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She's mastered balancing act

On-the-job training for Somers Smith

By Susan Bickelhaupt, Globe Staff, 4/18/2003

When Linda Somers Smith's alarm goes off at 6 every morning, she drags herself out of bed, puts on her running clothes, and heads out for her daily workout. There is no coach with a whistle telling Somers Smith to do 10 of this or 20 of that, or to time her splits, but that's OK with her.

"I'm independently motivated," she said the other day. "I have to be; otherwise, I wouldn't do it."

After her run -- Somers Smith said she logs about 70 to 100 miles a week -- she heads back home, changes clothes, grabs her big leather bag, and heads to her job as a partner in the law firm of Duggan, Smith and Hutkin in San Luis Obispo, Calif. She might end the day with another run.

Somers Smith, who grew up in Palm Desert, Calif., played tennis and swam in high school, but never ran track or cross-country. Then one day when she was jogging on campus at the University of California at Davis, a young woman on the cross-country team asked Somers Smith if she had ever run competitively. Somers Smith shook her head no, but decided to give it a try.

Somers Smith has been competing in marathons and 20K races ever since, and is now one of the leading masters runners in the country. She was on the 1996 Olympic marathon team, and was named by USA Track and Field as a 2002 outstanding master athlete in long-distance running. She was the top master female at the Twin Cities Marathon last October (2:39:26), and set a course record and American record (1:12:39) at last year's New Haven 20K. Her next challenge will be the Boston Marathon Monday.

"It was easier to do the longer distances because I started running a little later in life," said Somers Smith, 41, who won the 1993 and 1994 US National Marathons, and the California International Marathon in 1993.

She has only run Boston once (1995), but was the top American woman, finishing in 11th place overall in 2:34:30. Somers Smith thought the course was nice, but the day didn't leave her with fond memories.

"I really liked it, and was in really good shape, but I had had some knee trouble," she said. "The hills just compounded that, so after the race, I had surgery."

That was in April, but by that summer she was running again. In August she competed in the World Championships in Sweden, ran a personal best of 2:32:12 as the top American finisher, and qualified for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Somers Smith runs with the Reebok Aggies club, so even though she has no personal coach, she has a lot of support.

"I know a lot of people who run, but there's usually only one person who can run with me at 7 a.m.," she said. "And I have to run when I can." In other words, if the attorney who specializes in business law has an unexpected meeting, Somers Smith has to prioritize.

"I wish I had more time to be a masters. I think if I had more time, I could be the best," she said. Not just more time to train, but more time for everything.

"You know, more time to sleep, to train, to stretch, maybe get a massage," she said.

Somers Smith's husband, Scott, usually hops in a cab and gets the driver to stop at different points along the course. With the winding course in Boston, though, Smith said he might just settle on seeing her at the finish line -- hopefully, not too far back.

Somers Smith said she was in "very, very good shape" getting ready for the Marathon until six weeks ago. First she tripped and hurt her ribs, then she had to fly to Detroit for her grandmother's funeral, then she got sick with the flu. "But I put so much work into training, hopefully I can pull it out," she said. So who needs a coach?

"I do everything the top runners do, only not as fast," Somers Smith said.

This story ran on page F8 of the Boston Globe on 4/18/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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