Tia Stone is an incredibly accomplished runner in Arkansas who keeps up a lively blog and Insta feed about her training and racing adventures. After running her way through high school and college, she took a decade off, then got back into the game in 2009 after having three kids (her fourth was born in 2011). A fan of racing all kinds of different distances, she can crack 18 minutes in the 5K or 3 hours in the marathon and her current PR in the mile is 5:17. This year Tia won the Little Rock Marathon and the Arkansas Grand Prix (a series of twenty races across the state) and placed first in her age group at the San Francisco Marathon. In other words, she’s got wheels.
Tia, thanks so much for visiting with us today across the www.
Hello! It’s great to meet you.
Your dedication to the sport is an inspiration, all the more so considering you have your hands full with work and raising four kids. Let’s start with a basic question: What’s your immediate racing goal, and what will your training routine be, say, tomorrow morning?
The big marathon I’ve been training for the past couple of months is coming up next weekend (12/17) so I’ve been getting ready for that. I’d love to see a 2:55 on the clock but honestly I’ve been stuck at 2:58 for a couple years now so anything under that would be great! [See Tia’s amazing post-race report.] My workouts change a lot. I’m running in the last Grand Prix race tomorrow but using it as a workout. After that it’s time to TAPER!
In what ways does your approach to running nowadays differ from when you were racing in high school and college?
In high school I worked hard to get the race times that would get me a college scholarship. Then in college I worked hard to keep my scholarship, so I guess you could say I viewed running as my job and something I had to do. I was pretty burned out after college and had no plans of ever racing competitively again. I’m in such a different stage of life now and I am much more passionate and motivated to run. It takes more time planning with kids but it helps to have a supportive husband. My older kids do a lot of racing with me now, which has been something fun for our family.
What drew you back to running after the long layoff?
Getting back into running was a pretty gradual process for me. Several months after our third child was born my husband suggested we run a half marathon together. My husband (former college basketball player) was not into running but we were both looking for something to do to get back into shape and since neither of us had ever run a half marathon it sounded like a good challenge. Once we crossed the finish line I knew it was something I wanted to do again.
Did you ramp up quickly to heavy training and racing, or was it a gradual increase?
I’d had a friend who had qualified for the Boston Marathon so that became my first goal. Once I did that I kept setting time goals for different race distances. Baby #4 brought some big changes, though, and I learned the hard way I had to ease back into running slowly. Within the first few months of his birth I tried to do too much too quickly and found out I had a stress fracture the week before the Boston Marathon. This experience taught me how important it is to increase mileage cautiously and listen to your body.
You’ve run about thirty races this year, which translates into every other weekend with a few crazy back-to-back weekends, and you seem to thrive on running a wide variety of distances. Can you talk about the pros and cons of tackling such a heavy racing schedule?
Racing is one of my favorite parts of running. I love the atmosphere, the energy, and the thrill of competing. I think racing often has its advantages (good practice physically and mentally) and overall it’s made me a stronger runner but there are also some disadvantages. I’ve learned that every race cannot be a personal best and if my main focus at the time is the marathon I may not be in the best one mile or 5K race shape based on the type of training I’m doing. I’ve gone into most of my shorter distance races this year during marathon recovery or training so I’ve learned to adjust my expectations based on my training goals. I’ve used many of the shorter race distances as fun ways to work in speed work during a marathon training cycle.
Oh, I love that advice about using short races as speed work in marathon training cycles—it’s a great way of breaking up the monotony of those 18-week plans.
Okay, next question, and don’t be modest here. As a particularly fast runner, you must step to the starting line in lots of races knowing that you have at least a good chance of being a top finisher and maybe earning yourself some hardware. Do you find this puts particular stress on you, and if so how do you prevent this from weighing you down too much?
No matter how often I find myself at the starting line of a race I still get nervous every time. I know I put pressure on myself to win or place well overall—more so with local races. Ultimately I try to follow the same advice I give my twelve-year-old before her junior high cross country races: I have to run my race at my pace.
Let’s talk about coaching. When did you start working with a coach and what are the benefits?
I first started working with a coach in 2013 when I was right around a 3:03 marathon time. Up until this point I was self-coached but I thought having a coach would help me reach my sub-3 goal and it did. In December 2013 I ran a 2:59 and for the next several months I worked to bring it down but unfortunately developed plantar fasciitis in the process and had to take off some time. In January of 2015 I started working with a new coach, Mark Hadley, and I’ve been with him ever since. In these past two years he’s helped me run my fastest times in just about every distance.
What level of contact do you have with your coach?
Most of our contact is via email or text every couple of days. I check in with him after races and big workouts.
And now you offer coaching services yourself. Most runners wouldn’t dream of hiring a coach. What’s your pitch for convincing a runner to consider this option? What does a runner need to bring to the table to make this relationship a success?
I used to think you had to be an elite or competitive runner to justify having a coach but this is definitely not the case. In my opinion having a coach is no different than having a trainer or even having a gym membership. A running coach is there to provide guidance and support to help their client reach their goal.
I started coaching in 2014. I know how much it has helped me and I try to provide the same service and accountability to my clients. When someone is interested in my coaching services I give them a questionnaire that asks goal related questions, race history, scheduling preferences, and more. My goal as their coach is to make a schedule that fits their lifestyle and also pushes them to reach their potential as a runner. I work with runners of all levels and coaching can help everyone. All that’s needed is the desire to work hard and be consistent.
From your blog it sounds like your family is very supportive of your running, but there are times for all us runner parents when life gets in the way of training plans and there is unavoidable conflict between our running needs and demands being made on us as moms and dads. Can you think of a instance where you’ve had to do some improvising to make it through an everyday sort of conflict?
There have been many times when things have come up and I’ve had to change my training plans. That’s life with kids and you just have to adapt and go with it. It happened more often when they were younger and childcare was a bigger issue. I’ve brought the kids with me to the track so I could run and they played (they also found the sand pit), pushed a double jogger with four kids in it (it works if everyone sits in a certain position), and run around the block so I could keep an eye on everyone (snacks always helps). There have been times I’ve had to accept that a run would be cut short or moved to a later time all together.
The worst running incident with my kids was actually one of my first runs back after baby #4. I was on the treadmill in our home going for a short easy run while my two-month-old slept. Suddenly I heard a horrible scream from my four-year-old son. For whatever reason he had tried to touch the treadmill and burned his finger (and cut off some of his skin). He knew he wasn’t supposed to go near it when I was on it and had never done this before but he did that day. While I was tending to him my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter decided that was a good time to cut her hair since I wasn’t watching her. What a mess! When I finally got the two of them situated my newborn started crying. I remember thinking this was NOT the time in my life to be focused on running and it wasn’t. We actually got rid of that treadmill soon after this incident.
Ugh. That treadmill episode makes me shudder . . . a classic example of how things can go haywire so quickly with a couple little kids in the mix.
Can you take us through a few of the details of, say, a midweek tempo-style training run?
When I have a tempo-type workout on my schedule I prepare for it as I would a race. I get my clothes and gear ready the night before and try to get plenty of sleep. I time my workouts so that I’m back home when the kids are starting to wake up so that I can help get them ready for school. This means I leave while it’s still dark out so I wear a reflective vest and carry a flashlight. I do my tempo workouts alone so I warm-up by jogging over to the track which is about a mile and a half from my house. I like to get in at least a 2-mile warm-up so I just add a little around or on the track. Some tempo runs I will do at the track and others I do on a big paved loop around the track area. This week I had 3 sets of 3-mile repeats with a 3:00 min jog between sets. The paved loop I use is just over a mile and a half so I did it 6 times. My cool-down was my jog home.
How about a strength routine?
My strength routine is very simple and not very time consuming. I usually do it once the kids are in bed. I do 100 push-ups every night and a few of those nights I throw in a one- to two-minute plank. I also do a few running drills after a couple of my easy runs each week.
Last question: You meet someone at a party who says they’ve always wanted to give running a try but feel embarrassed about how they’d look or not being fast enough or have doubts that keep them from getting off the couch and out the door. What do you say to try to inspire them?
Just try it! I had those same thoughts when I first started back but I’m so glad I gave it a chance. It’s such a great way to exercise and some of my closest friends I’ve met through running. Find a race, set a goal, and go for it.