Ultra marathon runner Carolyn Smith loves the purity and simplicity of self-propulsion, and she has it down to a science.
Earlier this month, the 46-year Marquette University medical director bested her own age group record for a 12-hour run in the FANS 12-Hour in Minnesota. Her 83 miles won not just her age group or division, but the race overall.
That performance helped solidify her place on the U.S. 100K World Championship team for a sixth time.
“It is certainly an honor and a privilege,” Smith said. “I am in with a great group of women that I admire and I respect. We really support one another while we’re there as a team.”
Since Smith was named to her first 100K team seven years ago, she has finished among the top 10 women on the international stage and decreased her personal best over the distance by 42 minutes. In 2009, she and her teammates won gold at the IAU 100K World Cup—an accomplishment they hope to repeat this September at the championship in Winschoten, the Netherlands.
“We’re incredibly deep and we should dominate the world stage,” Smith said.
The veteran believes her sustained international success wouldn’t be possible without the foundation of a holistic training plan. She draws from her sports medicine background and pays close attention to nutrition, sleep and recovery. She takes two days off each week and changes her workouts based on the way her body feels.
“I am most proud of my longevity as a runner,” she said. “I attribute that to being smarter as I’ve aged and really listening to my body. I know that sounds cliché-ish, but I am not afraid to take a day off. “
Her strategy over the long haul has produced a 100K national title in 2008, and the 12-hour age group record.
“I was excited to be the one who broke the record, and to set new goals and limits for women to chase,” Smith said.
Smith’s racing strategy has been as much a determinate of her success as her training.
With the experience gained from more than two dozen ultra races to guide her, Smith recognizes her mental and physical race day needs. She knows when she feels overwhelmed she should eat sugar. When her legs cramp or her joints ache she consumes salt.
When the going gets tough Smith breaks up the challenge into 10Ks.
She visualizes the course’s easy and difficult sections and tries to minimize negative thoughts when they creep into her mind.
“It’s 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental,” Smith said. “A lot of people have some innate mental toughness, but with ultra running you learn strategies to get through the most difficult times.”
Above all, Smith repeats her mantra throughout the race: “Run, don’t press. Enjoy the ride.”