At mile 18 in November's SunTrust Richmond Marathon, Casey Smith decided to take it all the way. The 28-year-old Mechanicsville native knew she was on target to finish the race under 2 hours and 47 minutes, the qualifying cutoff for the U.S. Olympic women's marathon team trials.
Calves knotted, Smith was the first woman to cross the finish line, in 2:44:57, beating 2006 champ and fellow Richmonder Maureen Ackerly by nearly four minutes. An auditor for Altria Group, Smith is off to Boston later this month to compete for a place on the Beijing-bound American team.
Q: What does a long workout entail?
A: It varies from week to week. When I train for a marathon, I do almost strictly tempo and no speed work.
Tempo is technically about 80 percent maximum heart rate, so it's a pace where you could run for an hour and be pretty much done after an hour. Speed work would be more like going to the track and doing 400, 800, 1,200 [meters] really fast and taking a full recovery. Generally 5:50 to 6 minutes [a mile], if I'm going to do 10 of them. If I'm feeling good, I'll generally drop the pace as the workout goes. I'll probably accumulate 17 to 18 miles.
Q: What do you think about when you're on the track?
A: I'm really focused on being comfortable, good form, just staying on pace and being relaxed. But I don't really think about anything.
Q: Do you ever wear a fuel belt, or do you stash drinks along your route?
A: [Laughs] That's one thing I really need to work on. I'm not very good about drinking during runs. If I drink, I usually do it at the gym if I'm stopping to do the treadmill. Believe it or not, during the Richmond marathon, I didn't take an ounce of fluid.
Q: How many miles a week are you running right now?
A: I actually hit two or three weeks of my highest mileage ever. I think I was just over 80.
Q: Do you have to follow a special diet?
A: I've always been a healthy eater. I eat a lot of vegetables, a lot of fruits. I try to eat red meat once a week at least to get iron, which is really important for women. I eat a lot of chicken. I love salmon. When I want ice cream, I eat ice cream.
Q: When you were running the marathon, did you have anybody around you?
A: There were about six or so women that were trying to run 2:47, and our first mile was faster than pace. We slowed up quite a bit. I knew I didn't want to continue at that pace, so I broke ahead.
Right around that time there was a fellow, and he didn't speak very good English, but I could communicate with him enough to know that we were trying to run about the same time. There were not a lot of people around. He was running a little bit faster than I wanted to, but I had to make a conscious decision: Do I want to take a chance of dropping back and being by myself, or do I want to run a few seconds faster than what I'm really comfortable with?
Around [mile] 19, I don't know what happened. I asked him at 18, "So, how are you feeling?" and he said, "OK." And then all of a sudden, a half-mile or a mile later, he just wasn't there. Unfortunately, he finished about 14 minutes behind me.
Q: At the Olympic trials, how many people are you going to race against?
A: I would say between 115 and 150. Not everyone has declared whether they're going to run, and not everyone has qualified yet.
Q: Is there anything you hope to do? Your wildest dreams?
A: I'd be ecstatic to go under 2:40. To place in the top 20 or 30 is ideal.
Q: Tell me about winning the NCAA Division III 10,000-meter run in 2001.
A: The night before, my coach came to my room, and I think I said something like, "Coach, what if I get last?" He was like, "Casey, you're ranked No. 1." "But I've been lucky. What happens when my luck runs out?" It took me a while to figure out maybe it's the hard work and maybe not just all luck. —Kate Andrews