Runners prepare at own pace for the Little Rock Marathon

In this file photo runners take off as the 2019 Little Rock Marathon gets underway.

Anyone who stands near the Little Rock Marathon finish line on LaHarpe Boulevard from midmorning through midafternoon Sunday will understand why the event has long been marketed as Arkansas' race for every pace.

Since the race was first run in 2003, thousands of participants have seen it first-hand. The 26-mile, 385-yard race's winding out-and-back course allows most in its field at least occasional contact with everyone who starts. Though the race is noteworthy for streets and aid stations packed with volunteers and vocal spectators, many racers say they are inspired most by fellow entrants.

"When you run a marathon, no matter how fast or how slow, it changes you, and it's an accomplishment," said Tia Stone, 41, of Searcy, who won the women's division of the Little Rock Marathon from 2016-18. "When I'm out in a race, I'm so encouraged by the other runners."

[INTERACTIVE: Closer look at 2020 Little Rock Marathon route »]

A case of the flu kept Stone from a chance to tie Leah Thorvilson's race record of four consecutive victories last year, but Stone said she is currently healthy, fit and ready. Including fields in the Little Rocker's Kids Marathon today, the 5K fun-run, 10K, half-marathon and Little Rock Marathon on Sunday, Stone should be among nearly 10,000 to race this weekend.

Stone said she expects to start the marathon at 8 a.m. Sunday and hopes to finish before 11 a.m., but anyone who has run one or more marathons knows finish times are among the least predictable of the race's infinite variables.

"It's hit or miss," Stone said. "For me, it's if the weather's good and I'm feeling fit and things go well that morning."

Nothing is given, save at least periods of extreme pleasure and discomfort. Newcomers such as husband and wife Buddy and Angela Evans will have to find this out for themselves.

Buddy Evans, 48, and Angela Evans, 45, live and frequently train together in Paragould, at least every other two weeks. Buddy lives and works two weeks at a time on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. As postmaster for the city of Hardy, Angela has an easier commute.

Buddy Evans first took up running in 2018. Angela was reluctant to join in.

"I kind of got bit by the bug," Buddy Evans said. "My wife, I would try to get her to go, and her response was, 'I'm not built to run.' I told her that everybody was built to run. Anyway, I actually got her in it, and now she's addicted to it."

They soon began to frequent road races and have run multiple 5Ks together, primarily in northeast Arkansas. Typical of most runners, their regret is that they waited so long to start.

"This whole running community is made up of some really, really good people all the way around," Buddy Evans said. "They're all from different walks of life. It's just amazing, and I'm sorry that I missed out on it. I'm sorry that I'm 48 and just found out about it."

Buddy Evans said he would like to finish his first marathon somewhere in the neighborhood of four hours. Angela Evans hopes to cover the distance in about five hours.

"Whatever we do, it'll be a PR," Buddy Evans said. "We're both super excited, but in all reality, we just want to finish. My 'A' goal is four hours."

To finish a marathon is a remarkable human achievement, no matter how common the experience has become for so many. Few know it more thoroughly than a veteran Little Rock Marathon pacer from Minnesota named Tom Perri.

Perri, 58, was diagnosed with prostate cancer on Dec. 26, 2018, and with Stage 4 prostate cancer on June 30, 2019. Since the latter diagnosis and subsequent treatment, he has completed 17 of his more than 500 lifetime marathons. He has added to the over 110,000 running miles he has logged over the course of his life. Since his running career began, Perri has run at least one marathon in all 50 U.S. states five times. He has served as a volunteer pacer in races more than 1,000 times.

"It's just the way I am," Perri said. "I'm just a driven person. It's just the way I'm wired. I'm a Type A. I like to achieve goals, so I set them out there.

"When I got the diagnosis of cancer and when it got to Stage 3, everybody emailed me, you're not going to get your 500th marathon, you're not going to get your 50 states. I said, 'No. I keep planning them.' I said, 'I'm running them. The day I can't finish one, that's the day I'll stop.' "

Perri will pace runners who hope to finish the Little Rock Marathon in five hours, 30 minutes. It will put Perri's years served as a marathon pacer in Little Rock at 11.

"I have paced 4:40 for four years, and I think I have done 4:45 for six," Perri said. "Because of the Stage 4 cancer, I've had to slow down a little bit because of the training and because of the side-effect issues with the treatments."

Stone hopes to win, but she knows the way it is with races. Sometimes others show up who are simply unbeatable. Even if they don't, other factors can come into play.

"You just don't know who will be there," Stone said. "But I'm going to keep trying, and I'm not quite ready to stop yet if I'm still running well."

Stone set a personal record with her winning time of 2:58:23 in the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis in December. But regardless of how fast she runs in the Little Rock Marathon, she looks forward to her experience as a participant and observer.

"The running community as a whole, it just inspires me to keep going," Stone said. "There are definitely some hard miles where it hits and I'm just, 'Why do I do this?' You want to just stop, but you look around, and you see across the way and they're still moving. It just helps you keep going.

"Everyone has their own motivation, and it might not be to win overall, and it might not be to run their fastest time, but I know that I'm encouraged by all the others out there."

Sports on 02/29/2020