Lucy Smith, so far has enjoyed a very long and versatile career in endurance sport. She has raced at a high level on the track, roads, trail, cross-country and multi-sport. To date, she is a 19-time Canadian champion in distance running and various multi-sport events. Twice she was awarded the Athlete of the Year, once as a rookie and once as a senior from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Christopher Kelsall: Your form is strong; very smooth. Is this something you spend much time perfecting?
Lucy Smith: Thank you for the compliment. I have very little video coverage of me running and most of my greatest races were done before YouTube, so I don’t get to see myself running very much, but feedback like yours makes me believe I must be doing something right! I was active and started running at a very young age so I am sure that I have developed efficiency. I did work on my running technique while I was at Dalhousie University in Halifax being coached by Al Yarr—we observed my cadence and my ‘bounding stride’—and Lance (Husband and coach, Lance Watson, LifeSport) has continually monitored my training and racing biomechanics and efficiency through my career. I am a very conscious runner. I pay attention to my breathing, my forward energy and my posture. I use imagery of great runners, and try to ‘feel’ like them while I run. Running well—a many-faceted concept–has always been a very strong theme in my life.
CK: So, are you saying good form doesn’t necessarily become innate.
LS: Good form, like most motor skills, is most successfully learned while you are young, and it can be innate for people with some natural ability. Watching an elementary school cross country race can prove this. But there are runners with not so great form, that have incredible VO2 and desire and they do well too! “Lucy does have good form, she is conscious of it and conscious of her tempo too. She runs with very good tempo and arm swing, keeping it through, late in races. Lucy runs as efficiently as possible,” says Ron Bowker.
CK: When did you start with LifeSport? Were you brought on as an athlete and later as coach or did you start coaching immediately?
LS: Well, it’s not as simple as that, as LifeSport is like a family business. I was an athlete at the National Triathlon Centre and was greatly influenced in coaching by both Paul Regensburg and Lance (now partners in the business). Lance was already coaching when I met him in 1993, and I started coaching runners and triathletes in about 1996 and he has obviously been my biggest coaching mentor. As Lance was already my life partner and coach, I became both a LifeSport athlete and coach from the start.
CK: Do you allow yourself to live vicariously through your athletes?
LS: My intentions have always been to be in involved in sport, fitness and healthy living in some way. My relationship with athletes has always been more about giving and learning from being a teacher. I love to teach, inspire, coach and assist people who really want to achieve, especially when it means they have to overcome personal barriers or fears. I meet the most interesting people through LifeSport: high achieving individuals who are not necessarily high performance athletes and my life feels richer for it. As I mentioned before, about why I use the word Joy so much, LifeSport attracts people who are passionate about sport and I enjoy that energy and really appreciate the zest for life that other athletes have.
CK: After the World Championships in Vancouver two weeks ago, the triathlon team was announced for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Having a lifetime experience as a competitive athlete and coach in both athletics and multi-sport what are your thoughts on the way the selection happened for the Canadian Olympic triathlon team?
LS: Sometimes I do feel like I have had a lifetime of experience and that I have seen it all, and while I try to avoid the negative aspects of sport, I have seen many similar selection initiatives cycle through the years, with similar themes, so the current controversy over selection doesn’t surprise me. There was a time when Athletics used high performance selection committees and the ‘politics vs performance’ debate arose during every Olympic year. I find the negativity and egoism surrounding these types of decisions to be very oppressive for sport. While there are as many ideas about ‘high performance’ in Canada as there are athletes and coaches, I think that sport governance can get very removed from the absolute truth and beauty of the Olympic movement, which is about individual athletes dedicating their lives to excellence and having a positive affect on society as a whole.
CK: Would you suggest that the selection criteria from the top down develop some sort of criteria that is equal for all?
LS: I think that the aim of the COC is to have consistent high performance and Olympic selection criteria across sports. (I believe that each sport is now responsible for setting their own sport specific selection criteria based on their international federations.) I think the goals of high performance are right on track and I don’t have issue with that. (Even if it did mean that I missed the 2004 Olympic team because the standard for the 10, 000m suddenly—in the space of one quadrennial—jumped to an IAAF standard of 31:45, but that’s another story). The problem is when the spots for the Olympic team do not get automatically selected through the black and white Olympic Qualifying Standards or criteria and become the authority of a High Performance Committee in any one sport. This is where the water gets muddy and things get political and personal. We need to put the same rigorous efforts into creating criteria for choosing sport specific High Performance Olympic Selection Committees so that the committees are fair, objective, and more importantly, are consistent with the high performance objectives of the COC.
CK: What is next for you?
LS: I will always want to race, but I am equally concerned with being healthy and strong in my body and spirit. I look forward to racing as an age-group athlete, and that time is coming soon! My family is really quite young and I love being with children: Ross is only 3 and Maia is 8 and my life feels very full at the moment. I see the next chapter being naturally about putting energy into their lives and validating their dreams and moving on to a fulfilling career post competition as Ross starts school.
CK: Who are your heroes that motivated you?
LS: When I was a young runner (about 20) I really admired both the American cross country runner Lynn Jennings (she was so tough!) and Ingrid Kristiansen (she always came across as champion that was also a happy and balanced individual). I didn’t have a lot of heroes. In my thirties, I did admire Lorraine Moller and Colleen de Reuck, women who had long careers because they obviously loved it!
Editor’s note: “I became close to Lucy as a top-level runner at the Canadian Cross Country Championships in Halifax in 1991, a race run in a blizzard. She showed extreme determination and tenacity that day. Lucy won the Senior Women’s event and defeated many big names such as Angela Chalmers, Lisa Harvey, Ulla Marquette and Cheryl Murphy. Our team of Mike Creery, Neil Wakelin, Hans Fenz and I together we won the master’s team title in extreme snow, mud, wind and rain. One of the greatest honors for me was being inducted into the Frontrunners Walk of Fame in the same year as Lucy, 2003. She was recognized for her many running and duathlon accomplishments and I was recognized for my master’s running achievements and dedication to the sport. I will always look to Lucy as a happy, fun-loving athlete. She is one of the greatest runners ever to live in Victoria and will continue to be one of the top masters in the country for many years to come. She is a true friend and an incredible athlete.”
-Bob Reid, Prairie Inn Harriers
LS (continues): Here are my true heroes of sport: David Conley, Alex Maceachern, Barry Sullivan, Al Yarr, Ron Bowker, Jerry Tighe, and Lance Watson. David was my junior high school basketball coach (I played basketball seriously from G7-12) and he taught me that girls belong in sports and can master skills. Alex was my junior high running coach and was the coach that introduced me to and taught me how to run my very first cross country races when I was 12. Barry Sullivan was my high school coach, and he told me that I could be great and gave me my first training schedule so that I could make the Canada Games Team for Nova Scotia (which I did, in 1985). Al Yarr was my coach at Dalhousie University and he taught me that my mental skills could be trained and practiced to be successful. Ron Bowker taught me how to train like a high performance runner, and showed me how to run faster. Jerry Tighe, from Vancouver, showed me that you could run and have fun at the same time. Lance Watson, took everything that I brought with me, refined it, improved upon it, and showed me most of all that I deserved to be great. Lance empowered me, through knowledge and superior training, to become the best athlete I could be, and how to, in turn, coach others. Lance gave me affirmation for my dreams and opened a door to high performance and professionalism. I have been extremely lucky to have had so many coaches in my life. Every coach has taken me under their wing and has taught me something or showed me a path I didn’t see. Coaches give and give and give and in return, they only expect for you to thrive. I have been really lucky, to have had people who cared so much about my path. Coaches are the true heroes.
Career: 25 Time National Team Member. Canadian 10km Road Running Champion: 1995,1996, 1997, 1998, 2004 and 2006 Canadian Cross-Country Champion: 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1997 Canadian Duathlon Champion: 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2003 Worlds Duathlon, Silver Medallist: 1996 and 2006
CK: Being a writer, what is bar-none, the absolute best piece of literature you have ever read?.
LS: I just can not answer that question with one book. I tend to get very moved by the books I am reading and I also tend to read several books at once. One of the most motivating books I ever read was actually a very somber and sad book by Philosopher Ken Wilbur called Grace and Grit. It’s a compelling and heart wrenching story of cancer and love, survivors and loss. It is about choosing a path in life that has purpose and it’s about relationship, truth and honesty. I read a lot of mountaineering books and am fascinated by the world of high altitude climbing: the obsessiveness, the competitiveness, the ego, and the sheer magnitude of expeditions. Running through all climbing expeditions, there is the same orientation: the quest for the external reward, the summit. Mountaineering is interesting to me, as it’s so all consuming a passion, but with the added aspect that climbing comes with a huge personal risk. I also read much literature but recently, I love the writing of Anne Patchet and particularly Bel Canto, which I found to be a fabulous story, so cleverly written and funny and true to human nature. I read a lot of memoir and especially memoirs of women, as their voices are often silent in the history of our world. And, like many, I found A New Earth to be a really compelling read. It’s not the first time I have studied ego identification and human pain, but Eckart Tolle writes very lucidly. As far as running books go, The Pursuit of Excellence, but Terry Orlick, is bare none, the best piece of writing about sport excellence.
CK: Sounds to me like you are energized by compelling, non-fiction and perhaps a leaning towards philosophy, are you a closet philosopher?
LS: Yes, I am energized by that, and a lot of my own writing up to now is personal narrative. I like to understand the reasons why people do things and act in the way they do. I am inspired immensely by people who find something truly meaningful to pursue, and get beyond ego gratification.
CK: I understand that at one time in your life, you lived on Salt Spring Island. I assume that this was due to your interest in sailing. Did the proximity to the ocean intrigue you?
LS: My time on Salt Spring was one of those serendipitous events that life offers. I always lived on or near to the ocean and I received a job offer that was intriguing. In 1990, I had moved to Victoria from Bedford, Nova Scotia to train with Ron Bowker’s high performance group, but I was injured and couldn’t train right away. The director of the Salt Spring Island Sailing Club called, looking for my sister, Jo to take over the sailing program. Jo was already busy that summer, and I figured that it might be a great summer job since I had six years of coaching and a level 2 coaching in sailing. I offered to come and run the sailing school and teach the program. It turned out to be an amazing summer, and life on Salt Spring was different for me, to say the least. I sailed and raced a lot that summer, which was pretty much the last time I was seriously involved in sailing, either as a coach or as a competitor. By the time I returned to Victoria in the fall, I was healthy and really strong again, and by the next spring, being coached by Ron and training with Ulla Marquette (Hansen) (my first Victoria friend and still one of my closest) I ran a PB of 9:06!
CK: I can’t imagine a single-minded athlete finding an athlete’s version of utopia over there. Does Victoria provide a nice balance between the big city of Vancouver and the small town of Ganges (on Saltspring Island)?
LS: I was only in Ganges for the summer, and it was really just a way for me to use my other skills while I was injured and unable to run. I love Salt Spring and I’m sure part of it was how similar it is geographically to small seaside towns in Nova Scotia where I grew up. I spent my childhood in Bedford being outside as much as possible and small communities seem to naturally foster love of nature and the outdoors. However, to follow my running passion, I had to live either in Victoria, or Vancouver. I lived here from 1990-1992, and then moved to Vancouver, where I met Lance, and started working with him as a coach too. Lance really guided my career in the 1990’s, and is primarily responsible for fostering my vision of becoming a professional sportswoman. In 2000, we moved back to Victoria and I started training with PacificSport and the National Triathlon Center. I feel that Victoria is one of the best places in the world to train.
CK: In your writing and speaking you use the word joy often. What does the word mean to you (besides the obvious)?
LS: I feel that by staying in sport for a long time, I have matured in a way I wouldn’t have known if I had quit while young. I couldn’t have foreseen this, but I think it’s more that the sheer length of my career in sport has taught me to be very grateful for everything I have achieved. Over the past few years I have lost several close friends to either tragic accidents or illness. When I have contemplated their lives and deaths, I have been given a chance to really look at my own. Joy is the word that seems to best describe the awareness I have about my life path. My main dream has always been to have a life in sport, to be outside and active and to surround myself with great people who have similar energy. When I was 18 this was manifested as wanting to be a varsity runner, then I dreamed of following the path of a full time professional athlete. As I look back at my long career, I see now that I followed my dream, I have no regrets and I feel joy that I managed to stick to that. One of Lucy Smith’s joys and her partner in life, Lance Watson is co-founder of LifeSport, which provide multi-sport coaching services to all abilities including some of the top names in triathlon and ironman. Lance is a graduate of Human Kinetics who has gone on to coach Canada’s triathletes in international events since 2000 including the Olympics. He has coached several national team events, ironman and ITU. He is 5 time winner of the ‘Triathlon Canada Elite Coach of the Year. Although a young master, Lucy is currently nursing an injury but don’t expect her to slow down much.
To read more of Lucy’s thoughts about running see her blog at email@example.com.