Marathoners use UT experience to lead Olympic Trial hopefuls through 26.2 mile run

Celesia Smith

For 2016 Olympic Trial qualifiers and UT alumni Rory Tunningley and Will Nation, running 26.2 miles at 6:17 minutes per mile is not only a method of improving their own fitness, but also a way to help their female peers qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Tunningley and Nation have their eyes set on personal goals for the 2020 Olympic Trials, but still have time to aid fellow runners. In February 2019 they are pacing elite women racing in the Austin marathon. The goal is to guide the women to a time under 2:45.00.

The duo met while on the cross country and track teams at UT. Both athletes attribute their post-collegiate success to skills they learned in college, but their journeys were different.

Tunningley was a high school state champion and had a breakthrough final year at UT. He began running road races because he felt he hadn’t reached his full potential after graduating college.

“My time at Texas helped me learn how to fight when things were hard,” Tunningley said. “The transition to (collegiate running) helped me in multiple aspects of my life: working, just dealing with people and knowing how to persist when things are hard.”

Collegiate running is largely centered around distances ranging from 1,500 meters to 10 kilometers. Tunningley thought that he would excel at distances greater than this and caught onto the lure of the marathon.

“There are two questions that you always get when you tell someone you’re a runner,” Tunningley said. “People ask, ‘How fast can you run a mile?’ or ‘Have you ever run a marathon?’ so something I always wanted to do was answer yes to the second question.”

Unlike Tunningley, Nation came onto the UT cross country team as a walk-on and proved himself to be an asset over time. Because of changes in coaching his final year, he had no plans to run after college until a friend convinced him to run the Austin 3M Half Marathon.

“I ended up winning (the race) and saw that maybe I had a chance to do something cool for the half marathon,” Nation said. “The following summer, I had my first shot at qualifying (for the Olympic Trials) and I got it.”

John Hayes, UT men’s cross country coach from 2008 to 2013, said that he thinks Tunningley and Nation will do a great job pacing because of their proven work ethic.

“I guarantee you that they will be taking it seriously and that they’ll be dialed in and doing their job correctly because that’s just who they are,” Hayes said.

To effectively pace, Nation and Tunningley will have to cruise along at 6:17 or faster per mile for a total time of 2:44:59. Both runners are confident in their ability to pace the women and want the racers to be able to relax with their help.

“A lot of people start constantly checking their watches to make sure they’re running steady and that’s tough,” Nation said. “We want them to be able to turn off their brain, do what they need to do and keep their eyes glued at our backs knowing that we’re going to carry them through 26 miles.”