Two of Central Texas’s top runners turned in break-through races this past week at Grandma’s Marathon and Half Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.
Tunningley, a former Lockhart cross-country ace and University of Texas standout, posted a 2:16:25 marathon, while former St. Edwards Cross-Country Hall-of-Famer raced a 1:03:37 in the accompanying Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon—a 4:51 per mile pace. Both men met the “B” standard and qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials set for February 29, 2020 in Atlanta Georgia.
Here’s how they did it.
Let’s start with Tunningley. Tunningley, who clocked 29:30 for the 10K and 14:15 for the 5K as a Longhorn, and was cross-country team captain his senior year at the University of Texas focused on staying healthy and getting in consistent training this time around.
“In this build-up a key thing for me was staying healthy, and a big disappointment at the 2019 Aramco Houston Half Marathon,” said Tunningley. “When I raced Houston, I shot for a time that would have qualified me for the Olympic trials [64 minutes]. I went out very fast and aggressively and died hard and ran a pretty mediocre time for myself [68 minutes]. That disappointment gave me motivation to double down on my goals and do the things I had previously not been doing like strength work with RunLab and strength classes at athletic outcomes.”
Tunningley chose Grandma’s because it was a race he had been to before, noting that the course is very flat and fast similar to Houston.
“The only other marathon I have ever run was at the 2016 Olympic trials where I ran 2:35,” he said. “I like to think of this as my debut marathon as when I ran the Trials I had an injury close to the race and the goal was to just finish the race and compete as well as I could. I’m happy to finally have a PR that I feel that reflects on the runner I am!”
Tunningley, who said that he “felt amazing the entire way,” was fortunate to have his college teammate Austin Roth run with him for the first 18 miles before he began pushing the pace and leading the group he was in.
“At 19 miles I took off on my own and from that point to the finish I picked up the pace to around five minutes flat per mile,” said Tunningley, 29.
“It’s incredible to come from a small town like Lockhart and now to be competing on one of the biggest stages for U.S. runners,” added Tunningley, who placed seventh overall at Grandma’s. “I think competing at UT prepared me for moments like these…I no longer am nervous when I get on the line to race I get excited to show off the hard work I have put in to be on the starting line.”
Fuentes, 32, whose 1:03:37 placed him fifth overall in the half, drew strength from a more focused training build-up.
“My training was a little more structured for this build, as I had just started working with a new coach at the first of the year. We were doing low-volume and a little high-intensity work for this training cycle. I had only a couple of workouts that indicated I was in good 10K shape, but no real big workouts that told me I could run sub-63,” said Fuentes, who won the San Antonio Rock ‘n Roll Marathon (2011 in 2:28:10) and is a three-time Austin Half Marathon champ.
The fact that he run the Garry Bjorklund Half three different times also helped.
“Actually, five years ago in 2014 on the same course, I qualified for the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials in LA with my (then) PR of 1:04:36,” said Fuentes. “So I knew the course could be fast given the right fitness and weather. “I just set a new PR on the same course, and also qualified for the 2020 trials. So pretty cool!”
Here Fuentes describes how his race unfolded:
“I decided to put my watch on ‘time of day’ so that I could race and not worry about the time,” he said. “After about eight miles the pack thinned out, and there was just four of us in a group up front. I knew that once I got to 10 miles and nothing happened to me from 10-11, then I could really go after it. At mile 12, I caught fourth place and went around them. But the home stretch he sprinted by and I ended up fifth. Either way I don’t care about place, all I wanted was the time. So I am super happy I got that. I had to play it conservative and safe and not try any risky moves so that I could just make it to the trials!
“I am forever grateful for this journey and path that I have taken to get where I am. I finally feel that a lot of this hard work is paying off. Patience, persistence, and discipline is what got me here, and a lot of miles!”
Upcoming races: Thursday, July 4 at 8:00 a.m., the Firecracker 5K at Heather Park, 2401 Piedra Drive in Lago Vista. Saturday, July 6, at 8:00 a.m., the Firecracker Flight Austin 5K/10K at San Gabriel State Park in Georgetown.