A Durango-bred runner is on her way to making a mark in the elite ranks of U.S. running.
After placing seventh overall and first among women from the United States, 2007 Durango High School graduate Laura Thweatt was the country’s star of the New York City Marathon on Sunday. Her time of 2 hours, 28 minutes, 23 seconds in her first-ever marathon was one of the strongest debuts in a 26.2-mile race by a U.S. woman.
“It’s surreal, definitely still seeping in,” Thweatt said Thursday in a phone interview with The Durango Herald after returning to her new hometown of Boulder after spending a few extra days in New York. “I was in a rhythm and felt controlled. I consider myself lucky because my day came together exactly like my coach and I hoped it would.”
Thweatt, 26, ran at a 5 minute, 40 second mile pace even after grinding through the final 6.2 miles and especially the final three. While the average time of the 50,000 runners competing across all five boroughs was 4:34:45, Thweatt was at the front of the pack all day, even leading the women’s field for a short time. She said it took every bit of energy to get her hips and legs through the finish line.
It was the culmination of a trying year for Thweatt, who didn’t plan on running a marathon any time soon. After her best year as a professional in 2014 and a commanding 31-second victory at the 8-kilometer 2015 USA Cross Country Championships in February in Boulder, Thweatt suffered a foot and knee injury that forced her away from the spring track season after a 29th-place finish at the World Cross Country Championships in China.
In an effort to rejuvenate her, Boulder-based coach Lee Troop encouraged Thweatt to train for the New York City Marathon to change her routine. It paid off in the biggest way.
“The fact I just ran a marathon, it’s something I wasn’t planning on doing so soon,” she said. “The opportunity arose, and coach and I thought it would be a good way to get momentum going for next year. I took a chance to do it.”
Though a blossoming marathoner, Thweatt will transition back to running on the track in hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs. Women marathoners typically don’t peak until their late 20s or early 30s, giving her plenty of time to make more headlines at 26.2 miles.
In the days leading up to New York City and the days after, Thweatt received mass media attention from outlets including ESPN. She said it has been crazy settling back into normal life, but she enjoyed her first taste of being considered an elite runner.
Her parents, Jean and Steve Thweatt, who still live in Durango, were also caught up in the whirlwind surrounding their daughter. Both are retired educators. Jean was a principal at Riverview Elementary, and Steve was a counselor and spent time at elementary and middle schools.
“It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things,” Jean said. “All the hoopla and excitement around the marathon, it was just a whole ’nother realm for us, and her performance was something we were surprised about.”
Thweatt’s meteoric rise has been surprising to everyone. She never placed higher than third at a conference race while competing for the University of Colorado, but she was a two-time regional cross country champion at DHS. Her best career finish at state was runner-up her senior year.
Thweatt and her parents never imagined she would compete beyond college when she graduated in 2011, but she credited former CU-Boulder teammate Matt Tebo for getting her connected with coach Troop, a three-time Olympic marathoner for his native country of Australia. Troop has taken her ability to that next level.
“He’s meant the world to me, and I wouldn’t be here without Lee,” she said. “He gave me a whole new perspective and a fresh start with running. He changed my mind-set as far as how I see myself as an athlete. We make a great team.”
But Thweatt hasn’t forgotten the coaches and community that helped her mature as a young runner, including former DHS cross country and track coach Mark Dutro, who now leads the Fort Lewis College running programs, and longtime family friend Steve Thyfault.
“It’s special for everybody who has a connection to her, and it brought a tear to my eye to see her do that,” Thyfault said. “She jumped on the national radar in a big way. I’m proud and happy for her and just as much for her parents. They’ve been the ultimate parents, and their family has done it with great attitudes her entire career.”
Thweatt visits Durango a few times a year. She grew up in Edgemont Ranch northeast of town and learned to run the surrounding trails with her father. She said her favorite local run is still on the Colorado Trail to Gudy’s Rest.
She said the best part about her performance in New York was hearing from so many people from Durango, including her kindergarten teacher.
“If you live somewhere else, Laura’s marathon might have been a blip on the radar,” Jean Thweatt said. “But in Durango, whether it is skiing or cycling or running, we’re that kind of community. She’s gotten calls from some real meaningful people in her life from this town, and that’s been really fun to watch her touch base with those people who helped get her here.”