After a disastrous run at the 2012 Western States 100, Pam Smith had an ambitious plan for her 2013 race. Did she ever execute! She ran 18:37 on a blisteringly hot day to win the women’s race and run her way into the men’s top ten. In the following interview, Pam talks about whether that race was her perfect race, how she can improve upon perfection, what her goal for this year’s race is, and which woman from this year’s field she thinks can run the fastest on Saturday. She also explains her Porn Star race plan from last year.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Pam Smith Pre-2014 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Pam Smith, defending Western States champion, before the 2014 race. How is it going, Pam?
Pam Smith: Good, thanks.
iRunFar: What’s it feel like to hear “defending champion?”
Smith: Yeah, it’s really unreal. This year, as compared to last year, is quite different in the build-up. There’s just a lot more going on—more in the limelight kind of thing because there was kind of nothing. That was sort of easier to stay low key last year.
iRunFar: People weren’t really putting a lot of expectations on you after your 2012 race.
Smith: No, but I put a lot of expectations on myself last year, so I think that was… I had that for the expectations last year. I mean, I definitely came here with something to prove last year.
iRunFar: Did it feel like you had the perfect race last year?
Smith: I really feel like I did. It really felt like I did. Just from the get go and looking at the race photos and everything just big smile, everything was going well, felt great, and honestly wasn’t even focused on the competition early on. I was just really focused on my day and staying within myself. I felt like I did that really well. It turned out really well in the end.
iRunFar: And in the later stages you didn’t have to think about the competition either because they weren’t…
Smith: It actually made it really fun because really there wasn’t much pressure at the end. By the time we got to the river, I think it was a 38-minute lead or something like that.
iRunFar: And you still felt good.
Smith: Yeah, with 20-something miles to go. So it was kind of like, Just bring it home without breaking your leg, and that kind of thing. That was kind of a nice feeling. I got to enjoy that more than I have even in the years when running for 10th place. There was quite a bit of competition there because I was only, I think, both years less than five minutes ahead of the 11th-place runner. There was definitely kind of that stress of running at the end.
iRunFar: So it was easier running in the lead in this one instance than running in 10th.
Smith: When you have a lead that big, it certainly was because you don’t feel like somebody is breathing down your neck.
iRunFar: So you had the perfect race. Is there anything you can improve upon? Did you improve in your training or racing?
Smith: You know, it’s very hard because I think you’re kind of stuck in that, “I want it to go exactly like last year, so let’s do everything like last year” kind of thing. So I did a little bit more mileage this year, but a lot of the structure of my week was very, very similar. That part was kind of the same.
iRunFar: On race day, the chances of it going as flawlessly as last year are very low. How are you going to be able deal with that mentally?
Smith: I absolutely agree. I think that’s my worry is not so much, I mean, there are so many talented women in this race that if someone else wins, that’s how it goes. I’m okay with that. I think there is sort of this idea like, Wow, if it doesn’t go the way I felt last year, that somehow it’s just not as good of a race. Or maybe the feeling like, If I had the race of my life last year, how can I have the race of my life this year? So, but I think in the background even though I had the perfect race, I also had the disaster race as well. So I kind of know what I can get through, and if things go really bad I know I have that strength to keep going. It’s sort of both ends of the spectrum there.
iRunFar: So how do you find a goal for the race? What is your goal?
Smith: I’m focused more on the time goal, and that’s how I was last year as well. I was very determined, and I just had it in my mind that I could run 18:30 last year. When AJW stood up at the pre-race conference and said, “Throw your split chart out the window.” I said, “No way, I can still do this.” I had it really fixated and, again, it wasn’t about placement or how I was going to place amongst the field, it was just that I felt like I had the ability to run that time. I wasn’t quite on it. I was 18:37, but I think maybe with the heat and backing off a little at the end, I’m giving myself a little leeway there. I’m kind of focusing on that again.
iRunFar: Is it 18:30 again or with the confidence of an 18:37 on a really hot day…?
Smith: If I had my ideal day, I’m looking at 18:11.
iRunFar: 18:11? What’s the significance of 18:11?
Smith: I know. It’s kind of a bunch of things. I didn’t want to say that exactly because it sounds so weird. Part of it is looking at the splits from last year and where I felt like I could take off time. I thought that there was about 26 minutes in different places, adding them together. It was also kind of silly things, too. 14:11 is my PR for the 100 mile, so then it was like four hours later, I’d give myself that. 18:12 is the fifth-fastest time on this course for the women, so to sort of be in that top five for that. Then the finish time would be 11:11, and so I kind of grew up with 1111 as a lucky number, and that sort of thing. So it just all sort of fell into place.
iRunFar: So it’s not just sort of an AJW moment of taking off 30 seconds here and a minute there…?
Smith: Well, I did some of that, and I was kind of in the range of thinking that I could get probably 17 minutes off. Then it was like, if I’m really going to push myself… I don’t know if that’s possible, but I’m going to put that out there. I’ll put it out there.
iRunFar: It’s a little chilly today.
Smith: Yeah, I think that makes it easier for everybody to run faster times. I think, not me, but for everybody else. We saw that in 2012; the times were faster with cooler temps. I think that, for me, I’m not as speedy as some of the women in this race. I know that. So having that little element of strategy and race-day execution is helpful to me. That really played well for me last year. I think I’m going to have to be even more on my game with the cooler temps.
iRunFar: It’s interesting with you leading last year and the two times you were in 10th, you had a woman right behind you. You were always being chased. What’s it going to feel like if, now that you’ve put yourself in a position fitness-wise, you’re in second, third, or fourth at Foresthill or the river, can you fire yourself up to give chase?
Smith: I do. I think that I’ve been pretty, in all of my races that have gone well for me, been pretty consistent. Even last year, I didn’t lead from the get go. I didn’t take over the lead until about mile 38. There’s always a time where I was behind. Other races like Miwok and that kind of stuff, I was racing from the back. I tend to, if the race is going well for me, stay pretty consistent. So hopefully just being able to know that I can still keep that pace going and keep strong at the end… and I definitely get competitive. I get fired up. So if I know there’s somebody close, I’m going to have that fire.
iRunFar: Who do you think in the women’s field could run the fastest time—not necessarily that they’re going to because maybe they’re less experienced? What’s the fastest time that can be thrown down?
Smith: I think Stephanie Howe. I think she’s just really skilled in the mountains and is also very fast. So I think the two of those play together very well. Obviously Emily Harrison and Kaci Lickteig have been very fast, but not as sure what they can do in the mountains kind of thing. I think they have the potential to be very fast.
iRunFar: Do you think Stephanie can go under 18 hours?
Smith: I think she has that potential. Yeah.
iRunFar: So 18:11, that’s the goal?
Smith: That’s the pie-in-the-sky goal. I definitely have the tiers and stuff.
iRunFar: Where would you make up the time?
Smith: I’d like to be a little bit faster to Duncan Canyon. I still think I should be able to be there in four hours, and I’ve been there in 4:09 the last two years. Then at the end, we really were slow at the end, purposely, but I felt good. I even told my pacer last year… [sound muffled by passing truck]. I just felt like I was completely spent at the end. So more from Green Gate to the finish, I can do better there. I think I had a really stellar section from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill, so that part I don’t think I can do… or even some of the canyons ahead of there or down to the river. So Michigan Bluff to the river, I’m not looking forward to taking off much time there.
iRunFar: You do have lighter feet this year. How has the recovery gone from the toenail removal last year?
Smith: Actually really good. This will be the first real test for them. They’re not 100% gone, but the sides are gone. I think it won’t impact me during the race at all.
iRunFar: Well, best of luck. Good luck going for that 18:11.
iRunFar: Bonus question for you, last year you had the Porn Star Crew plan. Where did that come from?
Smith: I don’t know. I think we were just having fun. My pacer and my husband are really good friends. They had been to training camp together and had been rooming there, and so there was just kind of, I don’t know, a weird vibe. I was thinking about what are the things I wanted, and it was like, “Oh, okay, I definitely want to be wet.” And it just kind of snowballed from there that we were going to be wet, lubed, and excited. It just kind of became a funny joke.
iRunFar: Same plan for this year?
Smith: Hey, wet, lubed, and excited. What else can you ask for, right?
iRunFar: Not much.