An Interview with Caitlin Smith

Catlin Smith has exploded onto the national ultra-scene this year. After easily winning her first ultra on her hometown trails at the Sequoia 50k, Caitlin made a name for herself on the national stage by winning the über-competitive Way Too Cool 50k and a string of Bay Area ultras and remains unbeaten at the 50k distance.

Please talk about your evolution as a runner and how you got into ultrarunning.

I grew-up dancing, but in sixth grade the track coach insisted that I try running. He told me I was a distance runner and that I should try the mile. Ummm, yeah, 100 meters and I was literally out of breath and walking. I think I ran the 4×100 relay that year at a few meets, insisting that I was NOT a distance runner. In high school I continued to run track. Once again I had a coach that tried to get me to run farther and during workouts she would always have me run more miles than everyone else. It was in high school that I joined cross-country and truly started running farther and enjoying it. My track coach from sixth grade saw me out running one summer, pulled over, rolled down his window and said, “I thought you weren’t a distance runner?” I just had to smile. I slowly started to really fall in love with running and obviously I’ve been doing it ever since. I ran two marathons, one in 2002 (Grandma’s) and the other in 2003 (Boston). When I moved out to California that is when I found trail running, my escape from the chaos of city living. I ran my first trail run in 2006. I did a few more in 2007. A ton of 20k’s in 2008. And, then bumped it up to 50k’s and beyond this year. That’s my evolution to ultrarunning.

It is widely known in the community that Will Gotthardt acts as your mentor and coach. How did this relationship get started?

Will ran behind me in a few races last year. He was doing the 50k’s while I was doing the 20k’s. We would find ourselves chatting here and there. He told me I would do really well at the ultras, which I had on my agenda for 2009. Then at the beginning of this year, Will gave me a ride to Pacifica, seeing that I don’t have a car. My 30k didn’t go so hot. I bonked in the last few miles and I had to walk a ton. On the ride back, Will told me that water, electrolytes, and fuel were going to change that (and yes, they did). I had a lot of doubt about my abilities and the transition, but Will really believed in me. His best question, “you know you’re fast right?” My response, “umm well” (which pretty much means “no”). We started training together and he got my splits figured out for my first 50k, Sequoia. Ironically, I came in faster than all my splits and ended up passing Will during that race (neither planned, seriously). Now, we continue to run together and push each other. We’re also just good friends.

Caitlin and Will Gotthardt

You have won not one (Way To Cool) but two (Miwok) automatic entries for Western States. However, you have decided not to enter. Tell us about your decision and whether WS is a goal race for you in the future.

I am not ready. My goal this year was not to do Western States. I just wanted to try ultrarunning. There are several reasons for my decision, but mainly I want to be prepared mentally and physically for that race. And, when I do run it, I want to run it really well. I think it will be a race in my future, but again not until my heart and body are in it 100%.

What does your average training week look like? What are you favorite cross-training activities?

I don’t think I have an average training week. It seems to vary, somewhere between 60-90 miles. Some weeks I run 7 days, others more like 6 (as I learn that resting is good), and sometimes 5 with races and so forth. When I go out and run, I try to just pay attention to how my body feels. When it feels like going fast, I run fast and when I am dragging, I take it easy. I tend to follow the hard-easy rule. If you run hard one day, then next day you take it easy. As for cross-training, I don’t own a car, so I walk and bike to work. I swim. And I practice yoga and pilates.

Please talk about how important yoga is to your running.

Yoga has transformed my running. My breathing, focus, flexibility both mentally and physically, awareness, and joy have all blossomed with yoga. Also, I tend to be a go-go kind of person, so yoga balances me out. It slows me down (at least a little). My yoga practice always reminds me how grateful I am to have a body that can move and run.

What are your favorite foods for training and running?

Ummm yeah, Clif Shot Bloks are basically a staple and honestly, I haven’t found much else that works while I am actually running other than chocolate milk. I really like these things called Suncakes for pre-race meals along with yogurt and cereal. Overall, I am a vegetarian minus cheese, post-vegan, and possibly future carnivore. I just eat what my body craves and try to mix it up.

What runners do you admire?

All runners, really. Of course there are some that come to mind too like Bev Anderson-Abbs, Kami Semick, Ann Trason, and there are some guys on the list too, but I’ll keep those to myself.

Caitlin competing with one of her idols, Bev Anderson-Abbs, at Way Too Cool

Do you have any advice for other runners looking to make the jump to ultras?

Be patient and consistent, listen to your body, have fun, be social, do yoga and pilates, cross-train, sleep, take naps, eat good food, rest, believe in your body and mind, find a training partner, breathe, swim, bike… and of course there are logistics, so talking with someone that has done one makes the transition much easier.

The SF Bay Area has a plethora of tails. What are your favorite trails/parks?

French Trail in Redwood Park is my ultimate favorite trail. [That sucker is hard. – The editor]. I love running and tend to run a lot in Redwood, Tilden, and Chabot, but put me on any trail and I am happy.

Caitlin finishing her first 50k (Sequoia)…beating the blog author by a solid hour in the process

What is your favorite race and why?

I try not to pick favorites and just try to enjoy them all.

What are your running plans and goals this fall, next year and in the long run (pun!)?

After Ohlone 50k [which Caitlin won in CR time this past weekend – The Editor], I am going to focus back on some shorter runs, which are part of La Sportiva’s Mountain Cup. The finale of this year will be the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler. There is also potential that I will do the TransRockies run in August. But if not this year, possibly next.

Do you have any dream races?

Not a race, but I’d like to run across the United States via trails, ideally no roads.

Thank you for your time, Caitlin, good luck and keep smiling!

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