Leah Thorvilson is the 4 time winner of the Little Rock Marathon, competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials and holds the 4th fastest 50 mile time ever recorded for an American woman.
She won the Tupelo Marathon this year (I saw her blazing by me on the out and back section). And she recently became the director of athletic development at her alma mater, the University of Arkansas Little Rock.
We talked with her about her runner career, training and the lessons she learned from a torn hamstring.
Here are some of the questions we asked Leah and a few tips about injury prevention
Questions for Leah
How did you get into running marathons?
I came to the University of Little Rock to be a cross country runner and found the high mileage to be very cathartic. I was running 75-85 miles a week at the time. So after I graduated I started training for my first marathon and ran the Twin Cities Marathon in 2004 and qualified for Boston. I trained pretty hard for Boston but at the time I didn’t have the maturity to do that volume of training and I really burned myself out. I took two and a half years off and did a lot of partying.
In 2007 Ryan Shay passed away -a sad day for running. I didn’t know him personally but I remembered watching him race in college. He was a really talented runner with an atypical build like myself. Something about his death really struck me. I realized that I may have some gift for running and I’ve just been wasting it. I started training again regularly and decided to run the Little Rock Marathon that March.
Do you have a personal mantra that keeps you going on days you don’t feel like going out to run?
I need a mantra on my days off. My whole day is better when I start it with a run. It’s so much a part of me and it was a real test of will when I found out I needed surgery on my hamstring. My leg is in a sling, crutches for six weeks . . . how do you mentally wrap your mind around that?
Tell us about your injury and reconstruction
After the Olympic Trials I had fire in my belly! It was awesome. I almost couldn’t do enough to make myself tired. I went to Little Rock and ran a personal best. I ran eight marathons in 5 months. My body started to get tired but I think I didn’t want to admit it because I was having so much fun.
I was on a run one day and felt something pop. My doctor told me that it was most likely something going on with my glutes or hamstring. I continued to cross-train on and off and even race. I ended up dropping out of the Little Rock Marathon (2013) and after that got another MRI. One of my hamstrings was partially torn and grade 3 sprained and the other was a near complete tear with 3 centimeters of retraction. I had surgery 2 1/2 weeks latter.
What do you do for cross-training?
I do a lot of yoga -more so since the surgery. It has been very instrumental in my recovery and maintaining my core strength although I am a super inflexible person. I also do elliptical and swimming to keep my aerobic fitness up.
What would you say to middle-of-the-pack runners about injury prevention?
I highly recommend yoga but you should find a style that works for you. I like a hot yoga. Give it more than one chance. No two instructors teach alike. If you’re not going to do yoga, you should definitely get yourself into a good stretching routine. Also, do the maintenance stuff like ice baths. Do it if you’re healthy but especially if injuries start creeping up. And don’t be afraid of rest days. You should also know the difference between fatigue and injury. There are weeks at a time where I feel like crap but generally everything checks out ok. So, it’s good to know the difference between “I’m tired” and “I’m hurt”.
What’s next for you? Do you have any more races this year?
My main priority is to get 100% healthy and start doing some speed training. If things go well I would love to run in the US Half Championships in January. And I would like to run Little Rock and Boston in 2014 but nothing is set in stone.
So is the Little Rock Marathon your favorite race
Yes! The Nike Women’s Marathon is probably the most beautiful marathon I’ve ever run. Grandma’s Marathon is up there too. It is such a well run event for elites and beginners. Little Rock Marathon is growing in popularity and has such a great reputation. And I have a whole different level of feeling the love. I can’t say enough good about the running community here and the support that I’ve had.
Injury Prevention Tips
I appreciate Leah talking to us about her hamstring injury and I admire her courage and dedication to building her fitness back. I find it amazing that she can win the Tupelo Marathon in September after having hamstring surgery in March.
Running injuries can happen to runners of all levels. If you are training for your first marathon or your fiftieth, it is important to intentionally practice injury prevention.
Here are a few quick tips:
- Build a solid running base. You should be running 3-4 days a week for 3-5 miles at a time for at least six months before beginning a marathon training schedule.
- Integrate focused cross-training into your schedule and take regular rest days. You can get into good marathon shape by only running three days a week if you are doing focused cross-training in between.
- Listen to your body and take care of problems before they become big issues. Leah talked about training hard and doing frequent races even though she was developing problem areas.
- Consider working with a running coach who can advise you when to keep going or back off. Having a coach is not a guarantee that you will not get injured but it can reduce your chances.