Caitlin Smith enters into this weekend’s Lake Sonoma 50 Mile as one of the women’s favorites. In this interview, learn how and why this will only be Caitlin’s third attempt at running 50 miles in her seven-year trail-ultra career, how she transitioned from Olympic Marathon Trials to Lake Sonoma training over the winter, and why she thinks she is able to maintain longevity in her running career.
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Caitlin Smith Pre-2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here a couple days before the 2016 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. I’m here with Caitlin Smith.
Caitlin Smith: Hi.
iRunFar: Hi. How are you doing?
Smith: I’m doing well.
iRunFar: It’s a couple days before… is this going to be your first rail race in 2016?
Smith: This will be my first trail race of 2016, yes.
iRunFar: It’s a couple days before your first trail race, and it’s kind of a long one. This is a 50 miler.
Smith: Yeah. It’s also been four years since my last 50 miler, I think, and then the one before that was three years.
iRunFar: Your cat is right there.
Smith: She’s just hanging out.
iRunFar: She’s the audience. Yeah, so is this your third 50 miler?
Smith: This will be my third 50 miler.
iRunFar: Your first one was 2009 at The North Face 50. You won that. Then was it 2012 you went at it again?
iRunFar: Okay, so a four-year hiatus from running 50 miles. What made you want to run this race?
Smith: Both 50 milers that I have done have been The North Face, so I was looking forward to an opportunity to do something that was different than The North Face. Also, just looking at the year, it was one of those things where the Olympic Trials [Marathon] didn’t go well, and I definitely wanted to spend this year on the trails. I thought it was a good race to kind of start the year off. I knew it was going to be competitive, and I wanted that. It’s in pretty much my backyard almost. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive, so that’s also something that drew me to it as well.
iRunFar: The things that you’ve been training for are kind of dichotomous things—the Olympic Marathon Trials, a road race, and a hilly 50 miler. How did you make that work?
Smith: I like the variety in training. I definitely do. Having come off of the marathon training in February, getting on the hills felt really awesome.
iRunFar: “Let’s do something different!”
Smith: I’m really enjoying it. Just being on the trails in general, it’s a different kind of strength and a different kind of running in a way. But I feel like the speed and the base from the marathon training transitions well, too, because you just come into the trail running a little bit stronger and a little bit faster and a little bit more fit, I guess.
iRunFar: So this is what I find fairly enigmatic about you is that you transition well back and forth between road racing and trail racing. Most times we see you racing distances on the trails that are somewhat shorter than what you’re going to do on Saturday. Do you think you just have a natural gift for being able to tackle diversity, or is it that you turn super specific as soon as you finish one race and train for the next? There are chickens going past. This is fantastic. My neighborhood.
Smith: It’s my backyard. I do think that it doesn’t take me long to get specificity in terms of what I’m doing. If I have a good eight to 12 weeks, I can get pretty fit for whatever I’m focusing on. At the end of the day, it is all running. I think what compels me to mix it up is that I do sometimes get a little bit bored when I’m just sticking to one.
iRunFar: The mental stimulation factor.
Smith: Yeah, I think that affects your performance, too. If you show up and you’re enjoying yourself, you’re going to perform a lot better. I was definitely feeling ready for 2016 to be a year on the trails. I’m looking forward to this year.
iRunFar: What makes you want to run 50 miles? Was it the girls’ competition that drew you? Was it Lake Sonoma itself?
Smith: It was partly the competition hearing about who was going to come out for it. I kind of in the back of my head depending on how I felt after the Trials, I was like, I do want to get back out there. I do want to give 50 miles a shot again. I feel like I haven’t really explored it that much. 2009 was really my first year competing. It was my first year doing that distance. It was my first year doing the 50k distance and 100k—it was a lot of doing new things. 2012—I feel like I jumped into it not quite well prepared. I just feel like I want to give it another shot. Hopefully it goes well and I’ll want to do The North Face at the end of the year or another 50 mile sometime this year.
iRunFar: Give me some specifics. You came off the Marathon Trials, and how did your body react after that? What have been some of your key workouts or key weeks between then and now?
Smith: Coming off the Trials, I actually felt—other than heat exhaustion kind of stuff—I actually felt pretty okay. The pace was slow enough. It wasn’t what I felt like I was training for. I felt like the recovery for my legs was pretty good which was nice. I still took a week-plus off just to kind of reset and go, Okay, now it’s time to focus on Lake Sonoma. I’ve been doing back-to-back long runs on weekends. Then a lot of treadmill climbs—this is something that, my coach is Magda Boulet, and this is something we found that just works really well for me. I have to say, I feel like my fitness on the climbs has come back and come back stronger.
iRunFar: So you get on the treadmill, hike up the incline, and then what do you do on it?
Smith: Yeah, you run, and it’s… Magda doesn’t joke around. You start with five-minute climbs. Okay, I can handle this. And then it gets to 10… and then 15… and then last week it was 20-minute climbs. Okay, I can climb for 20 minutes, three times through with very little rest. That’s basically an hour of climbing.
iRunFar: Are you going for a certain grade, a certain pace, a certain heartrate?
Smith: She kind of figures that out, but it starts with a higher incline, and then the incline gets slightly less but the pace gets a little bit higher. So, the idea is to just basically get your interval training but get it in hill form versus out on a track.
iRunFar: A slightly more controlled environment and trail applicable.
Smith: Yeah, but I feel like it transitions really well. When I do that stuff, I notice as soon as I’m out running on the trails or even if I’m doing a road run around here, the climbs just feel so much easier. Yeah, it’s a nice feeling.
iRunFar: I want to ask you about sport longevity. In our sport right now, it seems like there are so many people coming and going—new faces and people who kind of disappear to either disinterest or injury or just not able to maintain at a high level. I’m going to tell you when you ran The North Face in 2009 and you won that year, that was the race iRunFar started its live race coverage with. So to me, it feels like a Bible ago. It’s really only been seven years.
Smith: But that’s a good amount of time.
iRunFar: How do you approach the sport from a longevity standpoint?
Smith: I think it’s really common for people to get wrapped up in doing a lot in the sport. That’s just kind of my outside perspective. I feel like I kind of got drawn into it in 2009—Oh, two 50k’s every month. I just kind of did so much. Looking back on that, I don’t even know how I did that. I ended up getting really hurt the following year, and I’m pretty sure there’s a correlation there. It kind of made me take a few steps back. I want to keep doing this. I want to stay healthy. For me, I know I like to be competitive, but I also like to run the next day ideally if I could. I know with certain races you might want to take a few days off, but for the most part, I like to feel like, Okay, I can get up and run tomorrow, and I didn’t bang myself so bad. I do think with this longer stuff that it’s tricky. Your body kind of adapts to it. Oh, 50k is not big deal, but it’s still a really long way. I think there are implications in terms of your adrenal system and your hormonal system. So I feel like that’s also partly why I haven’t been full force doing one maybe every single year but trying to find that balance between what feels right, and is it fun, and am I enjoying myself and staying healthy? I hope that the few people I coach or people I talk to, that hopefully I instill that to in terms of finding that balance and not just going crazy with the ultra stuff.
iRunFar: That’s awesome. It’s refreshing to see a woman especially because women’s hormonal health is just so complicated, and then when you throw long distance endurance sports into it, it grows even more complicated. So it’s very refreshing to see a woman manage longevity.
Smith: Yeah, thank you.
iRunFar: Best of luck to you this weekend.
Smith: Appreciate that.
iRunFar: I look forward to seeing you on the hills above Lake Sonoma.
Smith: Thank you so much.