Let’s Get to Know . . . Ariana Hilborn

If you ran this year’s Summerfest Rock ‘n Sole, you may have noticed the front of the pack looked a bit different. This time, even the fastest boys didn’t stand a chance. With her legs churning and blond ponytail bobbing furiously along, Ariana Hilborn beat all of the boys to the finish line of the Quarter Marathon race.

It would be easy to think Hilborn is just another elite runner who’s been logging speedy miles her entire life. But actually, she logged her first mile only six years ago!

Hilborn grew up in Greendale – a suburb of Milwaukee – and now lives and trains in Arizona. Below, she shares with us how she went from a 4:36 to 2:37 marathon time in less than four years, what it was like racing the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials and why she loves coming back to Milwaukee to run.


Ariana Hilborn

Professional Runner

Age: 32

Team affiliation: Brooks ID Elite

Sponsors: Brooks, Perfect Foods Bar, Garden of Life

Years running: 6

Favorite workout: 16 mile marathon pace time trial on the Beeline Hwy in Fountain Hills, Arizona. We go early in the morning and get to see the sunrise over the mountains. So beautiful!

Favorite song to get pumped up pre-race: My Body (Young The Giant) or Do Not Pass Me By (MC Hammer) – love it!

Favorite post-race treat: Beer and brunch – Small Bar in San Diego has the best brunch and it is one of the main reasons I love to race in California.

Favorite distance to race: Marathon

Career Highlights:

  • Boston Marathon 2013 – 2:42:00 – 6th American
  • Olympic Trials Marathon 2012 – 2:37:37 – 29th place
  • Grandma’s Marathon 2012 – 2:40:03 – 6th place
  • San Diego Rock and Roll Half Marathon 2012 – 1:15:32 – 2nd place
  • C Half Marathon 2012 – 1:15:51 – 1st place
  • 2012 Carlsbad 5000 – 16:59 – 1st place age group 30-39
  • Hollywood Half Marathon 2012 – 1:17:03 – 3rd place
  • Phoenix 10k 2011 – 34:53 – 1st place
  • Cow Harbor 10k – 35:13 – 8th place
  • America’s Finest City Half Marathon 2011 – 1:17:27 – 2nd place
  • Grandma’s Marathon 2011 – 2:37:28 – 10th place, 2012 Olympic Trials ‘A’ Standard


What was it like to beat all the boys at this summer’s Rock ‘n Sole Quarter Marathon?

It was super fun! I wanted to be faster, but the win was pretty satisfying. My parents are moving out West in a few months, but I still hope to be back next year to try to win again. The race was really fun and that bridge was quite the challenge!

Tell us – why did you start running?

I started running after college just to stay in shape. I really enjoyed running and was always intrigued by those race shirts everyone was wearing. When I first started dating my husband, Matt, we decided to train for a marathon. Neither of us had ever run a race before, much less a marathon! We signed up to run with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It was a great group and it gave us the training we needed to cross the finish line.

When did you decide to try the marathon distance and how did you train?

We decided to try the marathon distance because, like most new runners, we thought it to be the one that ‘real’ runners do, a challenge. Boy, I sure have learned a lot. Play it right and the mile or 5k hurts just as much, if not more than a marathon! Ha!

We trained with the Leukemia Society and topped out at 30-40 miles. Matt and I didn’t do speedwork, although it was offered. We started training with the group in late August for the January marathon.

It’s amazing and inspiring that you’ve managed to bring your marathon time down from 4:36 to 2:37 in just four years. Can you talk a bit about how you accomplished this amazing feat?

I am one stubborn and persistent girl! I was able to consistently train without injury, which allowed me to create a good base. I read everything there was to read about running after I finished my first marathon. When I set my mind to something I am all in. Some may say that I am … intense. I found a whole new world! I was so excited and I believed I could run faster. I started using Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning to train. I used it to qualify for Boston, and to bring myself to a sub-3 hour marathon. I loved his training schedules! I was running about 70-80 miles a week.

After I broke 3 hours in the marathon, I decided to hire a coach. Coach John Reich suggested I focus on qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials. I had no idea what he was talking about! After going home and looking it up online, I was SO excited. Not only did he think I had the talent to run a sub 2:46 marathon, but I knew that I could do it, too!

I have worked with John since December of 2009 (Except for 7/2012-7/2013 when I ran with Hanson’s Brooks Olympic Distance Project). We work as a great team and he is always pushing me right to that fine line of being successful and pushing my limits without overtraining.

Of course a huge part of my success has been the support of my family, friends, and my husband, Matt. He goes to every one of my races and takes care of everything race weekend for me. He has sacrificed a lot to allow me to simply focus on training and make my dreams come true. Matt has really made this all possible for me and I am one lucky lady!

At what point did you decide to go pro?

When I started running competitively, I was teaching first grade. I am definitely a type-A person so I poured my heart in to teaching and was also giving everything I could to running. This meant years of waking up at 3:30 a.m. to be running by 4 a.m., home, showered, and off to school by 6:30 a.m. so that I could spend an hour preparing for my day before the kiddos came. After school let out at 3, I stayed until 5 or 6 p.m. each night grading papers, creating bulletin boards, centers, etc. Then I would either go run again or head to the gym to lift. It got quite overwhelming but I could not teach *halfway*, nor would I want to. I loved teaching and miss it dearly!

When I qualified for the trials, Matt, John and I decided to go ‘all in’ and give everything I had to train for the 2012 trials. I was sad to leave teaching, but I knew I wanted to pour my heart in to my training and live with no regrets. I am confident that I will teach my firsties again in the future!

I know a lot of people say that it must be easy for professional runners to run fast since they don’t have to work and can focus on training. I feel like if you want it bad enough you will find a way to make it happen. I qualified for the trials and achieved the ‘A’ standard while working full time. After I paid my dues, my running career started. So, it can be done! It was exhausting, but definitely doable, and for me, it was worth every single sacrifice.

What was it like running at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials?

Qualifying for the race and being in Houston was awesome. I never thought 2 years prior that I would be toeing the line at the Olympic Trials and running with girls that I had idolized when I was a 4:36 marathoner. I had so many friends and family there to watch; it was awesome. I also had met many of the women trials qualifiers at races throughout the year leading up to the trials, so it was really fun to spend the week with all of the athletes catching up and having fun! It was definitely a celebration of our hard work.

IMG_1051-300x200Hilborn bringing it home at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials

I was trained to run a sub 2:33 and was in great shape. I went out and gave it everything I had and majorly hit the wall after finding myself running a few 5:3x miles in the middle of the race – way too fast for my 5:52 pace target! I ran my second 2:37 in a row. I have no regrets for going out fast; it’s not how I usually race, but at the Olympic Trials you lay it on the line and hold on. I learned a lot and finished when I really had to mentally push to do so. I got passed by 10 girls in the last mile! Ouch.

Can you tell us a bit about what it was like running with the Hansons Brooks team and runners like Desiree Davila?

I learned so much about myself as an athlete while with Hansons. They really toughened me up. There were days when I would text the girls in rain, ice, or snowstorms and ask if we were really running in this … the answer was always, yep! Kevin and Keith had me train for my first cross country race and I had so much fun. I didn’t think I would like it and was a little wary when they approached me with it, but I ended up loving cross country! The Hansons are so knowledgeable about the sport, and they give so much to the running community. It was an honor to be able to be coached by them. I am so grateful for everything they did for me while on the team and I will always support Hanson’s Brooks ODP.

I loved training with the girls and made life-long friends while I was there. I had so many great role models including Des, Dot, Mel, Neely and Lavenna. I have learned so much from them and they inspired me to be better every day. Watching your team members do well and improve is great motivation!

Fill in the blank: When a race starts feeling tough, I ______.

Try not to be a wuss-cakes. I start using my mantras to pull me out of those rough patches.

What running goals are you looking to tackle next?

The sub 2:35 marathon is my next stepping stone to work toward a nice, fast marathon. I would also like to get the sub 1:15 half marathon monkey off of my back! I am looking toward the 2016 Olympic Trials, but my main goal in my running career is to make a world’s team in the marathon.

What advice would you give to other runners who are looking to improve their race times?

Believe in yourself! Put in the work and it will pay off. There are going to be rough days, weeks, months, even years. If you recognize that and still persevere, you will succeed. Join your local track club. The Arizona Road Racers introduced me to track workouts and my times greatly improved and I met a ton of amazing people. After telling my brother for years to join his track club he did and after 3 months of training with the group he knocked 10 minutes off of his half marathon PR!


Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?

I love starting at Alterra Coffee and running by Lake Michigan up toward UWM. It always brings back so many memories of high school and my first year of college (at UWM). Lots of fun times and sad times (I was SO dramatic growing up!). Of course getting coffee after the run is the icing on the cake!

When I am in town and I have a run longer than 8 miles, I head to the Hank Aaron Trail. We park at the Harley Davidson Museum. The trail is perfect for speedwork as well as long runs. Matt and I always head to The National for breakfast after those runs.

From my parent’s house, I love running through the Village of Greendale, past my high school, around Scout Lake, and through the Parkway. I run past houses of high school friends and boyfriends and reminisce. I guess that is what you do when you are getting old and have miles and miles of thinking to do!

In general, what makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?

The air in Milwaukee always feels so good to me. Maybe I am being too nostalgic, but I love the familiarity of it all. I love that you can get great food and beer after a run!

Thanks for chatting with us, Ariana! We look forward to following your training and racing in the upcoming months.

If you’re a runner in MKE, we’d love to chat with you. Send us an email at keeprunningmke@gmail.com if you’d like to be featured or know someone who should be featured in an upcoming Let’s Get to Know . . . post.

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

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