Recently I had the pleasure to sit down for a little “Q&A” session with 5-time Little Rock Marathon winner Leah Thorvilson. Just a couple of weeks after winning the marathon for a record fifth time, and just a couple of days after knee surgery, Leah graciously granted me an interview for Get Fit Arkansas. Having just been thru a media whirlwind, and then having her knee scoped on top of that, I halfway expected to find her both exhausted and on crutches! To the contrary however, it was neither. She showed up ready to roll and was walking just fine. In no time, she was strolling thru Newks greeting some friends and fellow runners. I shouldn’t have expected anything less.
I’ve been fortunate to get to know Leah somewhat over the past year or so, as we are both UALR alumni and members of the UALR Tip-In Club. In the time I’ve known her, I’ve found her to be a very energetic person. That goes without saying. She’s also attractive, outgoing, and knows how to laugh. What I like most about Leah though is she hasn’t allowed all of her success to go to her head. She’s humble, down to earth, very pleasant to be around, and always seems to have a smile for everyone.
Leah also stays very busy as the Director of Athletic Development for UALR. Having been a standout on the Trojan’s cross-country team, Leah has now returned to her alma mater to help make it possible for other student-athletes to play sports, graduate college, and achieve their dreams.
So how does someone start off virtually every morning by running a half-marathon … that’s right … 13 miles per day for training, work full-time, constantly attend athletic events, travel for races, and have any time left over for a social life?
With all of this going on, one has to ask … Just how does she do it?
These are the questions I posed to Leah during our interview. We hope you enjoy the Q&A format:
Q. With 25 marathon wins (so far!) spanning over several years, you’ve got to love what you’re doing. Can you tell us when and how you discovered your passion for running?
A. I started running in high school back home in Minnesota and really enjoyed it, but don’t know that I ever had any expectation to run after I graduated. I was given an opportunity to come run on a scholarship at UALR, where I realized my passion for distance running.
Q. Many of our fitness clients tell us the hardest thing to do is to stay motivated after the training sessions are over and there’s no longer a trainer there to keep them going. With the amount of preparation it takes on an ongoing basis to train for marathons, how do you stay motivated and where do you find the drive to get up every day and put in the miles?
A. I think you have to make training part of your daily routine, just like coffee and breakfast. Once it’s part of your routine, you just become accustomed to doing it. It becomes part of your life. Then you’re not constantly having to re-motivate yourself every single day. I also think having a training partner to keep you accountable and having a goal set for yourself that you want to achieve to keep you on track.
Q. Proper nutrition is a challenge all of us face, especially when we are trying to coordinate it with an exercise program. Can you share with us what type of nutrition plan you follow, especially to give you enough energy to store for all the calories you must burn in a day’s training? Also, what do you usually take in just prior to race day, and during the marathon itself (don’t give up any trade secrets!)?
A. For me it’s all about eating clean foods and cutting out inflammatory and addictive foods. It’s not a diet in the terms of a low calorie thing or a no carb thing. It’s just learning what foods fuel you and benefit you versus what foods can be detrimental to your physical and emotional wellbeing. Having healthy eating habits is a lifestyle, not something you do for a period of time and then stop. You learn to have balance and to crave the right foods. I believe in maintaining balance with your food intake in order to fuel yourself.
On a marathon day, I usually eat some oatmeal with a natural sweetener such as honey or agave for energy. If it’s a short race such as a 5K, I just eat a banana with some coffee if anything, as it doesn’t require as much intake. I think it’s a mistake to eat a heavy pasta dinner the night before any race. I think it is better to eat a higher carb meal (and preferably brown rice or sweet potatos rather than pasta) earlier in the day and have a light dinner so your stomach isn’t trying to process all that heavy food while you are trying to rest and rejuvenate your body.
Q. Is there any advice you can give to casual joggers who are considering making the jump to competitive running events?
A. I’d say to set some goals for yourself, not necessarily easy ones, but realistic ones. Then put a plan in place to achieve results whether it’s by yourself or with a trainer.
Q. Are there any interesting stories “from the road” you would care to share with our readers?
A. I was once chased by a woman in high heels. I was running the Las Vegas Rock n Roll (the only race I have ever dropped out of in my life). It is now a night race, but it used to start at 5:00 in the morning. There were some ladies standing on the side of the road who had clearly not been to bed yet and were trashed. One in particular was stumbling and after I passed them her friends started yelling at her to "go get her!" Then I hear the click click click click of high heels coming down the street towards me. She was shooed off pretty quickly by race security, but it was damn funny.
I have also had a time that I was running in a half marathon and there was a Hash House Harrier aid station. They are a nationwide group that refers to themselves as “drinkers with a running problem.” Well I was leading the race, and they had sidewalk chalk written "beer ahead." I went to reach for the beer and they were screaming at me "THAT'S NOT WATER!!" and I said "I know! I want it!" They really got a kick out of the lead runner taking beer.
Q. Finally, what are some of your future plans or goals as you contemplate your running career over the next several years?
A. As far as a long-term goal, I’ve already qualified to run in the Olympic Trials in February 2016. To train for that, I’ll run in what I call “A races, B races, and C races.” A races are highly competitive events where I’ll push for a personal best. B races are usually events I travel to do, but I go with a group of friends and hope to run a good time, but I have not targeted that race as a race where I am aiming for a personal best…I am sort of training through it, and C races are usually races I do out of convenience and for the fun of socialization with the local running community. I have not lined out specific races for this year as I have been just getting back into things following surgery.
Photo Credits: Nike Marathon: LeahThorvilson.com. Office photo: UALR.edu. Little Rock Marathon: ArkansasMatters.com, LeahThorvilson.com. Chicago Marathon: LeahThorvilson.com. Trophy photo: UALR.edu.
Article written by Mark Jenkins, publisher of GetFitArkansas.com. All rights reserved.