A conversation with Mike Smith, Private Coach with the Run S.M.A.R.T Project and Director of Team Run Flagstaff.
Give us some background on yourself, your running career and how you ended up in Flagstaff.
I grew up in New England and was raised by a mother who encouraged me to play sports and be active as a kid, which led to running cross country and track in high school. I went on to compete while an undergrad at Georgetown University, and was an All American. I took some time off, went to grad school and worked in DC before deciding to pursue training and racing again in 2006. The Olympic Trials were coming up, and I thought it would be a great goal to target, and sort of put my focus towards that. I had a good friend who was also a coach, Greg McMillan, who I shared my plan with and asked his opinion. His response was basically, if I was going to go all in, then I needed to check out this town up in the mountains in Arizona. I packed my car and that's how I came to Flagstaff. After training here for four months I ran 2:19 in the marathon and qualified for the Trials. I never went back to DC.
What is the Run S.M.A.R.T Project all about? Can runners of all levels be involved?
When I moved to Flagstaff I was fortunate enough to meet Vince Sherry, who I had competed against in college but hadn't known then. We started running together and he became one of my closest friends. He had co-founded a coaching company, the Run SMART Project, in 2005. After a few hundred runs while hearing about it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The concept is to take post collegiate elite runners and pair them with runners interested in personal, one-on-one coaching to reach their goals. Our coaches and clients come from all over the country and we form these amazing partnerships that allow people to reach their potential with the help of experienced, knowledgeable coaches. Our coaches create individualized training plans that take into account exactly where a runner is at with their fitness, as well as factoring in aspects that the running needs to work around, like careers and families. Once the training design is completed, the coach works with the client along the way via email and phone to adjust and adapt, adding to that private customization we strive for. It's an amazing company. I get so much out of working with private clients. I've been very privileged in my own running experience, it feels great to help others reach their goals and to share in that.
What is the key to staying active in the outdoors during the winter months in Flagstaff?
I think the key here is finding what you enjoy doing and planning to make it possible despite weather. When it comes to running, investing in the right gear, and finding the right places to run are two big ones. I like to tell people also to leave runs feeling good, not necessarily totally spent, so you want to keep getting back out there. And no matter the activity, running or not, it never hurts to find others who share your excitement and can join in on whatever you're doing.
Why do you think so many elite athletes choose to train in Flagstaff?
This is a question I get a lot and it's an important one. There are certain key aspects that make an altitude location ideal for world class runners to gather there. Flagstaff has the big ones: the right elevation and lots of soft trails. But it also has certain aspects that simply blow away other cities. First, an ability to get to both higher and lower elevations. There is amazing running at 9,000 feet, and Sedona is just a quick drive down. Getting down fast is crucial in winter as snow can really hinder certain types of training. Flagstaff also has plenty of tracks, including a 300m indoor track. Next, Flagstaff is an amazing community with plenty going on. Athletes of this caliber eat, sleep, and run. Some altitude locations are very small towns and the runners go stir crazy. Here, you can pop over to Macy's, or a First Friday ArtWalk and feel like a normal person. This is huge. And lastly, access to support like sports medicine professionals, massage therapists, and other body workers. Combine all these elements and you have a world class place to train. Some of the fastest people in history come from all over the world to train here.
When you're not running or training, what do you like to do in Flagstaff?
I coach a local running club, called Team Run Flagstaff, which is always my favorite time of the week for me. I like to explore the surrounding area. I am from the east coast so it doesn't take much to just blow my mind out here. In the years I've been here I've had awesome weekend or day trips to nearby spots that have just been incredible. One of the best things I've done in Flagstaff is allowed myself to grow into the community here. To meet lots of non runners, find places that feel like mine, coffee shops, restaurants, downtown shops. Follow local musicians and artists. Chat with people that have been here a long time, hear their stories. Get to know families, people raising kids here. I've made wonderful friends. This is a very special place!
To learn more about the Run S.M.A.R.T project, visit runsmartproject.com