Patrick Smyth will give his first go at 50 miles at the Lake Sonoma 50 outside of Healdsburg, California on Saturday. In the following interview, Patrick talks about what he’s been up to since winning the 2015 US Mountain Running Championships, why he’s running his first 50 miler this weekend, and how he’s approaching his first run over three-and-a-half hours.
Patrick Smyth Pre-2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Patrick Smyth before the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. How are you doing, Patrick?
Patrick Smyth: I’m doing well.
iRunFar: We have not chatted since you won the US Mountain Running Championships. What have you been up to?
Smyth: Last year, 2016, I did a lot of running on the roads. I did two big marathons—Olympic Trials and New York City—and, then, I did a lot of road racing in between. So, kind of a year off from the trails, but I’m coming back with trails as the sole focus this year. It should be fun.
iRunFar: How did those two marathons go for you?
Smyth: Good. The Olympic Trials I was eighth, and the New York City Marathon I was tenth. Neither were blazing fast times, but the Olympic Trials was hot and the New York City Marathon is just a tough course. I was happy with the performances. I just grinded it out. It wasn’t particularly a lighting quick times, but the finish times I was happy with that.
iRunFar: Any highlights on the races shorter than the marathons on the roads last year?
Smyth: Yeah, I guess I was top American at Bloomsday which is a road race up in Spokane, Washington, and, then, top American at Bay to Breakers in San Francisco. Then, I ran out in Maine at the Beach to Beacon race and did top ten there—so a couple good shorter highlights.
iRunFar: Did you take any time off after New York?
Smyth: A little bit. I kind of got a little bit greedy and decided to go hop in the Xterra Trail race. I wasn’t really recovered. I ended up getting a little big lost and just having a bad race in general. I probably shouldn’t have raced. I should have completely shut it down after that. So I took one crack at a trail race after New York City.
iRunFar: After Xterra did you take a down period?
Smyth: Yeah, finally. I kind of just wound it down a little bit and enjoyed the holidays and then got back to it in the new year.
iRunFar: What does a down period look like for you?
Smyth: For me it was a couple weeks with the first week not really running—maybe if I felt like it I’d hop on the bike and spin a little bit—and, then, the second off week I’d never run any more than six miles on a given day and just go run when I felt like running.
iRunFar: Did you kick off your trail season at Way Too Cool or did you run anything before that?
Smyth: I ran US Cross Country Championships, but that was in February. Cool was my first trail race.
iRunFar: It didn’t go as well as last year. Last year you set the course record in 3:04… what was it?
iRunFar: This year you were about a half hour slower, so something probably happened out there?
Smyth: It was an enormous bonk. I just totally misjudged the nutrition. I misjudged the course, which was in a lot different shape than it was in 2016 when I ran 3:04. I kind of just thought I could go out there and do the same thing as I did in the year previous, but it was just a different beast. It was a different course, and I didn’t gauge it right at all and ended up blowing up really bad.
iRunFar: So it’s not indicative of your fitness, just a bad race?
Smyth: Yeah, definitely. I was actually feeling pretty good doing into it which is why I went after it hard. I wanted to take a crack at getting around in three hours, but that wasn’t the same course at all. I paid the price.
iRunFar: Here you are at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. What’s the longest you’ve run time-wise? Three hours? Way Too Cool?
Smyth: Time on my feet? Three hours or three hours-thirty.
iRunFar: You’re looking at at least six hours about. What makes you want to run a 50 miler?
Smyth: I think I can do well, first of all, and second, this one in particular is a very runnable 50 miler. I like that aspect of it. Yeah, I think it will just be kind of an experiment and see what my limits are.
iRunFar: So you didn’t want to jump into something along the lines of Speedgoat 50k when you dip your toe into the 50k realm?
Smyth: I like to think I’m getting a little more wise here kind of picking and choosing the races that I’m maybe a little more suited to, and also wiser in the sense that you can’t go out at a five-minute mile in a 50k or definitely not a 50 mile for that matter. Yeah, just learning from the past mistakes and moving on.
iRunFar: You know that consciously, but starting out tomorrow morning, it’s going to feel really easy. What’s your plan? Is it to go out hard or maybe just sticking with a group of people and relaxing?
Smyth: Yeah, I’m definitely going to be sticking with a group of people. I’d like to still be in good company of five or six guys at 25 miles and, then, really start turning the racing brain on and start really working at that point is my plan.
iRunFar: You think you have the mindset that you can control your pace early?
Smyth: Definitely, yeah, I think that especially in training this last month or so since Cool, I’ve kind of just focused on getting in the mindset on my longer runs, zoning out a bit, and focusing on nutrition early on and just not caring or looking at the watch. I don’t care what the splits are. They could be slow, they could be a little bit fast, but I’m not going to worry about it. I just want to stay packed up and in contention to win.
iRunFar: Have you changed your training pattern in terms of your miles overall in a week or your long run in preparing for this race?
Smyth: Not too much. I’ve still stuck with a traditional marathon build up. My longer runs have been a little bit hillier and more nutrition-focused. The longest I went was 24-25 miles in training and just focused on getting in fuel and monitoring systems a little bit better.
iRunFar: Do you have any expectations for what the challenges might be physical or mental after mile 25?
Smyth: Yeah, the great unknown. I think it’s definitely going to be tough especially on this course because it’s tougher on the way back because you’re tired, but also because it seems to roll a little bit differently on the way back. I think mentally I’m prepared for it. I know I haven’t breached that void, but so long as I run smart early, the later stages of the race I think I’ll be just fine.
iRunFar: One of the things on the line for tomorrow is a spot in the Western States 100. Would there be any temptation to run it if you got one of those spots?
Smyth: No, not this year. Just focusing on this race, this is I guess my Western States for 2017. I wanted to really focus on doing well at this race and having a big break through hopefully at 50 miles.
iRunFar: This is a big step up from 50k. It could be double the time more or less than you’ve run. If things go poorly out there, if it’s rough, is there an urge for you to finish it out to go through that unexplored distance and get that experience, or if it’s a crappy day, do you just shut it down?
Smyth: I think depending on how really terribly it goes, I like to just push through and get through that distance. For better or worse you learn something from it. Yeah, even if it goes back or starts going south, I’d like to push through.
iRunFar: What’s the best you think you can expect from yourself tomorrow?
Smyth: I think I’m capable of winning. I just want to make sure I’m in the mix and in contention the whole time. I think over those later stages, if I can throw in one or even two moves just to put some distance on, that would make my day.
iRunFar: Being in contention to win, what would it be like—there’s a bunch of people with fast pedigrees in the race whether it’s Ryan Bak or some of the folks who have never run an ultra before—if someone goes out at 5:15 pace, are you going to be tempted to stick with them or maybe the pack chasing them?
Smyth: Yeah, I probably will be tempted to go along depending on how fast it is. I think I have a good gauge on what’s reasonable and what’s stupid at this point. I guess it will just depend on what kind of a hot pace it is.
iRunFar: Best of luck out there, and I hope you enjoy the experience.
Smyth: Thanks. Yeah.