Leah Thorvilson

2012 Olympic Trials Women's Marathon Qualifier

GCI 2013…The Best Race, Forever!

Hang on….you did what?? Yeah yeah….I ran a 50k. It’s really okay. I lived to tell about it! So let’s just agree that it was fine and let my doctor and I argue about it later (cause I know he will have heard about it by the time I see him next). For the record, he did tell me to just keep working my mileage up and working my pace back down to what it used to be…I don’t think he expected my buildup to hit 31 miles yet, but…. oops. Anyway, on to the good stuff!

I ran the Great Cranberry Island 50k in 2011. I planned to return in 2012 but had to back out due to injury. So, fast forward to 2013, and I am still injured (or rather, recovering from surgery) but plane tickets had already been purchased and the race directors had decided it was going to be the last year for the race, and they are both dear friends of mine whom I really wanted to see regardless of my ability to start or finish the race, so I decided to go ahead and make the trip. When I arrived at the very tiny Bar Harbor airport, I was surprise greeted by my dear friend Mary (one of the RDs). This place really is smaller than my house, and when she appeared from behind a wall, I let out a scream that I’m surprised didn’t alert the TSA.



Our Little Rock contingent of runners spent the next day traipsing around Acadia National Park and scoping out all the best seafood and blueberry flavored items we could find in Bar Harbor before heading out to the Island on Saturday morning. I was quite excited to see the dock, and the general store, and the flags and motivational signs hanging from every telephone pole. GCI….we were back!! Pictured below, we have Dan on far right lookin’ like he’s getting ready to do a gangster crotch grab, my very intimidating prancing with Chinese hat, and Nicholas looking like T-Pain (I mean..he was just on a boat)…we are quite the force to be reckoned with.



GCI is notorious for the lobster bake and post race island camping festivities. Our motley crew hoofed it to the campground, pitched our tents, and got ready to run! While we were waiting I was asked if I was going to win again. I gave a very emphatic no and told the friend I was speaking to that there was about as good a chance of me winning as there had been me making the Olympic Team when I ran the Trials. My coach had actually advised me to run 20 miles (as long as my longest post surgery run had been) and drop out. I knew pretty well that I wanted to finish if at all possible, but I wasn’t willing to hurt myself over it and planned to walk as much as needed. The whole island has one road on it that is just over 4 miles long, and the race just runs back and forth, 7.5 revoltions of this same road. I posted a few supplies by the side of the road near the start in case I should need them….a change of shoes, and my tutu. I planned to grab that for the final lap. Despite knowing that I was not in my true form, I was given bib # F-2.



I wasn’t actually too keen on having that number honestly, so my good friend John who was there doing the race timing helped me “doctor” it up with some duct tape. I’ll post a pic of the final product later. :) Before long, we were on our way! Even though you get to see it 4 times, you can’t deny that this is a spectacular view. And that is race director Gary Allen in the blue shorts. Ow ow!!!



One of my very best friends, Alison, was also running. This was to be her very first 50k ever. Because of the out and back and out and back (x7) nature of the course, you encounter all the other runners from one angle or another. Ali and I never passed each other without some encouragement. Early on in the race, she told me enthusiastically “you’re in 5th! 5th female!”… I was feeling pretty good at that point in time. To my surprise, everything was clicking. Not that I was going at any warp speed or anything, but that was by far the best I have felt on a run post surgery. I started to move my way up. I am not sure if I was speeding up or they were slowing down…probably a bit of both. I managed to work my way up to 2nd place female. There was even a moment in time when I had a flashback to the conversation i’d had earlier in the day, and I thought “holy crap! I actually might win this race…what???” But, that thought was fairly fleeting. I had been reeling in the leader for a few laps, and then she started to move away….or maybe I just started to fade. What I remember is, I had made a point of not counting my laps. I didn’t want to overthink it. Don’t think, just run. If I started to think about things, there were way too many reasons for me to start feeling like crap or not believing I could finish. One time as I was passing through the finish area, I made the mistake of peeking at the time clock…1 hour 50 minutes and change. I wasn’t sure how far I had to go, but I knew I was going to be out there at least another 2 hours. That did a bit of a mental number on me. I hung tough for a while, and had lots of support from friends on the course, running beside me and trying to encourage me. There were a few times I thought to myself “Gary (coach) told me to drop out, maybe I ought to drop out..I don’t want to hurt myself” and then “no, you can’t work your way up to 2nd place and then just drop out, besides, you’re not hurt…are you? you’re just tired” and then “you know what….this is one hell of a run of perseverance after what you’ve gone through, no matter where you finish, it’s okay”.  Yep, the usual self dialogue of a long distance race. I ended up finishing as the 3rd place female behind my good friend Angie from Memphis and another girl named Lindsay. It was a really great race for Angie, and I was so happy to be there to support her. Not even a little bit upset that she whipped my ass. :) The final 8 miles were a real grind, and they should have been. This was 11 miles longer than I had run in months, and in the end, the pace was faster than most of my training runs have been. The coolest thing for me that day was the finish though. They had flags to hand off to the top 3 finishers, to carry as they ran across the finish line. This is a very symbolic thing for me, as I remember seeing pictures of Kara, Shalane, and Desi running with their flags after making the Olympic Team. It may sound cheesy, but to me it was quite serendipitous. The fact that I was talking about there being as much a chance of winning as making the team earlier….and that I truly believed when I lined up that even on a perfect day that day, I wouldn’t be top 5 women….here I was, finishing 3rd place…successfully completing a 50k race 4 months after having a major surgery. For those final 20 seconds of GCI, I was Kara Goucher in my mind. I flapped that flag over my head like I had just made the Olympic Team.



I had never stopped for the tutu, or the shoes, but they were there waiting on me to don in celebration when I finished. Here are your top 3 women, with our champions cups, GCI rocks, lobster claw belt buckle medals, and flags. Yeah baby!



My knees felt like they were going to explode, but my heart was happy.  I strapped some ice bags to my legs with my compression tights, ate a trophy full of goldfish, and awaited Ali’s finish. She had a goal time of running under 5:20, and she came flying strong across the finish just over 5:14. I was so very proud of her.  I’ve been testing out my coaching abilities with Ali being my guinea pig, and she has turned into my pride and joy. Seeing her finish with her hands in the air and a huge smile on her face put a satisfaction in my heart that you just can’t put down on paper. “You did it!”



All in all I have to say it was a phenomenal trip. My time won’t go down in history as anything spectacular or earth shattering, but it was a big stepping stone on my road to recovery. It was a confidence in those moments where I felt so smooth, that I actually will get back to a competitive level of running. It was one more beautiful rejuvenation of my running spirit. Post race, we feasted on lobster, drank blueberry wine straight out of the bottle, and made the kind of memories that GCI is known for. Judging by the aftermath, I think the inflatable T-Rex was the “last man standing”




In closing out this post, I want to share a quote…that I can’t remember where I found. I believe it was in someone’s blog sometime after the Boston Marathon this year. I copied it down to take to a women’s running clinic I was going to speak at, and I have used it multiple times since, because it is wonderful. I apologize to whomever wrote it that I can’t give you credit.

“Runners are tough, and resilient. When we train…., we put in months of work. We voluntarily put our bodies, minds, and spirits through tests of sometimes nightmarish rigor. We have bad runs and get over them. We have injuries and get over them. We soil ourselves in every way imaginable, and see others doing the same, and we get over it. We share water, food, toilet paper, elation, and despair. We keep on running”













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  • D J Belanger says:

    Actually …. I had just completed a gangsta crotch grab.

    October 9, 2013 at 5:41 pm
  • Lisa C says:

    Great post, Leah, and congrats on 3rd place! You’re awesome and inspiring, and I’m proud to be on Marathon Maniacs with you. Thanks for the smiles and encouragement during the 50K!
    Best wishes, Lisa Cao MM #3276

    September 4, 2013 at 10:43 pm
  • Mary says:

    BOOYAH! This is music to my ears: “To my surprise, everything was clicking. Not that I was going at any warp speed or anything, but that was by far the best I have felt on a run post surgery.” CAW!

    August 11, 2013 at 8:07 pm
  • JV says:

    Great job out there! You looked strong the whole time. Nice to finally meet you and thank you for the Go Running Shirt!

    August 8, 2013 at 4:06 pm

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