Running : She’s Back on the Fast Track : Kathleen Smith’s Return to Racing Is a Success

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Kathleen Smith, winner of this summer’s Coto de Caza 12K, Corona del Mar 5K, Ford Tune-Up 10K and San Clemente 5K, says she’s trying not to take running--or racing--too seriously these days.

Tell that to her competitors.

Smith, 22, who graduated from Stanford in March and now lives in Orange, has become a big name in Orange County road racing this summer.

Four years ago, as a high school senior in San Antonio, Smith was one of the nation’s top talents in track and cross-country. She was a two-time state champion at 3,200 meters and placed fourth in the Kinney National Cross-Country Championships.


She received scholarship offers from more than 20 colleges and universities and chose Stanford, a perennial running power.

But after three years with the Cardinal, Smith left the team. Although she had several sparkling moments--she ran a 34-minute 45-second 10,000 on the track as a freshman--Smith spent most of her sophomore and junior years either ill or injured.

“It was getting too frustrating,” she said. “I felt I should take time off to mend physically and concentrate on my studies.”

After a four-month layoff from all running, Smith started back gradually. In March, she placed third in her first 26.2-mile endeavor, the hilly Napa Valley Marathon. She finished in 2:54.

Smith, who started running as an eighth-grader in “just odd distances and weird relays and stuff,” now trains twice weekly with UC Irvine Coach Vince O’Boyle.

“The great thing about Kathy is she’s really patient with herself,” O’Boyle said. “And she’s tough. She’s not a gorgeous runner, mechanically speaking, but she makes up for it in her toughness.”


Smith says learning to deal with her injuries had much to do with her tenacity.

“I think the more hard times you go through, the more you become internally strong,” she said.

Smith, who runs about 75 to 85 miles a week, said she wants to continue racing and possibly to aim for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 1992 in the marathon or 10,000 meters. But if that doesn’t work out, that will be OK, too.

“Running used to be my whole life,” said Smith, who on Aug. 21 will run her “first serious race of the summer,” America’s Finest City Half-Marathon in San Diego.

“Now it’s still a big chunk of my life, but I’m trying to balance it with other things,” she said. “You realize after a while it can’t become the only thing. If it does, and you get injured, you’ll be sorry.”

Mike McMahan of Laguna Beach was the top Orange County finisher last weekend in the Orange 24-hour Run at Fred Kelly Stadium.

McMahan, 40, finished as runner-up for the second consecutive year to Leo Marquez of Bakersfield. Marquez, 49, ran 137 1/2 miles, breaking his former record of 131. McMahan, who ran 127 in his first attempt last year, ran 113 1/2.


Rob McNair of Huntington Beach was third in the 30-entrant field at 110, Dorsh Sanders (104 1/2) of Bakersfield was fourth and Rene Rameriz (101) of Anaheim was fifth.

Claudia Newsome of San Pedro was the first women’s finisher at 91 miles. Rose Papp of Tempe, Ariz., was second at 88, Diane Bagwell of Anaheim was third at 79 3/4 and Linda Nielson of Costa Mesa was fourth at 62.

McMahan, who averaged 7-minute 30-second miles through the first five hours and led the race by as much as three miles until Marquez gradually gained and passed him at 80 miles, said he thought he might have come down with the flu during the race.

“I just never felt comfortable,” he said. “I had all sorts of problems keeping food down. After Leo passed me, I just tried to stay in second and survive.”

The race also held a relay division, in which a team could field up to 10 runners. The runners had to run in a prearranged order, each running one mile every time it was his or her turn.

It was in this division that the race became most heated. With an hour to go, Bosco Tech and Tustin were only moments apart. When the 24-hour clock expired, Bosco Tech had defeated Tustin by just a quarter-mile, 235 to 234 3/4.


This week’s schedule:

Saturday: 34th Huntington Beach Distance Derby. Huntington Beach Pier, 7:30 a.m. 10 miles (for age 20 and over); 3 miles (16-19) and 1 1/2 miles (15 and under). Call 536-5486 for information.

Sunday: Ninth Run by the Sea 10K and Kid K. Long Point, Palos Verdes (formerly Marineland). 8 a.m. Call (213) 541-4566 for information.

Bud Light Ocean Festival 5K Beach Run. Zuma Beach, Malibu. 8 a.m. Call (213) 457-2440 for more information.

Tuesday: Saddleback College all-comers track meet (5 p.m.) and 3-mile cross-country race (7 p.m.). Call 582-4545 for more information.

Thursday: El Toro Three-Mile Cross-Country Series. Sycamore Park, El Toro. Call 770-0444 for more information.