With sweat dripping down his face, his heart beating rambunctiously, his stride lengthens as he closes in on the finish line. The clock continues to tick, ever so fast it seems, but his determination is shown through the look in his eyes. It’s evident he will give it all he has until his goal has been reached. Pure relief courses through his body as he crosses the line well under what he was hoping for. His time read 16:48- which meant he achieved a new personal record and, better yet, he broke the school cross country record of 17:01.
“Seeing as I exactly tied the school record at state the previous year, I honestly didn’t think so much about breaking the school’s record so much as my own,” junior Jacob Smithe, top varsity cross country runner said. “A runner’s constant goal is self-improvement and pushing oneself to greater heights; so though it may seem like a big accomplishment, hitting the school’s and my personal best time was almost just another step up the ladder.”
Smithe’s running career first took off when he was a seventh-grader five years ago.
“I was introduced to running near the end of sixth grade when I entered the Tiger Dash mile race to get extra credit for school,” Smithe said. “Turned out I was actually pretty good. I ended up winning the race, taking home a big trophy as my reward.”
According to Smithe, committed runners understand the sacrifice and determination it takes to bring a race time down, and because of his work ethic, he has progressed from a time of 23:32 in 2007 to his best time of 16:48 in 2011.
“From the first time I started running at the end of sixth grade, I feel like I’ve come a long way,” Smithe said. “If you really think about it, I’ve dropped my initial time by about four minutes, which at least to me as a runner is crazy to think about. It’s almost like I’m running a whole mile less than I was in seventh grade.”
Smithe says running requires a combination of mental and physical abilities.
“I feel like I’ve progressed in more than just time and physical ability,” he said. “Ask any runner, [or read the slogans on] countless cross country T-shirts, and they’ll tell you that running is a mental sport. Like we continuously work our various muscle groups, we runners also push our mental boundaries to new extremes. Yeah, we’re not doing mental math any faster, actually maybe a bit slower after a tough workout, but as with any sport there are many mental factors that affect performance, not the least of which is tolerance of pain. With running, however, when milliseconds are worth places, I feel that mental focus and endurance is much more important an aspect than with many other sports. It is in this side of running that I believe I have achieved a level as great as, if not greater than, my improved fitness.”
While Smithe runs regularly, he also does a lot of cross training to augment that running.
“In the offseason, training usually consists of generally increasing mileage to build a base of endurance for the following season,” Smithe said. “In the spring, track season is on, in which training is similar to cross country in the amount of speed workouts. Also in the off season I try to include a steady amount of cross training, usually rotating between biking, swimming and upper-body work maybe every other day.”
Dedicated runners know the will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.
“I don’t have any specific pre-race rituals, as some runners do,” Smithe said. “However, it has become a habit to get to bed as early as West Shore lets you the preceding week of a race, carb up a night or two before, get up a few hours before race time to eat oatmeal and a banana and drink a substantial amount of water. Once arriving at the course, warming up is a necessity for any race you want to perform in without tearing anything, and generally starts about 45 minutes before a race.”
While some view running as a sacrifice, Smithe disagrees.
“Contrary to popular belief, I prefer to view running as more of a privilege rather than a sacrifice,” Smithe said. “I’m willing to expend every bit of energy I have and do whatever it takes to improve my running, so I don’t see it as a hardship but one of the many pleasures of life.”
Despite Smithe’s self-motivation, he admits he would be no where without the inspiration and support of his friends and family.
“In general, I am inspired to run to better myself. However, sometimes it gets hard to stay in the training schedule all the time,” Smithe said. “With that being said, many people, especially my parents and my coach, have worked just as hard as I have to improve myself and my performance.”
Smithe’s biggest motivator is his dad, who consistently drives him to practices and meets and encourages him in hard times.
“I enjoy helping Jacob with his running, it not only allows me to become more involved in his life but to feel as if I have done my part as a dad to help my son succeed,” Jason Smithe said.
Smithe has faced bumps in the road throughout his running career.
“The hardest part of running that I have experienced was the commitment that I had to make when I first started training to go out and run my miles every day,” Smithe said. “Then it was just work that I had to do to get faster and at least generally stay in shape. After the first few months or so, especially once I found some people to run with, I began to find comfort in my running and it became enjoyable.”
Smithe has only suffered one serious injury that caused him to actually stop running for a month or two to allow healing.
“It was absolutely terrible being injured,” Smithe said. “What’s worse was that it caused me to miss much of the track season, which was a let-down for both me and my team.”
Smithe’s parents have aided him through hard times by establishing a training plan and providing him with proper nutrition.
“Jacob’s abilities are far beyond belief, however; everyone needs some assistance at times which is why I do whatever it takes to help him achieve his maximum performance,” Stella Smithe, Jacob’s mom said.
Even though Smithe has already accomplished much in his five years of running, he has many goals set for his future.
“I plan on running in college, hopefully for a bit of a scholarship, but that’s another year down the road yet, Smithe said. “I will be training mostly every day in preparation for next year’s season, and I’m hoping to get into the low 16s by then. Track is just around the corner, and even though I do try my hardest, it’s more of a part of my training program for cross country. But I do hope to improve my mile and 4×800 times. Also among my goals next year is to make it to state individually. I know I will definitely have competition, but seeing as I missed the chance this year by 3 seconds, this is an item I am definitely looking forward to checking off the list next season.”
Smithe’s accomplishments haven’t come easily. He has traveled as far as North Carolina for summer camps and races.
“To try to get a bit ahead of the competition, I’ve tried a few different running strategies, from just logging as many miles as I can to trying a plan of less miles, but at much higher performance and intermingled with daily cross-training,” Smithe said. “Other activities include heading up to a week-long running camp, usually in North Carolina, where I get in a good amount of hill work, which basically translates into a week and a half of sore legs, through which I definitely feel the benefit.”
He enjoys training in different atmospheres every once in a while, even though he admits that his overall favorite place to run is at the local beaches.
“Despite getting older and life getting in the way, I plan to continue running for as long as I live,” Smithe said. “Just because I won’t be on a team anymore, or have weekly races to train for, I will always be able to go out for a simple pleasure run. I have known people who have stopped running, and have thought about how it would be to do such a thing. I honestly don’t think I could bear it.”
Smithe has trained with top running schools, such as Holy Trinity to try to get an edge on his competition. When it becomes difficult to coordinate running with his team, he looks to his dad as a training partner.
“Over the offseason, I usually run at Wickham Park with Holy Trinity in the mornings,” Smithe said. “It’s convenient because it’s not too far of a drive to the park, but with it being summer, it gets to be a challenge waking up that early every day. As an alternate, my dad would ride his bike alongside me as I run some days.”
Smithe has overcome various obstacles, encountered a variety of people, and established an abundance of memories throughout his journey of running.
“My absolute favorite part of running is the amazing feeling of freedom and joy it never fails to provide,” Smithe said. “Sometimes when it feels like it’s going to be freezing outside and the bed is warm from a good many hours of body heat, I might not really feel like getting ready to prepare for what is sure to be torture or times when it’s pouring swimming pools because of a nearby hurricane. But I thrive on these challenges, and go out to run no matter what the circumstances — sometimes just because it makes me feel hardcore. Getting out and running always leaves a smile on my face.”