The Kiwi is back for another go at Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras on Sunday.
Written by: Duncan Larkin
At last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon, 29-year-old Kim Smith ran a breakthrough race. In a sport where many PRs are measured in tens of seconds, Smith’s PR that day was nearly two minutes faster than her old mark. On that day, the New Zealand Olympian ran 5:10 mile after 5:10 mile to clock a finishing time of 1 hour, 7 minutes and 55 seconds, finishing second behind former half marathon world champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia.
Two months later, Smith made her marathon debut in the hotly contested London Marathon, placing eighth overall with a solid 2:25:21 clocking. She rounded out her impressive 2010 season with a fifth-place showing at the ING New York City Marathon—a race she described as “a hell of a lot easier” than London.
This weekend, Smith, a 2005 graduate of Providence College and a Reebok-sponsored athlete, returns to the Crescent City for yet another go at the half marathon, but this time with lower expectations. Since coming to the United States, she’s been under the wing of Providence College coach Ray Treacy. Smith treasures her relationship with Treacy and holds him in high regard. “He [Treacy] knows how far to push me and when it’s time for me to take it easy,” she says. “I think he is a very underrated coach. He has coached three non-African girls under 15 minutes for 5K and I don’t think there are many other coaches who could say that.” Smith contends the secret behind her recent breakthroughs is consistent, injury-free training. In her fifteen-year career, she maintains she’s only been injured twice.
Treacy, who also coaches American 5,000m record holder Molly Huddle, currently has Smith in “full marathon” training and unlike last year where she backed off her training the week before the race, Smith has been keeping up her mileage going into Sunday’s race. Humble and reserved by nature, Smith is downplaying her performance in New Orleans this weekend. “To be honest, I’m feeling slightly tired coming into the race. I don’t think my PR will be in jeopardy this time out,” she admits.
Still, Smith is not a runner to overlook in any race in which she’s on the starting line. She owns six New Zealand national records, making her arguably the best female distance runner in the country’s history. She’s also the owner of three Oceanian records (3,000m, 5,000m, and 10,000m). While she competed for Providence College—an experience she calls “the biggest influence in my life”—Smith won more NCAA individual championships than any runner in the history of the school. Providence holds a special place in Smith’s heart. “I really wouldn’t trade [the Providence] experience for anything,” she says. “I stayed in Providence to get coached by Ray. I feel comfortable there now and it is home.”
But this year’s brutal winter has made marathon training in her adopted hometown a bit of a challenge. After returning from visiting her parents in New Zealand this past December, Smith struggled while trying to train through the persistent New England ice and slush. “After a few days of the snow, I booked a ticket to Tucson as Molly [Huddle] was training there,” she says. “I’m pretty pleased to be out of Providence since this winter is unusually bad!”
Once a versatile runner who trained to run anything from a four-minute 1500m to a thirty-minute 10,000m, Smith has recently decided to focus solely on one race: the marathon. “I’m pretty much a marathon runner now, so will most probably focus on that for 2012,” she admits. Coach Treacy has been preparing Smith for the 26.2-mile distance by prescribing long tempo runs—workouts Smith finds the most challenging of all since she has to “really concentrate and not let the mind wander.” Treacy also has her logging triple-digit mileage. She says she’s been averaging between 100 and 110 miles a week. This high mileage and periodized training are reminiscent of the teachings of New Zealand’s greatest running coach, Arthur Lydiard. Smith points out that Treacy’s training is very “Lydiard-influenced”, which pleases her since she knew Lydiard “quite well.” She recalls that before he died, Lydiard was at the 2004 NCAA Cross Country Championships where he watched Smith win the national title.
“He always said I was going to be a great runner one day even though my friends used to beat me and I wasn’t that good,” she recalls. “He told me I was going to be the one to make it.”
Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first book, Oxygen Debt, was recently released.