We’ve all heard the quote, “If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough.” Well that never felt more real to me as it did this past week. In the days leading up to the 2018 Little Rock Marathon I found myself getting more and more nervous. My goal had been a huge motivation but it also scared me because I knew it would be hard.
For the last 3 years I’ve had the goal to run the Little Rock Marathon under 3 hours. This has proven to be a challenge. In 2016 I finished in 3:00:23 and in 2017 I finished in 3:00:44. Of course I was thrilled with the overall win both years but I knew I had a better race in me.
Leading up to the race I had all kinds of doubts. Was this goal too out of reach? Could I do it now at age 39? I’ve never considered my age an issue but now that 40 is just around the corner I must admit it’s crossed my mind more than once. Based on all my recent races I knew running sub 3 was possible but it would require my very best effort- a near perfect race.
My training cycle for the Little Rock Marathon started in the fall and was more intense than any other cycle. I ran more miles, more hills, and more long runs. I had 4 tune-up races which went well but none were huge confidence boosters. I ran every workout with the vision of a sub 3 finish at Little Rock. I wanted it bad!
A few days before the marathon I found myself stressing about the outcome. I prayed for peace. I didn’t know how it was going to come together. Would I win? Would I go sub 3? Would I miss my goal all together? At some point I told myself if I had to pick between winning and running sub 3 this year I really wanted the sub 3. I couldn’t stress about who else would show up to race. My race was against the clock.
I got to the State House Convention Center around 6:00 Sunday morning which gave me an hour to do all my pre-race routine. I was in full blown race mode- focused, nervous, and ready to get going!
I knew a few guys running the half who I thought I might be able to pace with but I figured most of my miles would end up being solo. About 2 minutes before the race started a guy came up to me and asked if I was Tia. He said he knew Joyce Taylor (the elite coordinator) and she had suggested he find me since he had a similar time goal. I learned his name was Davis and he had been training with the goal of sub 3. I told him we were about to be best friends for the next 3 hours!
After the gun went off I told Davis my race strategy. We would run around 6:50 pace for the first two miles and then settle into the 6:40’s until the big climb on miles 15-17. For those miles we would try to stay just under a 7 minute pace. Then we would get back the 6:40’s (as much as we could) for the rest of the race. Davis was on board and we quickly fell into a good rhythm. The miles ticked by and I didn’t have to think much about pace.
We saw my oldest daughter and my friends Amy, Natalie, and her girls after mile 4 and I threw them my gloves and a headband. Just past the 10k mark there is a turn around section so I tried to figure out what place I was and I realized I might be first female in the full. At this point the half marathon runners were on the course as well but their bibs were red. I knew there were at least 2-3 ladies in front of me but I thought they were doing the half. Davis and I kept going and my watch average stayed around 6:46.
A few miles later we saw his parents and friends. Around mile 9 we saw John and the kids and Amy, Natalie, and her girls.
Around this time a few rain sprinkles turned into a pretty steady rain. The forecast had such a small percentage of rain so I didn’t wear my visor. I was thankful the temps were still in the 40’s and it was rain- not ice or wind. I was also thanking God for my pacing partner. The miles were flying by and they felt effortless.
Around mile 11 the half marathon course separated from the marathon course. Davis and I were plugging away around a 6:45 pace but we knew the hills were coming! We crossed the halfway point at 1:29:31 so we were cutting it pretty close but running a smart race. I was feeling really good and hoped we could keep it going for another 13 miles. Right after the half we saw my crew again just before we started the climb.
Then came the big hill stretch around mile 15. I started to notice Davis falling back and I didn’t want to lose him.
He stayed with it and was able to stay with me until about half way through Mile 17. Leaving him was very hard. Running in a pack or with someone is so helpful. I knew I had to go on if I wanted to stay on pace so I started the descent down N. Lookout Road on my own.
I was feeling good as I coasted down and hit mile 18. I had 8 more to go. I could do this. I focused on getting to mile 20. Just two more miles and then I would start the 5ks. (Instead of looking at it as one long painful 10k at the finish I like to break it into two separate 5k races. For some reason it sounds more manageable.)
John and the kids and Natalie and her girls saw me at 19. This was probably the hardest part of the race for me. I knew going into it that I would really have to push here and stay focused. Historically the out and back stretch on Rebsamen is where my pace starts to suffer. At this point my watch shifted from 6:47 to 6:48. The hills had done their damage and I needed to keep it under 6:50. I’ve never been able to do this in Little Rock so these next 6-7 miles were going to require everything I had. I was on my own and it was time to get to work! One mile at a time.
I passed a few guys one at a time as I headed towards the turnaround at mile 21. My friend Amy was at the turnaround cheering for me to finish strong. My body wanted to naturally slow down closer to a 7 minute pace so I had to constantly focus on keeping it in 6:40’s or low 6:50’s. At the turnaround on Rebsamen between mile 21 and 22 I planned to see how much of a lead I had on the second place female. To my shock I realized she was around a minute behind me!! I could NOT slow down. If I did the race would be hers. The only thing worse than losing a race is losing it at the very end. If she had the lead the whole time that would have been one thing but I did not want to get passed in the final miles. I told myself that if she was going to pass me she was going to have to really pick up her pace because I was not slowing down!
I focused on each mile and then I reached my final race checkpoint- the Dillard’s Hill at mile 25.
Once again Amy was there. She knew this was a really tough spot in the race. I felt like I was moving in slow motion up the hill and when I finally reached the top I knew I was in the home stretch. All I needed to do was stay straight and I’d see the finish line. I glanced at my watch and I knew if I kept it under a 7 minute pace I should be under 3 hours.
Around the last half mile or so the full and half marathoners merge together and about this time I thought I heard someone cheer “Go Ladies!” I wasn’t sure if they were cheering on some half marathoners or if the 2nd place female had caught me. Was she right behind me?! I started an all out sprint.
I actually passed another marathon guy in the process. I was running what felt like my true 5k pace for the last half mile. I did not assume I had the win until I crossed the finish line and broke the tape.
SUB 3!!! Official Time- 2:59:12
Once I finished I was greeted by Joyce Taylor, the elite coordinator. She knew this had been a goal of mine the last few years and she was so happy for me. Then I saw John and the kids and he was able to give me my medal.
I had a few interviews and pictures with the mayor of Little Rick and an editor with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
I also met the 2nd place female who was very nice. She had finished around 2.5 minutes behind me so she was not right on my heels as my crazy end-of-marathon-mind had made me believe. Even though I did not pace with her she actually ended up being a big help in my sub 3 race. She pushed me to keep up my pace so I would not let up. Maybe God knew I needed a different kind of help and motivation in the last 10k.
After the interviews we went into the Statehouse Convention Center to get some food. Davis came over with his family. I met his parents and introduced him to John. I learned he had finished in 3:15. He said he’s going to keep trying for a sub 3. He was so helpful to me in my race and I’ll always be thankful he paced me the first 18 miles.
My coach gave me all the tools I needed to run a smart, confident race. I felt very prepared for all the hills and I went into this race ready for a sub 3. Being able to run my goal time and win was an amazing feeling.
I’m so thankful that I had my family and friends there for this one. They’ve helped me on this journey and they’ve seen the ups and downs.
John has always encouraged me and believed in me even when I didn’t.
I don’t know exactly what’s next but I definitely have some Masters goals I’d love to accomplish. In the mean time I hope to continue to run and enjoy using this gift God has given me.