Kim Smith's strategy at the New York City Marathon is to pace her mind and let her legs follow.
"I'll just try and concentrate for five minutes and then do it again and again," she said after a 14-mile practice run last week in Rhode Island.
Smith, a native of New Zealand, has called New England home since 2002. "I knew a guy from New Zealand who ran for Providence College. When he told me about the team and coach, I really liked the idea. I asked the coach, Ray Treacy, if I could have a scholarship. He told me he'd think about it."
Treacy did offer Smith a scholarship -- a decision that paid off for Providence. She only lost one race during her Friars career.
Today, Smith still trains under Treacy. In addition to four NCAA national championships, her resume boasts a ninth-place finish at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 11 New Zealand national records and the fastest half marathon ever run by a woman on American soil.
The Rundown on Kim Smith
Smith's physical prowess has been proven throughout her collegiate and professional careers. But after a string of discouraging setbacks as a marathon runner, it is Smith's mental resiliency that will be put to the test on Sunday.
"I don't really know if I've got (the mental) part down as well as the physical part," the 29 year-old admits. "Mentally, a marathon is really tough to get through as well as physically. It's such a long way and so many things can happen, and they have happened to me in three of the four marathons that I've run. If you have something small wrong it can kind of spiral into something really big."
Smith's only uninterrupted marathon occurred in London last year. She set a New Zealand record by finishing eighth in a time of 2:25.21.
Smith's biggest heartbreak occurred in April at the Boston Marathon. Commanding a lead of almost a minute, Smith endured a tear in her calf that sidelined her around Mile 17. After the race, critics scrutinized Smith for breaking so far ahead of the field. Despite the outcome, she doesn't apologize for her aggressive approach.
"The weather played a big factor in strategy. Going by the men's race, it was obviously a really fast day, and it could have been really fast for the women as well," she said.
Boston wasn't the first time Smith faced unexpected circumstances. In 2008, she became sick just days before her New York City Marathon debut. Determined to pound the pavement anyway, Smith's quest was cut short at Mile 19 when she became too weak to trudge on.
Smith returned to Central Park in 2010 for her second NYC Marathon. This time, a bathroom stop on the Queensborough Bridge between Miles 15 and 16 broke her momentum. However, she still managed to work her way to a fifth-place finish in 2:29.28.
Smith has relied on a strong support group to bounce back from each disappointment.
"I watch her train for the marathon, and it's a huge investment," said Smith's training partner, Molly Huddle, an American record holder in the outdoor 5K. "A lot of your year goes into it and if the one day doesn't go well, it is really demoralizing. We just tried to keep her spirits up and get her to her next marathon. We all know eventually she is going to have a really great day in the marathon."
Kathrine Switzer, considered an icon in the women's marathon after becoming the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon, also believes in Smith's talent.
"Kim's ready for a big race. Her Kiwi feistiness and 'take no prisoner' mentality sets her apart," Switzer said. "I'd normally suggest a marathoner start slow and finish fast to be certain not to start fast and finish slow, but Kim's a different creature. She can handle it. She can break open the field if she wants to."
Smith will get her chance this Sunday.
Five minutes at a time.
Joslyn Dalton is Associate Manager of espnW.