Pali High Track Coach Gwendolen Twist Gets Faster with Age

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

Life is a marathon not a sprint  and setting challenging goals and trying her best to achieve them has been the fountain of youth for 44-year-old Palisadian Gwendolen Twist, who is proving that age is a question of mind over matter.

“My plan in January was to train real hard for the Grandma’s [Marathon] and try for 2:45 (the Olympic Trials time standard), then focus on the shorter distances and break all of my high school PRs,” Twist said. “So that was the goal but I also didn’t want running to dictate my life. I wanted to have fun training and spend time with my family too.”

Palisadian Gwendolen Twist crosses the finish line in a personal-best 2:50:52 at the Grandma’s Marathon in June.
Photo: Marathonfoto

After she had clocked a personal-best two hours, 50 minutes and 52 seconds to place ninth out of 387 women in her age group at the Grandma’s Marathon on June 22 in Duluth, Minnesota, Twist called her coach, who told her to endure one more training cycle and  go for the Olympic Trial time because it’s better to try and fail than to ask “what if?” as this is the last year for semipros to be able to run in the Trials.    

Twist decided right then and there to make a run at it and she just began her training, targeting either the California International Marathon in Sacramento in December or the Chevron Houston Marathon on January 19—the last day anyone can run to qualify.

“I’m going to know in October or November if I’ll be able to do it based on how training is going,” said Twist, the mother of twin boys Wyler and Teyton, who turn 11 Monday and are going into fifth grade at Palisades Elementary. “You have to run sub-2:45 so as it stands now I have to knock off six minutes. So 2:50 may be my swan song or the tip of the iceberg. We’ll find out soon.”

Twist runs seven to 10 miles Monday, Wednesday and Friday with The Janes Elite Racing Club in Santa Monica, does track workouts Tuesday, tempo runs Thursday and her long run on Saturday.

On Sunday, she ran 5:29 to help The Janes win the team title at the Manhattan Mile in Manhattan Beach.

Gwendolen Twist with her first-place medal at the Seaside Marathon in Ventura in February.
Photo: Captivating Sports Photos

Grandma’s marked the second straight 26.2-miler at which she PR’d, having won the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in May in 2:51:49. Her previous PR had been 2:54 last year in Phoenix.   “My intention was a 6:45-6:55 mile pace for 20 miles, then drop out because it was supposed to be just a prep race for Grandma’s,” she said. “I felt good from the start and I could see the leader. At Mile 4 I caught up to her and went hard and pushed the pace. Twist built a half-mile lead and credits friend and Janes teammate Tania Fischer for helping her through the latter stages of the race when fatigue finally crept in.

“Tania jumped in and ran the last four miles with me and told me to keep pumping my arms and legs,” Twist said. “It really helped because I only ended up winning by 15 seconds.”

Fischer and Twist had also run the Pacific Palisades Turkey Trot together on Thanksgiving.

“It was two completely different races… at Mountains 2 Beach I didn’t hit the wall until Mile 20 whereas at Grandma’s I fought a headwind and it was a struggle the whole way so that was more about mental toughness,” Twist said. “If there’s one thing I’m proud of it’s that I PR’d twice in three weeks.”    

Twist has always had a competitive nature and it showed in 1984 when, at the age of 9, she and her older brother Jory participated in the torch relay leading up to the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

“We had to run a quarter of a mile with the torch, which was almost as tall as me, and the marshal assigned to run alongside us didn’t think I could do it,” Twist recalled. “He was very smug and wanted to take it from me but I was determined not to let him. I gripped it with two hands and ran the whole way. He was the one who first told me I could be a pro runner and get paid for it.”

Twist tried other sports growing up but running came easiest to her. Coming from a sailing family (her father George was on the Intrepid crew that won the America’s Cup in 1970), she went to Newport Harbor High, where she ran cross country and track for four years, served as captain for two years and placed 10th in Division III at the CIF state meet.

“I told my high school coach I wanted to run a marathon and he said ‘Over my dead body… you’re too young and still growing.’”

Twist walked on at the University of Pacific in Stockton but eventually gave up running.

Twist and her husband Jordan, a TV/film computer animator, got married in June 2002 and moved from Venice to the Marquez area. When the boys were 5 they moved to Via de la Paz and they now live in the Alphabet Streets.

“I had always wanted to run a marathon and after watching the 2000 Sydney Olympics on TV I joined L.A. Road Runners and ran the next three L.A. Marathons.”

In 2006, Twist was the producer for the “Spirit of the Marathon” documentary, which aired two years later, and “Spirit of the Marathon 2” came out in 2013.

“One of the coaches I interviewed for the film said ‘you’re doing it all wrong, here’s how you train,” she said.

Her times began to improve, she joined The Janes in May 2017 and subsequently hired Run with the Lab founder Blue Benadum  as her private coach.   

For several years Twist has been an assistant coach for the Palisades High cross country and track teams and starting this fall will assist new head coach Rob Hockley with the varsity team.

“When I got the job at Pali my dad told me ‘You always wanted to be paid as a runner—now you are,’” she joked. “I want it to be fun, not the other sports’ punishment. If I inspire kids to show up and believe in themselves then I’ve done my part. For two hours a day I want to be a mentor, a second parent, to instill good behavior and teach them life lessons.”