By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
NEW YORK (13-May) -- The last time Boulder's Laura Thweatt traversed the hills of Central Park, she was in a boatload of pain running her way to a top American finish in her marathon debut at the TCS New York City Marathon. Now, some six months later, the 27-year-old will race over the same stretch of asphalt, this time gunning for a podium spot at the 12th UAE Healthy Kidney 10-K. While the roads may be the same, Thweatt's mentality is much stronger thanks to her time here last year.
PHOTO: Laura Thweatt with her coach, Lee Troop, after her marathon debut at the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon in 2015 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"The marathon really helped me find my feet and get back that confidence as far as 'I know I can do this,' and it really set me up to have a good 2016," Thweatt told Race Results Weekly, speaking after taking part in a youth running event hosted at a local school by New York Road Runners. "[It] really helped get my head back in the game as far as coming off an injury [in 2015]. It feels great to be back here. It's obviously a special place for me since November. I'm excited to tackle Central Park, Round Two."
In Round Two, Thweatt will be up against a small but distinguished group of elite women all racing for the $25,000 top prize. Two-time world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat, IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships medalists Mary Wacera and Cynthia Limo, and Burundi Olympian Diane Nukuri are among the international athletes racing, while Thweatt and compatriot Maegan Krifchin lead the American charge.
Smiling warmly after participating in a shuttle relay with the children, Thweatt said she's ready for what she knows will be a battle from the gun.
In 2015, Thweatt turned to longtime coach Lee Troop to begin formulating a plan for 2016. Working backwards, the pair knew the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon would be a great test before gearing up for the 2016 track season. Using Thweatt's 2:28:23, seventh place performance in the marathon as a launching point, few could have expected the University of Colorado alum's meteoric rise in the American ranks.
While she was always a consistent racer, Thweatt has used the momentum of her marathon success to catapult her full-throttle into 2016. Since November 1, 2015 --the day she ran the marathon-- Thweatt has set personal bests at 3000m and 5000m indoors (8:57.11 and 15:35.24), as well as at 10,000m (31:52.94).
The 10,000m race at the Stanford Invitational was a big 22-second personal best and a then-world leading time. But it also served to cross off a major to-do on Thweatt's 2016 checklist: achieve the Olympic standard of 32:15.
"It was definitely a hard race," said Thweatt, giving credit to teammate and pacemaker Sara Vaughn, as well as competitor Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton, who helped keep the tempo honest the entire way. "It felt really good to get the qualifier and just have that done with. I felt a lot of pressure going into that race just cause I didn't have any track times, so I needed that to go well just to get that track confidence back."
Using words like rhythm, confidence, and momentum, Thweatt is clearly in a supreme spot entering the lead-up to July's U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene. She'll race the 10,000m on Saturday, July 2, against a field which is likely to include reigning IAAF World Outdoor Championships bronze medalist Emily Infeld, all-around ace Molly Huddle, and 2012 Olympian Kim Conley. It will be a tough race.
"The hay is in the barn, so at this point its just knowing you have everything you need in your wheelhouse and taking confidence from that," Thweatt said. While the very hard training may be done, Thweatt still has unfinished business on the track.
Sticking to the plan, Thweatt hopes to achieve a few personal goals on the oval before returning to the marathon. Staying on the track will be beneficial for her marathon future, and can add longevity to her marathon career: a winning combination that Thweatt hopes serves her well not just for this year's Olympiad, but also in 2020.
"I have 100% faith and confidence in what [Coach Troop] is asking of me, and I think if you have that with your coach then it makes a huge difference. That's really where you start to see the performances come up. I'm just lucky to have him in my corner, and we're excited for the next eight weeks and we're excited for the summer. Hopefully things keep progressing," she said.
Here in New York, Thweatt's goal is to have fun, be competitive, and get a good, hard effort under her belt. Like the marathon was to her track season, Thweatt hopes the UAE Healthy Kidney 10-K can be another stepping stone to future success.
"My goal is just to race the race. I'm not concerned about the time, I just want to get in there and mentally grind it and see how long I can stay in the mix," she said. "Fighting all the way in -- if I can do that then I'll be happy with it."