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The Comeback Queen: Exclusive Interview With Kim Smith

She'll line up for the Rock 'n' Roll Providence 1/2 Marathon this weekend.

She’ll line up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Providence 1/2 Marathon this weekend.

Interview by: Duncan Larkin

Kim Smith will be the headlining act in her adopted hometown of Providence, RI this weekend. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Anyone watching this year’s Boston Marathon can’t forget the image of New Zealand’s Kim Smith, alone and out in front from the start of the starter’s gun. Smith took off with one strategy in mind: win by running from the front. Until mile 15, this strategy seemed to be paying off. For large sections of the race, the 29-year-old Providence College graduate led by as much as 50 seconds. But as the Newton Hills approached, Smith’s stride began to break. She winced in pain and reached for her calves numerous times, slowing down to stretch and changing her stride. The chase pack finally caught her and by mile 20, Smith had dropped out. Unfortunately for her, a subsequent MRI revealed that she had suffered a torn soleus, the small, lower calf muscle just above the Achilles tendon.

After several months of rest and reduced mileage, Smith, who is still coached by her former college coach, Ray Treacy, is now healed and ready to take on the marathon again. She will be competing in her adopted hometown in this weekend’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Providence Half Marathon, which she will be using as a tune-up for the ING New York City Marathon in November.

We caught up with Smith just a few days before the race.

Competitor.com: Do you consider your race this weekend at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Providence Half Marathon to be a comeback race, taking into account your injury at Boston?

Kim Smith: I’ve done a few short races this year since Boston. This race is a race to kick-start my marathon training, really. It’s a race to get me ready for New York. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon will be my next big race.

But Providence will be the longest you’ve raced since Boston, correct?

Yeah.

How has your training been going in the lead-up to this race?

I’ve just been doing a lot of shorter, faster stuff to try and get some speed back into my legs. And then this week has been my first week of marathon training.

How’s your calf feeling?

My leg is feeling really good. I took a couple weeks off and then it was fine. It healed quite quickly.

Were you surprised at how fast it healed?

Yes. I was surprised at how good it felt with just a few weeks off.

Looking back at your Boston race, your front-running strategy almost paid off if it weren’t for your calf problem. Do you have any regrets for that strategy now that you’ve had ample time to think about it?

Smith set a U.S. all-comer's half marathon record at Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras this year, running 1:07:36. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Not really. My calf problem was probably going to happen anyway. After the first mile, I had kind of a burning sensation. At the time, I didn’t think that much of it. It kind of hurt a little bit the day before in the spot where the MRI showed the actual tear, so I think it would have happened anyway. I don’t think I went out crazy fast. I actually went out the same pace that I did in London and nothing happened to my calf. I was much fitter for Boston than when I ran London the year before. I was much more ready to go faster and obviously it was a really fast day in Boston. I think the women could have run a whole lot faster than they actually did. I mean, obviously looking at the men’s race and Ryan Hall and how fast they ran it, I don’t think there was much I could have done to stop that from happening.

How bad was the pain in your calf before the race?

It was just a little bit tight two days before, maybe. I never thought anything of it. As a runner, you are always feeling something. But when you are running marathons, you can’t get away with a lot, because you are running hard for a long way.

You mentioned that this race is the beginning of your marathon training. So it’s a tune-up race, then?

I’m looking at it as a kick-start to the marathon. It’s kind of like a tempo run.

So are you running it at your goal marathon pace for New York or are you going to aim for something faster?

I’m just going to see how I feel. I haven’t really done a lot of long tempo runs since before Boston. I’m definitely not going to try and run it fast and race it any faster than marathon pace. It’s probably going to be really hot and humid. I like doing the Rock ‘n’ Roll races. This one is local, so it kind of fit in with the training plan.

How has your mileage and training changed since your injury? Have you taken your mileage down to ensure you aren’t reinjuring yourself?

Yes. I’ve definitely taken my mileage down and switched to shorter, faster stuff.

Smith debuted at 2:25:21 at the 2010 London Marathon. Photo: PhotoRun.net

I’ve just gotten into 100s [per week] now. Before that, I was doing between 80 and 90.

Doubles?

I do a lot of doubles, yes.

Has your interaction with your coach, Ray Treacy, changed since your injury? Has he been more involved than he used to be in order to get you back in the swing of training and competing again?

I’ve definitely had some motivation problems. Being injured is such a disappointment; I think that is the hardest part of the sport. I’ve been trying to get my head back into running rather than my body. I’m trying to be more positive.

Back to your racing plans, after New York City in November, you will be preparing for the Olympics, correct?

Yes.

For the marathon?

Yes. That’s the plan. If New York doesn’t go well, then maybe I’ll switch back to the track. I’m not really sure.

Why have you selected to run the New York City Marathon?

I have to get the [Olympic] qualifying time.

Had you ever thought about doing a different fall marathon? Because of the challenging course and road surface, New York isn’t necessarily the best race for someone coming back from injury.

I ran well in New York last year. I love running in New York. To be honest, it’s been very good to me, financially. Running is my job. Sometimes you have to make decisions for that reason. They [The New York Road Runners] make it hard to say no. [She laughs.]

You had mentioned if things didn’t go well in New York, then you’d head back to the track. So would you try your hand at the 10,000m then?

Maybe. I guess I would need to think about that more if the time came.

Smith starred at Providence College, still lives in the city and remains coached by Friars headman Ray Treacy. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Assuming things go well in New York, is it safe to say you wouldn’t be racing a marathon in the spring, because of the Olympics?

I doubt I would. My coach would not be happy with that. I probably will just do shorter stuff on the track.

The last time I chatted with you, you were training with Molly Huddle. Are you still training with her or are you working out mostly alone now?

Molly and I do a lot of running together. But since I’m training for the marathon, we’re not really on the same workout cycle. If we can, we usually do a workout or two together.

Molly [Huddle] has been sitting out recently due to injury, plantar fasciitis, and has stated she didn’t compete in July in the hopes of resting up for Worlds. Since you have both been injured this season have you two commiserated at all about what it’s like to not be at 100%?

Yeah. She’s back running now. She’s running again, so I think she’ll be ok. Mostly we just laugh about it. But yeah, I think Molly is going to be just fine.

You had an unfortunate injury occur at Boston when you were so close to winning the race. Understandably, you may feel trepidation to race there again. Still, do you have any plans to make a comeback in Boston at any time?

I’d love to. Boston is pretty much a home to me since I live in Providence. It’s a lot of fun running there. There’s a lot of support and a lot of Providence College alumni. I would love to do it again—for sure.

Providence is your adopted hometown. You are there this weekend for an inaugural race that symbolizes a comeback of sorts for you.  How does that feel?

I don’t really get to race much here. I think when I was in college I ran the [CVS] Downtown 5K once. That was one of the reasons I wanted to run it. I’m excited to do it; that’s for sure.

[sig:DuncanLarkin]