I have known Pam for almost one year now. I have known OF Pam for a lot longer than that. We met at Rocky Raccoon weekend at a meet and greet put together by Rob Goyen and Mark Kenney of the Houston Area Trail Runners This interview actually started at that moment. Although the following questions are all questions I put together and emailed to Pam last week, she has answered my countless questions over the last year. To say I have learned a few things from Pam would be an understatement. She has not only inspired me through her performances but her belief in my own abilities as a runner has a lot to do with where I am today in ultrarunning.
I think another quality about Pam that is necessary to mention is her sense of humor. If you read her blog then you are probably aware of this fact. Her dry witty sense of humor reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously. Pam may be a serious competitor but at the end of the day this is all supposed to be fun and her take on the whole ultrarunning world is extremely refreshing. Its highly unlikely you are reading this and haven't yet read any of Pam's posts from The Turtle Path but just in case. http://theturtlepath.blogspot.com/
So hold on to your cowboy hats....The Trail WhippAss present to you, an interview with Pam Smith.
- How did you get started in ultra runnning and when did you (and the world) realize that you are really, really good at it?
Like many people, I was a marathoner before turning to ultras. But in 2008 I found myself getting so caught up in finish times that two or three minutes could be the difference between elation and devastation. I had run one 50k that year just to try something different and really loved it. So after CIM in December of 2008, I decided to focus on ultras and other trail races for a while. I have only done one road marathon since then!
I think the most pivotal race for me in terms of recognizing I was good at ultrarunning was the JFK 50 miler in 2010. I was runner-up by 21 seconds, which was the closest 1-2 finish in the race's history, men or women. Yes, the loss was disappointing, but I had never considered winning a possibility. That race made me believe that I could actually win some of the big name races and it gave me the confidence to acknowledge that winning races is a goal for me (rather than just trying to be on the podium). 2011 started with a 2nd place at Bandera (ahead of some tough competitors and 40 minutes under the CR), a win at Hagg Lake 50k, a win at Gorge Waterfalls, a7:53 100k at Mad City, and a win at Miwok, so I think the confidence in my ability to race at the front of the pack made a huge difference! The win at Miwok was probably when other people started to notice that I could be a contender in top level races.
- Name your first life experience that comes to mind that has shaped you as an ultra runner and the person you are today?
My dad encouraged me to run my first 5k when I was in 9th grade. I wasn't really trained for it and I puked after the race was over, but my dad was so proud. His encouragement and enthusiasm are what made me want to run more.
- What is your daily schedule like? How do you balance being a mother of 2 children, a doctor and an ultra runner?
"Balance" has such a pleasant, zen ring to it. I think my life is more like juggling chainsaws! :) It can definitely be chaotic at times, but family, job and running are all priorities for me, and to me, it's just not an option to not do them all. Once things go from "I want to run" or "I want to go to the school play" to "I have to run" and "I have to go to the school play," you find a way to fit those things in.
My typical day starts with a 4:10am alarm to get dressed, get out work clothes, and pack my breakfast and lunch. I drive downtown to meet running partners and start running between 4:45-5:00 which allows me a good chunk of time to run (usually 10-15 miles) and shower at the hospital before work. My kids don't wake up much before 7:30, which is when I would have to leave my house for work anyway so I don't really feel like I am missing much family time by being gone in the morning. I typically work 7-8 hours in the lab which means most days I can leave by 3:30 or 4:00. I try to get to the gym after work two days a week when the kids have after school activities, again so I am not missing much time with them. Evenings are spent with the family or shuttling kids to activities. I try to prepare work clothes and food at night to minimize the time I spend on these things in the morning. My kids and I all get ready for bed and at the same time which is about 8:30 on week nights! When the kids were born, we made the decision that my husband Mac would quit his job to stay home, and that takes a lot of traditional "mom duties" off my hands, like getting the kids ready for school, doing laundry and grocery shopping.
- If you had to choose anywhere else to live besides Salem, OR (you JUST HAD to!) where would that be? And this is the pretend world so you can live a 100 miles from a hospital if you want.
Haha - No, Salem is definitely not a "hip" place to live, but I have an awesome job, and my husband and I both have less than fond memories of changing schools when we were young, so we are pretty opposed to moving our kids. But in a pretend world, Ashland, OR is really appealing to me. It is a cute town with a great trail running community and easily accessible trails, plus the elevation and climate would still allow for good gardening and we'd be in reasonable proximity to most of our families.
- What do people call you at work?
Mostly Dr. Smith. But that always sounds so formal and a bit pretentious! I tell everyone they can call me Pam unless we are with patients and some of the younger techs do. All of the older ones insist on calling me "Dr. Smith" - I think that reflects a shift to more informality in our culture over the past several decades.
- Where is your favorite running route or location?
The Loowit trail around Mt. St. Helens is probably my favorite trail run, but I also love running in Colorado. Everything seems so majestic there.
- What were you like a child?
I was a tomboy and always outside. We lived on a block with lots of kids and adjacent to a school, so we played all over the neighborhood. I played a lot of sports, but I was never fanatical (or very good) at any particular one. I loved school and learning; I was definitely a bit of a nerd, but that hasn't changed!
- What are some of your favorites songs to listen to while running or working out?
It's pretty rare for me to listen to music when I run and I don't even own an iPod! I do like diversion when I am on the treadmill, but I usually just watch Netflix. If I need to borrow my daughter's iPod, it is full of Top 40 pop music and very heavy on Taylor Swift and Katie Perry.
- What are some of your bucket list races?
Leadville, Bighorn, Vermont, and a 24 hour race. I'd also like to do UTMB and Hardrock, but more for the experience rather than trying to race them.
- What are some of your favorite races you have done?
Transrockies was easily my favorite race experience, but that is more like a running vacation than a race! My "firsts" at all of the distances really stand out to me (50k- McKenzie River, 50M- Mt. Hood, 100k - Waldo, 100M- Hundred in the Hood) because they provided such an amazing sense of accomplishment and they all have some pretty spectacular scenery. And there is this little race in California called Western States that I have grown pretty fond of! ;)
- I know you have used mainly liquid nutrition during some of your best performances. Is this generally the route your take or do you switch it up depending on temperature, distance and conditions?
I definitely look at all the conditions of a race when deciding on my nutrition plan for that race. For a fast 50k, I use Honey Stinger chews, a few gels, and candy and I drink a lot less because I know I can handle 4 hours a little dehydrated. Keeping the stomach volume down minimizes discomfort when running at those higher intensities. For longer races and especially hot races, I know I need to drink more and will emphasize liquid nutrition. I'll also add a little fat and protein to the mix because I think those are helpful for the really long races.
- What does your schedule for 2015 look like?
I am starting off with my first road marathon in 4.5 years just to mix things up and to work on speed a bit. The big races for the year are Lake Sonoma, Western States, 100km World Championships and Desert Solstice.
Last question: What is this?
That is either a Smurf in a Halloween costume or a Vampire Bison.
Keeping my intro to this interview short was no small feat for me. I can go on and on about how amazing Pam Smith is as a person and as an ultra runner. As a representative of Trail WhippAss we are honored to have yet another stellar athlete like Pam Smith take the time to answer all our questions. We are even further honored to have Pam sport our Trail WhippAss singlet to the gym in Salem on a daily basis.
I have been trying to think of something profound and meaningful to sum up Pam and this interview and I realize that's impossible. Her answers speak for themselves. If you want to laugh and learn things about ultrarunning, anti car theft tips or how to improve your ultrasignup score read her blog. If you want to be inspired and wowed just google her or better yet just keep a close eye on Pam in 2015. I know will be.