Race director Lucy Smith inspires others to be their best — on the track and at home.
BY DAVID LENNAM
Lucy Smith has won the TC10K six times, but this year, she’s not running in the race. She’s running the whole competition.
As race director, the celebrated distance runner takes over the helm of the 34-year-old event. And, on April 30, she’ll shepherd as many as 10,000 runners and 400 volunteers over a 10-kilometre course that winds through some of Victoria’s best scenery.
“I get to do all this tactical, operational, very satisfying event management to make sure we have a safe event on race morning. That’s my high performer side,” says the 55-year-old, who has retired from full-time elite running, but is still keen to test her mettle in a race.
“But there’s this whole other side of me that, even though only one person can win the race, every other single human that signs up for the TC10K is doing it for some personal reason. There’s a little part of me that understands it’s somebody’s first time. Somebody wants to break 50 minutes. Somebody just wants to complete the darn thing without walking.”
She adds, “I really, really understand the human experience when it comes to running.”
Tactics and Strategy
Highly respected by the running community, Victoria’s Smith spent years on the international stage for distance racing, winning 19 national running, duathlon and triathlon titles, as well as those for half-marathon, 10,000-metre and cross-country events.
She’s run a 32:46 10K and a 2:38.40 marathon. She’s sweated her way through several gruelling Ironmans and, last year, at age 54, finished the TC10K in 39 minutes flat, placing 63rd out of nearly 4,000 entries and eighth among all women. (At that race, her 22-year-old daughter bettered her time for the first time.)
But hiring Smith, who was recently interim CEO of Triathlon Canada and, since 2017, lead coach for the RunSport training clinics, didn’t come about as a result of scrutinizing her trophy cabinet. It was more about handing the reins to someone with proven leadership ability at all levels of the sport — from elite Olympian runners to those looking to break in their first real pair of sneakers.
“She’s a leader. That simple word. A caring, compassionate leader,” says Mark deFrias, whose company deFrias Management Group manages the TC10K for non-profit event owner RunSport.
For Smith, the job is part strategy — the what-are-we-going-to-do-next-year questions. But it’s equally tactical. And tactics are something she didn’t leave on the track from her days in elite racing.
“This is how I worked as an athlete. If I had a big event, I’d start visualizing that event months out. I’d visualize what I wanted to feel like on race day. Not just how fast I wanted to run, I would actually visualize how I wanted to feel,” she says.
“I want to feel calm, I want to feel confident, I want to feel prepared. I want to wake up energized. I have this same vision now [as race director for the TC10K]. I can actually see myself on race day with my radio, my cell phone, my vest and my clipboard, and I’m visualizing how I’m going to communicate with my team leaders and my second-in-command. And I’m visualizing watching the elite runners come across. I’m visualizing thousands of people on race morning. That’s how my brain operates.”
A Race-to-Win Attitude
Smith grew up in a super-competitive family. Brother Dan made sure he never cut his kid sister any slack and the pair were head-to-head in everything.
“Anything we did, we did at top speed. Even when we sailed, we had to do it competitively,” says Smith, who remembers running around the house as a child, and having a stopwatch clocking her.
“I was naturally competitive, and in a competitive family, so competition became the outlet for whatever you’re dealing with as a child, like all the dysfunction. You just pour your energy into what you’re getting the most feedback from.”
That race-to-win attitude led her to early glory in high school in Bedford, N.S., and at Dalhousie University where she placed fourth in her first race and by the end of her first season was ranked No. 4 in the country. Smith’s accomplishments led to her induction into both the Dalhousie and Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame.
She balanced a long career at the top level with raising two kids, coaching others, working as a motivational speaker and writing. Her book, First Triathlon: Your Perfect Plan for Success, and her Run For Joy blog offer hands-on (or should that be feet-first?) training for newbies and old pros.
I bring up something Smith said years ago in an interview, that she wanted to be “one of those amazingly fit 60-year-olds” who would inspire her at world championships.
“I said that?” she says. “I’ve changed since then in that I just want to be happy in my own skin. That came from a time in my life when I was actually unaware of my perfectionist tendencies. I’m much more interested in being emotionally stable now, or emotionally aware and evolved. I don’t know how to put it in words. Maybe, to evolve emotionally as a human.”
She nods like she’s agreeing to an affirmation. There’s a deep breath and a pause. Then I go and ruin it by calling her intense. Something she once said about the thrill of the intensity of being on the starting line. It went like this:
YAM: “You’re an intense person.”
Smith: “Oh, am I?”
YAM: “And I mean that in a good way.”
Smith: “Ugh. For some reason, intense has kind of a negative connotation for me and I don’t know where that came from. Maybe passionate is a better word.”
YAM: “Would driven be better?”
Smith: “I think passionate and switched on. I wish I was more chill, but that’s not me.”
RUNNING FOR JOY
Her running partner and UVic coach Marilyn Arsenault agrees that “intense” isn’t quite right.
“[Lucy’s] very warm and generous with information or boosting people up,” Arsenault says. “I think she’s going to make an amazing race director, the perfect person for the job. She just really wants to see people improve in all aspects of life.”
Now she is doing that by giving TC10K participants — from walkers to gallopers — the tools, tips, techniques and, importantly, the motivation they need to achieve personal best times on race day.
“If I put my coaching hat on, what I often help people establish is to understand that there can be both intrinsic goals and extrinsic goals,” she says. “The extrinsic goal is, I want to beat that guy [ahead of me] and that’s awesome. If that propels you to run faster or get that extra two per cent out of yourself over the last five minutes, then go for it, but don’t rest your whole sense of success or self-worth on whether you beat that person or not.”
She adds, “It’s the intrinsic, that joy you get from pushing yourself from showing up, from being in discomfort. It’s the intrinsic benefit that keeps people running.”