© Copyright – 2014 – Athletics Illustrated

Jacob Smith of Brockville, Ontario recently joined the successful Speed River Track and Field Club based in Guelph, Ontario.  He graduated from High Point University having competed for the Panthers from the 2009/2010 season and graduated in 2014. He competed primarily in the 3,000m steeplechase. The Panthers compete in the Big South Conference of the NCAA’s first division.

To cap off his final season, at the Big South Championships, Smith won the Indoor 3,000m in 8:14.72 and ran a personal best time in the mile with his 4:09.07 at the same meet. He ran the 5,000m in 14:41.35. He also ran career bests in the 800m 1:58.31 and 3:48.65 for the 1500m event. His 5,000m best is 14:01.66. Smith twice competed in the NCAA National Championships earning a personal best in his 2014 finals-qualifying performance where he ran the steeple in 8:44.01.

The 24-year-old majored in Biochemistry and Exercise Science at HPU.

Christopher Kelsall: Was the Thousand Islands Secondary program important in your athletic development?

Jacob Smith: Absolutely, that’s where I first picked up distance running. I mean I ran cross country during elementary school, but like most kids that age it was just to get out of class. The coaches at Tiss were fantastic. They saw early on that I could be pretty good and they pushed me to get there.

It definitely helped having guys like Matt Leeder, Kyle Milks, and Will McFall who had been around the sport for a while already. We were the same age but they definitely took me under their wing so to speak and helped me along the way. Getting my butt kicked by them on a daily basis was definitely a blessing in disguise, it motivated me to work harder to reach the level they were on and experience the success that I saw them enjoying.

CK: Sounds like you had a better than typical grassroots exposure to cross country running.

JS: I think I had the ideal start up to my running career. I feel like at that age if I was the top guy in school I would’ve thought I didn’t have to work too hard. OFSAA and national events would have been unknown concepts to me, let alone something to strive for.

CK: Who was your running or sport hero back then?

JS: It’s pretty cliché but I was a big fan of Steve Prefontaine, not because he was a front runner or anything like that; Pre was the first big name I had heard of in the world of track and field. I remember Leeder showing me Without Limits for the first time on a cross country trip. I had no idea who Pre was; I thought Leeder was joking with me after the car crash scene happened and he said “it’s too bad that he died so young”, I was fully expecting a miraculous recovery and an Olympic victory in Montréal before they showed the funeral procession a few seconds later.

CK: Did you see the other movie, “Pre”? If so, which one did you like better between Pre and Without Limits?

JS: I have seen both, but I’m not sure which one I like better because I like them for different reasons. I liked Without Limits for more of its story telling perspective, Pre was more like a pseudo-documentary but I liked how it focused more on his fight against the AAU. I’ve yet to see Fire on the Track but I’ve heard good things. Apparently it’s somewhere on YouTube so maybe someday I’ll get around to watching it.

CK: Now that you are running post-collegiately do you have a desire to explore different distances than the 1500m, 3000msc and 5,000m that it appears you ran at High Point University?

JS: None whatsoever. I’ve got so much left to accomplish in those events before I make any changes in distance. I’ll definitely be focusing on the steeplechase, we’ve got an incredible group of steeplechasers at Speed River that I’m lucky to be a part of. I like to think of myself as much more speed oriented so I don’t foresee a serious 10k in the near future, maybe a road race or to use one as a workout but nothing more than that. We’ll see what Dave Scott-Thomas (DST) has planned for me.

CK: Did your degree in exercise science help you better understand the purpose of different training principles?

JS: Definitely. Learning about the different energy systems your body uses was great for helping me grasp the science behind why we might be doing anaerobic work versus strictly speed work versus one hundred percent mileage work. Before I had a vague understanding of the periodisation of training plans but I’m definitely glad to now know the physiology behind it.

CK: Do you work on neuromuscular speed and or coordination in a periodised program?

JS: Well joining a new program, I’m not quite sure how that will work. At High Point we didn’t really run anything faster than 60 seconds for 400m until the last month or so of a season. Neuromuscular conditioning was never really a huge focus, having said that my coaches knew that neuromuscular adaptations are always the first thing your body will develop when working on any type of movement. We spent a fair bit in the weight room doing Olympic and other quick/power type lifts.

CK: What seems to be the most effective aerobic building program for you? What does your week look like during this period?

JS: Simple consistent mileage. At High Point I think I reached 100 miles (161K) in a week once or twice but I’d say I averaged around 75 – 80 miles (120 – 135K). Any actual workouts would all be longer stuff like extended tempos or fartleks one or two times a week with a longer run on Sunday. So far Speed River hasn’t been radically different in that perspective which I think will help with a smooth transition.

CK: How did the 2012 and 2014 NCAA finals go for you?

JS: Both abysmal! 2012 not as much because it was essentially a learning experience; I definitely think I was a little overwhelmed by the whole event. I was coach (Mike) Esposito’s first athlete he had ever sent to the NCAA’s so we didn’t quite know what to expect. Just making it to the NCAA finals was my goal for the year, so anything after that was just extra. After the preliminary round in Jacksonville, my workouts fell flat and I really struggled for the two weeks before NCAA’s. I remember being surprised that I was able to run 8:53 in the semi’s that year.

This year was just a huge tactical error on my part. Winning my preliminary heat was the most comfortable I had felt in a long time. Espo and I both thought I was up for a huge breakthrough in Eugene. The mistake I made was that I was far too arrogant with my finishing kick, I had recently come off a big personal best in the 1,500 and thought I had the wheels to close with just about anybody in the field. The bad news is that everyone can close fast after going through 2k in only 6:06-ish.

CK: So for 2012 you peaked early?

JS: No not necessarily. A huge emphasis was definitely on peaking for the preliminary round, but maintaining that type of racing fitness for another two weeks shouldn’t have been an issue. I think my biggest problem was that I had set my expectations too low for the season and after I had accomplished my goal of qualifying, it was hard for me to stay motivated. I wasn’t expected to do well or be a contender or anything at that level so anything after Jacksonville was just ‘icing on the cake’ as my coach likes to put it.

CK: During the 2014 NCAA’s looking back, how would you run the race if you got to do it over again?

JS: I definitely would not let the pace dawdle if I had a second go at it. The first time I found myself at the front early but was confident in my closing speed that I actually slowed it down for the first couple laps. I think that if I had just kept it honest, a lot of guys would have fallen off or not have been able to close as well as they did.

CK: What are your short and longer-term goals for the steeple?

JS: Well I just found out a couple of weeks ago that I’m still eligible for FISU (World University Games) next summer which I’m pretty pumped about. Competing well there would be great for gaining some international experience and hopefully set me up well for 2016. I usually don’t like to put specific time goals for a season but I think if I get into the right race I can at least get close to the ‘B’ standard. Long term is the Olympics, hands down. I definitely think I’ve joined the right team to give myself the best shot of obtaining these goals.

CK: And how many chances does one get to go to Gwangju, South Korea?

JS: A cool destination. I look forward to trying out for many teams and having a fair share of world travelling experiences; definitely one of the biggest benefits of high level running.

CK: Yes! So you can see yourself seeking standard all the way through to Rio in two years?

JS: I know it’s a long shot and I’ve got a ton of work to do before I can even come close and not a lot of time to do it, but I think I’m in the best place to do so. I wanted to surround myself with Olympic calibre athletes so I’ll not only have a better idea of what it takes to make it to that level, but have incredible people and training partners to work with every day.