Last year, Caitlin Smith and fellow 20-something partner Devon Crosby-Helms raced through their veteran competition at the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run. Even though Smith had only tried her first ultra six months prior, she and Crosby-Helms used raw leg speed to take down Kami Semick and Nikki Kimball for the women’s title.
This time around, Smith is far better known in the ultrarunning world. While the Oakland athlete is still as focused on road training as trail running, she’s hoping for another TransRockies victory – but this time, in the mixed category.
Smith will be racing with French runner Martin Gaffuri. Unlike last year, when Smith said she felt stronger on the mountain climbs than Crosby-Helms, she expects she’ll be stretched running with the speedy European.
After last year’s experience, Smith is well aware of how unique and challenging a team event like TransRockies can be. She came into the 2009 race accustomed to almost always running by herself. Smith had met fellow San Francisco Bay Area resident Crosby-Helms at the Miwok 100K in May, but didn’t know her well.
Smith surprised herself during TransRockies because she grew frustrated with Crosby-Helms during the race. At times, Smith wanted her partner to move faster on the climbs. Crosby-Helms, in turn, pointed out that they needed to pace themselves for a six-day race so they didn’t burn out early. The two argued more than once.
“I wasn’t as nice out there as I thought I’d be,” Smith said. “I realized I am really, really competitive.”
This time around, Smith feels better prepared to be a teammate. She still relishes her solo long runs, but also frequently runs with her boyfriend, Sam Robinson. The two have been training together for the Chicago Marathon in October, where they both hope for an Olympics qualifying time.
Since Smith is used to trying to keep up with her faster significant other, she thinks it could help her adapt to Gaffuri’s pace. She also hopes she’ll argue less in this partnership.
“It’ll be a totally different dynamic doing TransRockies with a guy,” Smith said.
Though they live half a world apart, Gaffuri and Smith have spent some time together already. They met at last year’s TransRockies and both competed in a three-day trail race in Germany. Gaffuri also recently visited the Bay Area for a week.
Smith believes her relative youth in the ultra world (she’s now 29) can be a bonus in an event like TransRockies. She recovers quickly after a run and has speed on shorter distances. Smith thinks she and Crosby-Helms won the event on the first day last year, as they created a time gap so large that Semick and Kimball were at a mental and physical disadvantage for the rest of the race.
Gaffuri and Smith have the potential to win the mixed division, Smith believes. But since neither of them specializes in the longest ultra running events, they’ll need to remember to pace and slow down at times, Smith said.
“I know there will be strong competition,” Smith said.
Smith doesn’t remember every moment of last year’s TransRockies with fondness. The fights on the trail weren’t fun. Nor were the nights she couldn’t sleep because of tent zippers, rustling, and chatter in the camp all around her. In the end, though, the good outweighed the bad.
“At moments last year, I thought, ‘This sucks,’” Smith said. “But I walked away saying, that was a really amazing experience, and I want to come back.”
Heidi Dietrich is a journalist and runner living in Seattle. Her web site is www.heidiseattle.com.
[Editor’s Note: We’ve made some small changes to reflect Caitlin Smith’s and Martin Gaffuri’s clarifications.]