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story.lead_photo.caption Runners flood from the starting gates north of Scott Street at the beginning of the 2016 Little Rock Marathon. More than 5,000 participated in the 14th running of the marathon and half marathon, which began in downtown Little Rock with a temperature of 45 degrees. - Photo by Stephen B. Thornton

The overall winner of the Little Rock Marathon on Sunday has an interesting hobby.

Gallery: Little Rock Marathon Staff Photo Gallery
Gallery: Little Rock Marathon

2016 Little Rock Marathon Winners

Bryan Morseman, 30, of Bath, N.Y., and Tia Stone, 37, of Searcy were the first to cross the finish line in the men's and women's 2016 Little Rock Marathon. (By Jaime Dunaway)
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Shortly after Bryan Morseman crossed the finish line to win the Little Rock Marathon in 2 hours, 27 minutes, and 15 seconds, he said it was his 35th victory since he first starting running races at the 26-mile, 385-yard marathon distance about seven years ago.

Morseman has won in 13 states, including three marathon victories in eight days last spring, winning in Montgomery, Ala. and Cary, N.C. on back-to-back days, followed by a victory at Virginia Beach, Va., the next week.

Those victories earned Morseman more than $5,000, money used to cover medical expenses for his 20-month-old son, Leeim, who was diagnosed with spina bifida, a condition that develops in the womb when a baby's spinal column doesn't form properly. Leeim was born June 20, 2014.

[GALLERY 1: 100+ PHOTOS FROM THE RACE]

[GALLERY 2: 200+ PHOTOS FROM THE RACE]

Leeim's progress is ongoing, as is Morseman's running career.

Sunday was Morseman's second attempt in Little Rock. He finished second to Mark Chepses in 2014 in a race marred by severe weather, one of 56 marathons he has competed in.

"It was a great experience my first time here, except for the weather that other runners had to experience," Morseman said. "I felt very welcome then, and I just wanted to come back and win this race."

Morseman was in a tight battle in 2014, finishing 33 seconds behind Chepses in 2:26:15, 33.

In his second Little Rock Marathon, he led from downtown start to downtown finish.

Morseman, 30, of Bath, N.Y., crossed 4 miles on Clinton Boulevard in the River Market in 22:15 and led a pack of five other competitors by nearly three minutes.

"The whole way I was just thinking what I was going to do when I crossed the finish line," Morseman said. "It was awesome. My plan was just to win and not look back. I don't ever look back. When I'm up front, I don't worry about who's there. I just was out to have fun, and I knew if I kept my pace there wouldn't be anyone around me."

Dong Ruihuang, 26, of Changchun City, China, finished second among men 2:43:02. Thomas Smith, 48, of Wethersfield, Conn., was third in 2:43:50. Ruihuang and Smith were among 11 men who finished under three hours.

Tia Stone, 37, of Searcy, won the women's race in 3:00:23, and was the 12th runner to finish.

Erin Bellissimo, 31, of Little Rock, was the second woman to finish in 3:07:53, and Jaclyn Shokey, 38, of Jim Thorpe, Pa., was third in 3:14:22.

Of the 1,079 women runners who completed the race, 73 finishes between 3 and 4 hours.

Fewer men -- 944 -- finished, but 231 of them were cl0cked in under four hours.

Stone, like Morseman, has made winning a habit, especially of late.

Her victory was her third consecutive in marathon attempts. She won the Midsouth Marathon in Wynne on Nov. 7, and the 3 Bridges Marathon in Little Rock on Dec. 17.

The April 10 Hogeye Marathon in Fayetteville is next on the agenda.

"I may try Hogeye if I recover enough from this," Stone said.

Stone said she hoped to break three hours but struggled past 22 miles and lost too much ground.

"I did pick it back up and I thought maybe I could break three, but with about 800 meters left, I knew I wouldn't," she said.

Stone, a distance runner for Harding University from 1997-2001, finished fourth in the Little Rock Marathon in 2013 and eighth in 2011.

As Stone spoke, she held her finishers medal, all three pounds of it, in her right hand.

"Everyone should do this race," she said. "You get to tour Little Rock. You get to see everything. You get this huge medal. Everyone is so friendly, and there is so much support. I've run huge races where it was nothing like this."

Morseman, who set a personal marathon record of 2:19:58 last May in the Run the Red Marathon in Pocono Summit, Pa., said he hopes to meet the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon qualifying standard of 2:18:59 for the 2020 Trials.

Making the U.S. Olympic team for the marathon is probably beyond his reach, "unless something freakish happened," he said. "But it's a dream to make the Trials. In general, not many people can say they've done that. I'm just going to have to get a little faster."

Ruihuang, on his first trip to the U.S., said he struggled late in the race with pain in both quadriceps, but that he approved of the course and the weather.

The sky was clear and the temperature 45 degrees when runners began at 7 a.m. It was 58 shortly after the top men and women finished, conditions in start contrast to those faced by the field in 2014, when Morseman first attempted the Little Rock Marathon.

Moresman said he was lucky that day. "It was cool and misty, but it wasn't bad when I was out there," he said. "It was shortly after that when the storm came in and took out the race."

Lightning forced race directors to usher competitors off the course and in some cases into busses for their protection. The temperature plummeted after the thunderstorms hit and by the next morning 1½ inches snow and ice coated Little Rock. The high the following day was 27.

Morseman had driven from New York with his wife and infant son and said he debated whether or not to begin their drive home before nightfall after the race.

"We should've," he said. "But we stayed and when we got up, there were 2 or 3 inches of snow and ice on the streets. It took us eight hours just to get to Memphis."

Memories of those conditions were not nearly enough to prevent Morseman's return.

"This is a great race, and I will definitely be back," Morseman said. "From the average runner to the elite runner, everyone here makes you feel at home and welcome. It's just a great atmosphere to be a part of, and I'm glad I could do it again and win this time."

Sports on 03/07/2016

Print Headline: Off in the distance

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