A Lesson in Patience

Anyone looking for motivation to stick with something need look no further than Laura Thweatt.
Thweatt, 26, will make her 26.2-mile debut on November 1 as a top American contender.
It’s been a successful year for the rising star: She’s the 2015 USATF cross country champion; she finished 29th (second American) at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships; she was the runner-up at the USA 15K Championships; she placed fourth at the USA 10-Mile Championships; and she was victorious at the Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon.
Thank goodness she decided not to quit back in 2011.
An all-state runner for Durango High School in Colorado, Thweatt (rhymes with “sweet”) graduated from the University of Colorado among the school’s top 10 at five distances. “I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she says.
But no one was going to mistake her for one of the collegiate superstars who glide seamlessly from the NCAA into the professional world of agents and bonuses. There was no looming shoe contract, and thus no immediately discernible way to pay the rent. Then came the “hard pill to swallow” of coming down with a stomach bug that ruined her NCAA West Regionals: Thweatt was last in the 10,000 meters and fared poorly in the 5000 meters, falling far short on her last chance to compete in a national championships.
“It was hard to know whether it was realistic to keep running, and if I really could pursue it at the next level,” she says. “So I took a couple months off, trying to see whether the next step was either outside of running or with running.”
Fortunately, Thweatt had two things going for her: as assistant cross-country coach at Monarch High School, she still got out for the occasional run with her athletes, which kept the flame flickering. And she listened when Colorado teammate Matt Tebo urged her to contact Lee Troop, the three-time Olympic marathoner from Australia who now coaches the Boulder Track Club.
While working at a local running store, Thweatt joined the club and, under Troop’s tutelage, began eking her way toward a shoe contract—which would come in February 2014, after she won the first of two consecutive USATF National Club Cross Country titles.
Meanwhile, Troop helped re-shape Thweatt’s self-image, not only as an athlete, but as a competitor. “I never really saw myself as being able to compete at the front of races,” she says. “I never had that mentality.” Pro runners like Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher seemed untouchable.
If you can’t see yourself competing against the best, Troop told her, then you’re wasting your time.
The breakthrough came two years ago, when Thweatt finished third at the US National Road Racing Championships 12K ahead of several Olympians and national champions, behind only Molly Huddle—who ran a world best for the distance—and Flanagan. It was the first race, she says, in which she firmly put herself in the mix amid high-caliber rivals and realized, “I can do this. it’s like ‘oh my gosh, this is what I’ve been working for.’”
So take heart.
“You are not alone,” Thweatt says. “Running is a challenging sport no matter whether you are Meb Keflezighi or an everyday runner who decides to train for a marathon. It’s hard work. You have good days and you have bad days, and you have maybe more days when you question why you’re doing it.”
By Barbara Huebner
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