Michele Tiff-Hill

Marathon Statistics

  • First Marathon: 1980 Stockholm Marathon - Time: 3:234.22.10
  • First Sub Three-Hour Marathon: 1982 Fiesta Bowl Marathon - Time: 2.57.14
  • Fastest Marathon: 1983 Sri Chinmoy Marathon - Time: 2.50.19
  • Number of Marathons Completed: 16
  • Number Open Marathon Wins: 1
  • Number of Open Marathons Places: 2
  • The first African American woman to run in the first US women's Olympic Marathon Trials in 1984.

Hometown:  Cleveland, Ohio

Current Residence: Tucson, Arizona

Spouse: Dave Hill

High School (year graduate):

Shaker Heights High, 1969.

High School Academic/Sports Highlights:

I wasn't involved in sports of note before the age of 29, even though I played varsity volleyball a couple years in high school.  My focus from a very early age involved musical studies.  Early piano studies began just before the age of five at Sutphen School of Music where my mother was head of the Voice and Opera Department.

At the age of 10, I was awarded a full piano scholarship to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music having won the Arthur Loesser Scholarship.  I studied under Jacqueline Marcault who assumed a personal interest in my development.  She remained a benefactor and patron setting up the Centaur Foundation Grant for me before leaving Cleveland in 1964.  My piano studies continued under the tutelage of Margarita Jolles, Associate Head of the Piano Department at the Cleveland Music School Settlement.  I received a Certificate of Accomplishment in 1969.

College/University (year graduated):

  • Curtis Institute of Music, Bachelor of Music, 1974.  Piano studies with Eleanor Sokoloff.
  • UCLA, Master of Fine Arts, 1989.  Harpsichord studies with Bess Karp.
  • UCLA, PhD, 2001. Summa cum laude. Musicology.  Raymond L. Knapp, Committee Chair.

Collegiate Academic/Sports Highlights:

UCLA: Graduate Opportunity Grant 1985-86; Mimi Alpert-Feldman Award 1986-87; Atwater Kent Award 1986-87; Cannonball Adderley Scholarship, 1986-87; Affiliates Award 1987; Fellow, UCLA/Royal College of Music Exchange Program, London, England, 1987-88;  Fellow, Edwin W. Pauley, College of Letters and Science, 1990-1991; Chancellor's Merit Award, 1990

Post Collegiate Sports Highlights:

I started running at the age of 29 in 1980.  It was somewhat intimidating for me, having come from a family of accomplished athletes. My father, Benjamin Tiff, was in the same high school sprint-relay team as Jesse Owens and they remained life-long friends. He was also an accomplished tennis player who was instrumental in starting a tennis program at his alma mater, Wilberforce University. My brother, Milan Tiff, was a world-class triple jumper who held US records at high-school, college and national levels. He won the triple jump at the inaugural World Cup in 1977. My sister, Margot Tiff, was a gifted tennis player who played on the professional circuit, including the US Open, Wimbledon etc. She was also part of the Cal State sprint-relay team that won the NCAA championship. I was married, at that time, (ex-husband), to Rajne Soderberg, one-time Swedish record holder in the 110m hurdles.  Given this family background, I was rather embarrassed to embark on such an exercise after having sat on a piano bench daily for hours throughout most of my life. I couldn't even cover a lap of the track when I made that decision.  My quest began under the cover of dark on UCLA's track. Persistence and discipline pushed my desire to run further and further without distress.  That feeling of being able to run and run sparked a love for covering more and more distance.  When the running effort began to feel more fluid, I undertook a systematic approach to understanding training methodologies, form, pacing, nutritional needs, shoes, etc.  I devoured writings/schedules of leading figures in the distance running world.  Through comparative analyses, I became self-taught in what made a good distance runner.  I charted my progress in races, kept journals of mileage, etc.  I was successful in making improvements in times relatively quickly: 51:15 10K, Mar 1980 down to 37:21, Oct 1982 (Mercury 10K - Los Angeles, CA); 1:45:15 half marathon in Nov 1980 to 1.23:34 half marathon, Aug 1982 (Kungsholmen Runt - Stockholm, Sweden); 4:22:10 marathon in Aug 1980 to a Boston qualifier, Jun 1981, 3:19:20 (Stockholm Marathon),  and then my first sub-3hr marathon Dec 1982, 2:57:14 (Fiesta Bowl - Scottsdale, AZ).  These were nice drops in time, but I had loftier thoughts.  Imagine that!

I met Eino Rompannen, sculptor and running coach, after running my first sub-3-hour marathon.  I had heard of his success with a number of elite distance runners.  He offered to help me realize my goal of achieving the qualifying time for the first Women's Olympic Marathon Trials.  I never thought it too lofty a goal, but the qualifying window presented a fast-closing time frame.  I knew that my 10K and half marathon times needed to drop.  Eino increased the running mileage and introduced me to a variegated regime that suited me.  I worked hard.  Again, my sense of discipline from my youth kicked in to rescue me when fatigue questioned the point of the exercise ­čÖé.  I really wanted to secure the qualifying time and be the first African-American to do it.   Subsequently, I did qualify.  I went on to try and repeat the effort for the 1988 marathon trials.  Unfortunately, I narrowly missed the mark in an attempt in 1987 Berlin Marathon.  I was over in Europe as a Fellow at the Royal College of Music and had to switch my running brain back to my musical brain--I consciously made the decision to abort another attempt to breach the qualifying window once again.

I would go on to run several marathons under 3 hours until the age of 41.  The Sri Chinmoy Marathon in Foster City, California would remain my personal best at 2:50:19.  The half marathon best would come at Fontana Days Half Marathon in Fontana, California on the speedy downhill course at 1:15:20.  My 15K of 55:40 run in the SPA-TAC Championships in Santa Barbara.  I did manage to get that 10K time down to 35:20 in 1989 at the Tom Sullivan race in Los Angeles and 5K of 16:19 on a return visit to Fontana Days running festival.  Master's Track and Field News gave me a No. 1 U.S. ranking (5k) in the 35-39 age group. 

I came down with a bout of Graves' Disease in my early forties and it took a toll on my racing.  I did, though, return to racing in my mid-forties while in residence near London, England from 1994-2002.  My husband, Dave, and I moved to Tucson, Arizona at the end of 2002.  I resumed racing as a fifty-year old in many of the local races.  I was cited in Running Times, Mar 2008, for honorable mention in the 55-59 age group for leading U.S. Masters women runners of 2007.  I'm listed on Ted Corbitt's top ten historical list of African-American women who have run the most marathons under 3 hours.

My racing days came to abrupt halt in 2007 due to irreversible nerve damage in my lower right leg, I've managed to stay fit ever since by running in place and recently by taking daily walks of about 10 miles.

Coaching Highlights:

Eino Rompannen never charged me for the immense help he offered in helping me make good strides with my running.  It was a selfless gift I've never forgotten.  In that same spirit, my husband and I began a running group in Tucson in 2004.  The Tucson Grinders have had many participants of different abilities grace workouts orchestrated by me over the years.   I've been successful in ensuring several members of the group have reached their desired goals of improvement in various distances including Boston marathon qualifiers.

Professional Career Highlights:

I've been a private piano teacher for years, although recently retired.  I also volunteered my musical skills for many years with a group here in Tucson that offers free music instruction to the underserved community. It has been a fulfilling pleasure to have found this organization and been able to give back to those who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford a high level of instruction. 

Current projects:

I spend most of my days doing genealogical research.  

Feelings/Statements about being inducted:

It is such an honor to be recognized by the national running community and am indeed humbled by the gesture.  To be in such esteemed company warms my heart and makes be very proud to have been chosen.