Dr. Tiencia James Explains Her Journey From Running With Her Dad As A Child To Qualifying For Kona

by | Aug 31, 2022 | Podcast

Dr. Tiencia James is a physician, a wife, mom, marathoner, and a triathlete. This mother of three started running as a child to spend time with her  father who was a runner. She eventually fell in love with the sport. She ran track in  high school and in her early college days but left the college team to concentrate on her medical studies. She however kept running for her own pleasure.

After the birth of her first child, she decided to start racing. Her first marathon was Disney, she ran so well she qualified for the  Boston Marathon. This was quite an impressive feat, as runners have to qualify for Boston and Disney is usually a slower race due to all the turns and characters along the race course.  She kept running marathons but after her third child she decided to challenge herself and started her triathlon career.. Despite a busy career as a doctor, being a wife and mom of three  Dr. Tiencia James not only races but she strives to be the best.  She is passionate about the sport and  has often neglected sleep to train as she ever wanted to take away from her family. Dr. Tiencia James is the  first black woman to qualify for the Ironman World Championship on merit. 

Following the death of her brother, she has decided to take a sabbatical from medicine to focus on family, training, and other career endeavors. She even hopes to start a business inspired by her passion for running and triathlons. She is currently training for the Ironman World Championships to be held in October.

Episode Highlights:

  • Getting started as a runner to stay and spend time  with her  father.
  • Running through high school and college.
  • Dr. Tiencia James’s  experience at her first marathon.
  • The new challenge of triathlons.
  • Qualifying for Kona
  • Balancing work, family and racing .
  • Dr. Tiencia James shares some life lessons from triathlons

Guest Bio

Dr. Tiencia James is the youngest of four kids and spent her childhood in Georgia. Her father was an obsessive competitive age group runner growing up. In fact, she is pretty sure that his divorce from her mother stems from how this took him away from his family at times. Somewhere around the age of 8-10, she started running with him. It was never because she had any strong desire to run at first, however, she figured out that if she ran, she would get to spend more time with him. Instead of just seeing him every other weekend like her siblings, she would see him for morning runs or weekend road trips to races. Eventually, however, she began to really love running and got very good at it. By the time she was in high school she was placed in the top three-four girls in the state in cross country and track/field 1600m/3200m. James never considered herself to be a talented runner, but because of her work ethic, love for the sport and support of her dad, she was able to outperform kids with more natural abilities.

When she graduated from high school, she decided that she wanted to go to medical school so running took a back seat. It was no longer about her racing and competing, but it continued to be something that kept her grounded and helped her deal with the academic stress. She did compete as a walk-on at Stanford for two years before quitting the team to focus on her studies. She kept running most days really just for her sanity to decompress. She graduated from Stanford University and then went to Duke University to complete her medical doctorate while also getting a master’s in public health from UNC. Eventually, she returned to Georgia and did her Emergency Medicine residency at Emory.

After getting married, being an emergency medicine physician, and having her first 2 children Dr. Tiencia James began to miss the competitive side of running. It was in 2010 that she got back into racing and decided to train seriously for a marathon. She did her first marathon at Disney in a time of 3:22 qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The following year, at age 33, she finished the Boston Marathon in 3:11. Over the next few years, she continued to race long distances. After having the third child, she was looking for a different
the challenge, something new. Somehow, she decided that she wanted to try long-distance triathlons. She hired a coach and after completing The Great Floridian and then Ironman Chattanooga soon after was hooked.

Since then, James has qualified for many Ironman World Championship races in the 70.3 distance. She has been determined to use sports and athletics to get closer to her family and not allow it to push them apart. She often will find ways to involve all her kids in her training and for most races, they travel together as a family. It has been a great way to see the world together and to show her kids that life has no limits.

Life has gotten a bit crazy, especially over the past two years, being a wife, mom of three kids and an ER doctor in the middle of Covid while also trying to keep up her training. She reached a major personal goal this past year. After more than 6 years of trying, she finally qualified for the Ironman World Championships in the 140.6 distance at the age of 44. She has been told that she is the first black female to qualify based on finishing place in a qualifying race (as opposed to legacy or slots awarded for charity). When she started giving away her ER shifts so she could go for a bike ride, she knew that she had to find a way to follow her heart.
After losing her 45year old brother unexpectedly this past December, she really had to rethink her priorities. We only have one life so why not take chances and go “all in” on your dreams? This May, she decided after 15 years, to step away from the ED so that she can train for Kona, spend more time with her family as well as starting two entrepreneurial businesses-one in real estate and the other in high-performance endurance athletic consulting where she hopes to combine her knowledge of sports physiology, nutrition, and medicine in order to figure how to make endurance athletes better. She is not sure what the result of this will be for her, but she is very excited about this next chapter of her life.

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