20 Years Later: An Interview with Two-Time Boston Marathon Winner Geoff Smith
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the first of Geoff Smith’s two victories in the Boston Marathon. As a senior at Providence College, Geoff won the 1984 Boston Marathon in 2:10:34, more than four minutes ahead of his nearest competitor. Recently, Charlotte Cuneo interviewed Geoff to talk about his Boston victories and what he is currently doing.
Posted Thursday, 25 March, 2004
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the first of Geoff Smith’s two victories in the Boston Marathon. As a senior at Providence College, Geoff won the 1984 Boston Marathon in 2:10:34, more than four minutes ahead of his nearest competitor. The following year he went on to win again, completing the first half of the race in a record time of 1:02:51. Leg cramps at mile 19 slowed his pace, but he again won decisively, in 2:14:05; this time in very warm temperatures, in contrast to the cold and rain of the previous year. Since Bill Rodgers in the late 1970s, Geoff is one of only three Boston Marathon champions to win the race in consecutive years. Geoff is an accomplished Olympian, having competed for Great Britain in the 10,000 meters in 1980 and the marathon in 1984. Geoff now lives in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts and coaches at an area high school. Recently, Charlotte Cuneo interviewed Geoff to talk about his Boston victories and what he is currently doing.
CR: Did you feel going into the ’84 Boston you had a chance to win?
GS: Yes, I knew I was going to win. I had trained hard and was well prepared.
CR: Did you expect to have more competition?
GS: No—it was an Olympic year, so most of the competitors were going to the Olympic trials for their respective countries. I needed a good time to make the British Olympic team and felt I could do that in Boston.
CR: 1984 was a cold, raw day, with a headwind. Was it difficult to run alone in the lead in such tough conditions?
GS: The wind was blowing into my face, and it had snowed two days before the marathon. I just enjoyed running it. Most of my training sessions were by myself, so I was used to running alone.
CR: Did you achieve notoriety from being a Boston Marathon champion? More than you had before that?
GS: Yes—I received more recognition from winning Boston.
CR: Did you ever dream of/hope to win the Boston Marathon when you first began to run?
GS: No. I just wanted to be the best in my club, then the best in my county, then the best in the country, and finally the best in the world. I achieved the first three. I was ranked in the top half-dozen runners in the world, but didn’t make it to the best in the world. However, I was ranked number 2 in the world at 10,000 meters in 1982 by Track and Field News.
CR: What motivated you to run the Boston Marathon?
GS: As I mentioned earlier, I needed a good marathon time to qualify for the British Olympic team. The decision was between the Boston and London marathons. I was a senior at Providence College and did not want to take a month off from school to run London, so I chose the Boston Marathon.
CR: Did you expect to win again in 1985?
GS: Yes, I wanted to break the world record. I knew that you could really run fast on the Boston course, and I wanted to prove it with a world record.
CR: You were headed for a course record that year. What do you think contributed to the difficulties that slowed your pace?
GS: At Heartbreak Hill, I developed leg cramps. The weather was hot, and I wasn’t drinking enough. Looking back, I was prone to dehydration. It had happened to me in the New York Marathon at mile 22 to 23 the previous year (when I finished second in a duel with Rod Dixon).
CR: What was your training program like for the Boston Marathon?
GS: My weekly mileage was about 115 miles. I ran on a 10-day cycle: every tenth day I would do a long run of 20 plus miles; I would pyramid up and then down. Then on alternating fifth days I would run 5 miles in the morning and 15 mile tempo runs at five-minute-per-mile pace in the afternoon. Other days, I would run twice a day: 5 miles in the morning and 10 miles in the afternoon. I would also do track sessions.
CR: Was it easy or difficult to make the transition from the track to the marathon?
GS: No; I continued to train on the track two days per week when training for the marathon.
CR: You were one of the last to win Boston before the big prize money came in. How did you feel about that?
GS: It was disappointing, but I can’t cry about it. I just enjoyed running. Winning and running fast was the name of the game
CR: What is your view on the current Boston Marathon, specifically the Kenyan domination and the bigger overall fields?
GS: The change in qualifying times is a product of how the quality of running has declined in the U.K. and the U.S. The Kenyan field is the product of dollars that the sponsors have put on the table.
CR: Do you have any advice for runners training for the Boston Marathon?
GS: Be prepared. Do hills in training and don’t get caught up in the first half, which is downhill.
CR: How did you get involved in running?
GS: I always ran and I played soccer. I worked for the fire department in England and joined the track team. I gradually gave up soccer and changed to running, and then began to take time off to compete outside the fire department.
CR: Did you expect to become a long distance runner?
GS: Yeah, but if I could turn back the clock, I would do it differently. I started running when I was 21 years old. The 5,000 and 10,000 meters were my events. I hated speed. When I was 25 I saw the need for speed and set out to improve my 400, 800 and my mile times. There is a need for speed at the end of a race. I became a miler at the end of my career. In 1976, I was a 10,000-meter runner with average times in the 29 minute range. In 1982, to improve my 10,000-meter time, I worked on speed. I ran a 3:55 minute mile. Through 1986, I believed I could break 4 minutes for the mile.
CR: What are your running-related activities now?
GS: I coach high school indoor track and spring track at a regional high school in Massachusetts. In the summer, I run a kids' running program in my community. We have had as many as 250 kids attend. There are up to 30 counselors. The program is held from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday evenings and includes all disciplines of track & field.
In the summer I am also a director and coach at the Newport Running Camp (www.newportrunningcamps.com) in Newport, Rhode Island. It is great for both adults and kids. There is great running available for all age groups, and opportunities for all to learn from counselors and world class athletes. Many successful high school teams attend with their coaches, for example, Ken Pelletier attends with his boys and girls cross country teams, and he has developed one of the most successful programs in Massachusetts at his Gardner High School. Campers also have the opportunity to talk comfortably with world class runners such as Matt Centrowitz, Rob DeCastella, Marc Davis, and many others.
Going to Camp, Running Style
By Charlotte Cuneo
In 1985, as a runner relatively new to the sport, I sought to learn how to improve my running, to learn more about running from experts, to meet others who shared my love for the sport. I had heard about “running camps,” and decided to attend one that year. I liked it so much, I have continued to return every August since!
Newport Running Camp is not like your memories of those camps from your Boy and Girl Scout days. Both adults and children attend, and campers reside in dormitories on a private high school campus. As is stated in its brochure, the purpose of Newport Running Camp is “to help improve the participants’ running performance, while boosting their confidence in their running abilities.”
All attendees are afforded the opportunity to run as much or as little as they wish to, from one or two times a day with a camp counselor and groups of runners at similar speeds and abilities. There are informational sessions twice a day, in the morning and evening, covering topics ranging from training techniques to motivating personal accounts of outstanding running achievements. Speakers have ranged from accomplished coaches from major U.S. universities, to noted and world-class distance runners such as Geoff Smith, Greg Meyer, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, and Grete Waitz.
This “camp” is located at St. George’s School in Middletown, R.I., atop a hill overlooking Second Beach. Not only is the view striking, but the hill down to the beach is part of a challenging cross-country course for this high school’s team. In addition, a “state of the art” track is also located on campus. Running venues include these offerings on the campus, Second Beach, a bird sanctuary two miles down the road, and for the long-distance runner, a 14 to 15-mile route around Ocean Drive. In addition to ocean views, this loop offers glimpses of the historic Newport Mansions and Cliff Walk, as well as a quick view of the shopping available on Thames St.
Not only is this “camp” a great opportunity to enhance your running, there is plenty of time to enjoy Newport as a vacation spot, with Second Beach a short walk down the hill and downtown Newport and its harbor a few mile drive from the campus. I have made many lasting friends from surrounding areas who revisit the camp each year; we keep in touch and sometimes plan visits throughout the year to attend running events.
This year will mark two decades of running camp for me. Each year I leave with regrets that it will be another 365 days before the next camp. I also leave with a renewed enthusiasm for running and an appreciation for the friends that I have made there.
To learn more about the Newport Running Camp, please click here. You may also visit the website at www.newportrunningcamps.com