It’s summer, it’s running season, and I’m really happy to be working with the American Heart Association’s Minnesota Run with Heart team this year. It’s the first time the AHA has fielded a charity team for the Twin Cities Marathon and it is, ahem, a cause after my own heart.

Over the next 10 training weeks (that’s all that’s left!), the AHA and this blog are featuring profiles of our team members. First up: me.

Run with Heart Profile Jen Thorson


Jennifer Thorson



Hometown/Current City

I’m originally from Fergus Falls, Minnesota, but I have lived in St. Paul for 21 years.

Number of Marathons

One, but I’ve trained for three. My first heart attack knocked me out of the 2011 marathon 6 weeks before the race; my second took me out less than a month before the 2012 race. I had completed the 20 mile training run, but was in the cath lab 12 days later.

Favorite Race Completed

The 2009 Twin Cities Marathon, my first and only. The accomplishment is just so monumental, and a little like having a baby, about 10 minutes after I was done I said “well, that wasn’t so bad, I’d do that again!”

Other favorite races have been the Fargo Marathon Relay, with my brother, husband, and cousin (a relay is a very fun way to race) and my very first 10K at a small town up north, where the Boy Scouts and local firefighters provided traffic control and water stops and the route was along Mille Lacs Lake. There were so few runners it was just me, the road, the lake, and silence.

Favorite Location To Train

Summit to Minnehaha Park, along the creek, to the lakes. Out and back from my house will get me 20 miles. It’s close to home with water, rest rooms, and lots of people watching along the way.

I’ve also run training runs in Oregon, Washington DC (along the Potomac), Florida, Carmel, San Jose, Boston, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, Mexico, and all over Minnesota. (I dragged my gear to Hawaii but never got to it there!) That’s one of the reasons running is the best sport; you can train anywhere and running in a new place is one of my favorite things.

Favorite Running Pump-Up Song

I actually prefer silence. I never run with music or podcasts.

My Running Secret

My running secret is keep asking questions and talking about running with other runners.

When I first started running I pestered my friend, a marathon veteran and running team coach, constantly. I learned about bringing fuel on a run (after I got through my 11, 13, and 15 mile training runs without it and couldn’t believe how awful I felt!), proper race morning breakfasts, 10s and 1s for long runs, hill training, Body Glide, Icy Hot, the best socks, and more. I couldn’t have done my marathon without her.

Ask, ask, ask! No question is a silly one. The running community is so positive and supportive and willing to help.

Biggest Motivation for Long Runs

Um . . . to check it off the list? To brag about it afterward? Long runs were not my favorite, except for that runners high about 8 miles in. It seems like miles 1-8 take forever, 8-16 just blow by before you realize it, and the last two, no matter the distance, hurt like hell. I loved the spaced-out middle miles though. Sometimes I’d forget where I was; I was just along for the ride.

How has heart disease touched you?

In every conceivable way. At age 37 and in training for my second marathon, I had a heart attack. At age 38 and training again for what was to be my victory lap marathon, I had another. My brother, age 32 and also a marathoner, had a heart attack 1 year and 2 weeks after my first. My father has heart disease, my sister’s at risk.  So are my children. My only risk factor: family history.

But here’s the thing about heart disease: it is not an event. It is not behind you. You are not cured. It affects me nearly every day. Some days I have pain. Some days I’m exhausted by normal activities. Some days I feel fine. There’s never a day I don’t think about it.

Heart disease takes things away: I have my life, but I am not allowed to have more children. I can run, but only up to 10 miles. I take medication for depression; I’ve never been depressed before in my life.

I can speak about heart disease, raise awareness for it, fund raise to support the fight against it, but I can never escape it.

I am fine, but I will never be well.

Why is running important to you?

Running saved my life, more than once. I’m convinced that it was the health of my runner’s heart (and all the collateral arteries I built up) that kept me alive and even free from permanent damage to my heart, even though my heart attack was undiagnosed for 24-36 hours. And it was my runners’ knowledge of my body — what it can do and what it is supposed to feel like — that kept my second blockage (80% in my LAD) from progressing to the 100% block also known as the “widowmaker.” I self-diagnosed that second attack  — on a run. I got one mile and I just knew I wouldn’t be running that race.

But I’m here. Here to keep running. Not as fast, not as far, but running. Because I can. Because I lived.