up in plenty of time.  The trolley took us to the starting line by the Two Rivers Bridge.

On the trolley with my friend Angela

There were plenty of port-a-potties so we stopped there before bag drop-off.  Before I knew it it was time to line up!

Bag drop-off (Photo by Nicholas Norfolk)

The Race:

The 3 Bridges Marathon is basically a 19+ mile out and back along the Arkansas River Trail.  Then you cross back over by the start/ finish area to run a 7 mile loop.  You run over each of the three bridges twice.

Map courtesy of Sarah @ Sweet Miles

Miles 1-5 (6:52, 6:53, 6:35, 6:48, 6:49)

The gun went off and it was go time!  Within the first minute a few of the more serious runners moved on up to the front.  Leah  (local elite who ran in the 2012 Olympic Trials who has already qualified for the 2016 trials) ran along side me for a few seconds and asked if I was getting my sub 3 today.  I commented something like I hope so!  My feet felt like bricks and my toes were freezing.  I remembered my feet felt like this for the first two miles of the D & L Marathon in Pennsylvania last fall so I knew it would pass.  Then my stomach felt empty and rumbly (for lack of a better word).  This has also happened at the start of marathons before (nerves?) but it seems to pass after a mile or so.  I just reminded myself it would pass and I would find my rhythm.  My main goal- I needed to stay under 6:52.  Ideally I wanted to hit somewhere between 6:45-6:50.   After the first mile I thought to myself, One down. Twenty-five to go…  I quickly found my pace and reminded myself to look up and enjoy the scenery.  So many times I get so focused on my pace that I don’t notice my surroundings.  This would be my first time running over any of these three bridges and I wanted to remember it. 

The first bridge you run over is around mile 1.5.  It is the biggest of the three- the Big Dam Bridge.  (Yes, that’s the real name.)  It was completed in 2006 and at 4,226 feet it is the longest pedestrian/ bicycle bridge in North America.

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Parks & Tourism

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Outside
Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Outside

Miles 6-10 (6:48, 6:45, 6:46, 6:47, 6:52)

During this stretch I was still following the main pack.  We were headed to the Clinton Bridge.  Around mile 9 I saw John and the kids.  This gave me the boost I needed to get up bridge #2.  I smiled, waved and threw my gloves to the kids.

Then I headed up the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.

Photo Courtesy of

Immediately after exiting the bridge you run around a little cal-de-sac to turn around so you can head back.  (The first 19.5 miles is basically an out and back.)

Then I headed back over the bridge and was able to see John and the kids again.

Mile 10.3

I should note that up until this point I had about 5 shot bloks spread out every other mile or so.  I rotated water and gatorade.  (I drank water whenever I had a shot blok.) 

Miles  11-13 (6:41, 6:46, 6:42)

During this stretch the leader pack in front of me started to slow down.  I knew there was one guy way out front but the pack that Leah was pacing was starting to slow.  (She was helping pace a friend.) I knew I had to keep my pace or I would never make my goal so I had to pass them.  It definitely felt wrong passing a 2:37 marathoner but I figured it was only a matter of minutes before she went whizzing past me.  I just had to focus on my pace and not worry about placement. 

Half Marathon Split- 1:29:20 (6:49 pace)

Cutting it a little close… I needed to basically do the same thing all over again for another 13.1 miles.  I really didn’t have any time to spare  the second half.  I knew it would most likely come down to a matter of seconds.

Miles 14-20 (6:45, 6:55, 6:47, 6:47, 6:54, 6:36, 6:42)

During these miles I headed back towards the Big Dam Bridge. I had some gu around mile 14.  I saw John and the kids around mile 16 so I shouted to him my half marathon split so he knew I was on pace.  At this point I was still the first female but I knew Leah was moving back up.

Mile 16

Around mile 17 Leah came up alongside me and said the friend she was pacing wasn’t feeling it today but she still wanted to help someone reach their sub 3 goal.  She asked me what my PR was and I told her- 3:02.  She said “You’ve got this!”  I appreciated her confidence but I knew I still had the toughest stretch ahead – including running back up the Big Dam Bridge and the final 10K.  As we were climbing up I thought about all the hill repeats I ran in practice over the past few months.  Just get up the bridge… I glanced at my watch and got a little panicked.  I reminded myself to not look at my watch when going up a hill.  Nothing good can come from it.  Once we made it over I focused on getting to mile 20.  Then all that would be left was the final 10K.  Leah handed me gatorade and water at a few of the stations.  This pace seemed so effortless for her.  I tried to think of what it would feel like if I were running a lot slower than my normal marathon pace.  Maybe I would have that kind of energy.  But this was not that kind of run for me.  I was going to have to work for that sub 3!  Leah was setting a good pace.  I just hoped I could hold on! I had another gu at mile 18.

Around mile 19.5 we ran over the last bridge- the Two Rivers Park Bridge.  We would still have to run over it again around mile 26 on our way back towards the finish but it helped knowing that this was the final section of the race.  I just had to focus for the last 10K and not let myself hit the wall.  I had to stay positive.

Photo courtesy of

Miles 21-26.35 (6:41, 6:46, 6:56, 7:00, 7:04, 6:54, 2:17 (6:31 pace)

The last section is a loop through the Two Rivers Park.  I knew I would see John somewhere in here and was hoping that would help push me through this last stretch.  Could I stay strong for another 40+ minutes?  With every passing mile I told myself that I still felt good.  I could do this.

I saw John and the kids at mile 21 which definitely helped.  He could tell I was starting to get tired.  I was starting to fall back from Leah. I just told myself to hold on until mile 23.  Then all I would have left was a 5k. I had my last gu around mile 22.   I stayed in the 6:40’s as long as I could but by mile 23 it had moved to the 6:50’s and up.

On mile 24 I saw my first “7.”  It was a 7-flat but it still annoyed me.  I had sort of wanted to go the whole race with every mile under 7. Last month when I hit my first 7 I fell apart.  I didn’t want that to happen again.

Mile 24

My sister Tara took this one of John, my brother-in-law, the kids and my nieces

I saw my sister and her family around mile 24.  It was so good to see them and it really helped me get through this lonely section on the trail.  I knew I was almost done but I had to keep it at or under a 7 minute pace if I was going to make it in time.  Once I made it to the 25 mile marker I knew I could do it.  I just needed one last hard mile.  One more bridge.

After my watch beeped for mile 26 I  started sprinting.  It was going to come down to this.  At one point I looked down at my watch and saw it read 2:59:00.  I had less than a minute to get to the finish line! I was determined to make it there in time!  When I saw the finish clock read 2:59 it was a dream come true.  I had envisioned this moment in my mind so many times and it was actually happening.  Thank you God!!

Photo Courtesy of Jade Simpson


Official Finish Time- 2:59:19 (6:50 avg. pace)
1st Half- 1:29:20
2nd Half- 1:29:59

Placement- 3rd Overall/ 2nd Female Overall
Official results can be found here.

Post Race:
As soon as I finished Leah hugged me to congratulate me.  I tried to thank her but I was pretty out of breath.  Then I slowly worked my way over to the baggage pick-up.  I knew John would be here soon.  He had stayed until mile 24 so he was most likely trying to find parking by the finish.  Then I saw Jade and Shela so I hugged them.  I talked with a few other local runners I knew and then I saw John heading to me.  My happiest memory of this marathon will be when I found him and he gave me the biggest hug ever.  Of course I started to cry but only for a few seconds.  I was just so relieved and happy and tired.  He knew how much this meant to me. 

Photo Courtesy of Arkansas Outside
Shela and Jade

It was pretty cold but we were staying for the overall awards which would be starting soon.  While we waited there was plenty to eat so we found a table under a big tent and tried to stay warm.  I was very thankful that I packed some warm stuff in my drop-off bag!

Top 3 Overall Females

My unofficial pacer miles 17-23.  Thanks Leah!

Soon after the awards my friend Angela came through the finish chute.  She set a 34 minute PR!

I also ran into another former Harding cross country runner.  She was volunteering at the 3 Bridges Finish line area but she wanted to congratulate me.  Thanks Beverly!!

Then I saw another friend finish- Sarah from Sweet Miles.  This was her first marathon and she did awesome!

John did a great job of managing the kids, updating my friends and family during the race (there was no runner tracking) and driving to various cheering locations.  Abi was my personal race photographer.  In fact, she took most of the pictures for this post.  (Not bad for a 9 year-old!)

My little cheering squad

The drive home was quiet.  Cheering is hard work!

Final Thoughts
I would definitely run this marathon again.  The course was beautiful and the crowd and volunteer support for a small marathon (400+ runners) was amazing! 

I had dream of going sub 3.  It became a goal.  And that goal became a reality.  It didn’t happen overnight.  It was a very long process.  I had to work for it and believe it was possible.  When it didn’t happen I just had to put myself out there to try again.  Whatever your dream is don’t be afraid to make it a goal and keep working to make that goal a reality.

I am so thankful for this little gift of running God gave me. I don’t know what the future has in store but I’m going to keep working on it and see where it takes me…

Thanks again for the encouraging comments on Facebook and on this blog!!

46 thoughts on “The 3 Bridges Marathon- Race Recap {Breaking 3!!}

  1. What an amazing race recap- almost perfectly even splits from the first half to the second, you nailed it!! I’m so thrilled for you, Tia. You set your goal high, did the work and went for it. Huge congratulations!!

  2. YAY!!!!!!! I am so so excited for you. What an awesome race!!! Loved every word of the recap. It gives me hope that my sub 3 is coming soon. 2013 was a rough year but I am back in business and looking forward with faith and excitement. Huge hugs and congrats! Recover well!!

    1. Thank you!! I’m excited to follow your marathon journey as you get closer. Awesome job again on your peak week. I hope the taper treats you well. I’m sure 2014 will be a much better year!

  3. Your recaps are always so awesome – I love the mile-by-mile playback style! I re-read them all before a race to help psych myself up πŸ™‚ I am SO THRILLED for you to get your sub-3!!! You have worked so hard and made such gains over the past few years and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for you next! You inspire me each day to get out there and go chase my goals! Thank you for sharing your journey with us!!!

    1. Awww! Thanks Jenn- I just cannot condense a marathon report ever. It’s crazy how I can remember every mile but I do! Way too mental…

  4. I’m so happy for you! You have been sitting on a sub-3 for probably a year now…so much talent. I knew it would happen soon. Congratulations on such a big accomplishment!
    As usual, smart racing. Your recaps are the best!

    1. Thanks Gracie! It’s such a challenging distance. I’ve known I was right there for a few months but I needed everything to go my way (or at least most of my way) and this time the weather, course and my health were all in my favor. It definitely helped! πŸ™‚

  5. Congratulations!! That is truly awesome, and something to be so proud of. Love your recap. Happy New Year, and I look forward to hearing about your adventures in 2014:)

    1. Thanks Kristen! What a great compliment coming from someone as speedy as you! I am trying to follow your PR marathon streak- although mine are not quite nearly as fast! πŸ™‚

  6. I enjoyed reading every words of your re-cap Tia! πŸ™‚ I know how hard you worked for this goal. I had a gut feeling that you were ready to go sub-3 at this race!! You’re a great example to all of us!! You all make a great team. I appreciated the updates your hubby (your 0.0 runner πŸ˜‰ ) was making on FB! CONGRATS!!!!! πŸ™‚

  7. Congratulations on a great performance. I am impressed by your ability to run fast marathons so frequently – I am sure you could run even faster with more recovery in between…
    I had the same goal as you did but it wasn’t my day (I am the red shirt/white singlet guy on the small wood bridge picture) and I wasn’t able to stay with you guys. Happy recovery and I am sure you have much faster times in your future.

  8. Tia- This post gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. You are one of my favorite bloggers and it has been so neat to follow you on your journey. I’m sure you will set the bar even higher for 2014. Congratulations on your Sub 3 hour marathon!! You are such an inspiration to us running mommies!!

  9. I’ve been saving this post to read in detail for a few days now. Wow! Congratulations! What you say is true–set the goal and just keep working when disappointments happen. Thank you for the inspiration!

  10. Have followed you on and off the past year or so (found you on daily mile!) and am just now seeing this- BIG CONGRATULATIONS! You inspire me. I have a big dream to break 3 hours sometimes in the next few years and you give me hope that it’s possible. You’re a rock star and you inspire me to believe in myself. I hope you are still soaking up this victory!! πŸ™‚

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