On her racing resume, Caitlin Smith introduces herself with a short sentence that reads, “My name is Caitlin Smith and I love to run.” The Oakland resident goes on to write, “My passion for running began in high school and I became competitive at the sport in 2009.”
Smith is not only competitive, she is very successful as a distance runner, with 31 first-place finishes and 21 course records.
In her resume, she also writes, “My goal is to excel at running on the roads and trails.”
She is entered in the 35th annual Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon, set for Sunday, March 3, as an elite-level runner. It shapes up as a very strong women’s field, with Smith joined by Molly Friel, Julia Stamps-Mallon, Michelle Meyer and defending champion Devon Yanko.
“I’ve just heard such wonderful things about it, that it’s a beautiful course,” said Smith, an elite road and ultra runner. “The timing was just perfect. I just want to take the opportunity to do it.”
A sold-out field of 2,600 entrants from 16 countries, 45 U.S. states, and Washington, D.C. will gather for the Napa Valley Marathon. The 26.2-mile race starts at 7 a.m. and takes runners from Calistoga to Napa along the Silverado Trail, to the finish line at Vintage High School.
The NVM’s point-to-point, USA Track & Field-certified marathon course is rolling and fast.
“There’s an extreme amount of focus,” Smith said of running the marathon. “For me, it’s like you put in all the hard work, so you want to see it go somewhere. It can be hard in any long race, to keep that kind of focus and keep that kind of determination. But I think you ultimately think about how you’ll feel once you’re done, that you achieved what you wanted to or came close to it.
“For me, I really want to see the hard work pay off and the training that I’ve been doing pay off.”
Smith decided to enter the NVM after hearing Yanko speak so highly of the race. This year’s marathon will serve as the Road Runners Club of America National Marathon Championship Race. Men’s and women’s overall winners will receive their weight in wine from the sponsoring Silverado Trail Wineries Association, and each finisher in the race gets a medal. Kaiser Permanente is the presenting sponsor.
This year’s theme is “Honoring Women in Marathoning.” Race organizers will honor the achievements of four runners — Joan Benoit-Samuelson, Jacqueline Hansen, Nina Kuscsik and Lorraine Moller. They will be in Napa for race weekend and participate in the marathon college on March 2 at the Napa Valley Marriott.
“Devon obviously has the experience on the course, so that’s going to give her an advantage, in terms of having run it before and kind of knowing tactics,” said Smith.
Yanko scored her second win at the Napa Valley Marathon last year. The San Francisco runner also won the race in 2007.
Yanko was on the winner’s podium in 2012 after recording a new women’s course record of 2:39:37 just seven weeks after competing in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston where she placed 36th among women. The temperature at the start line was 39 degrees as Crosby-Helms took an immediate lead and never looked back.
“It’s pretty cool because I’ve never set a course record in a major marathon before,” said Yanko.
Smith, who ran cross country and track at Traverse City West Senior High in Michigan, would like a time under 2:40 at the NVM. That would make her happy, said Smith, who ran here in 2006.
Her marathon personal record is 2:41:37 in 2011 at the Boston Marathon, when she was 24th in the women’s field.
Smith won last year’s Bayshore Marathon, set a course record in winning the Avenue of the Giants half marathon, and was a participant at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials qualifier.
“It’s interesting, because at one time I didn’t think I was very competitive,” said Smith. “But I know that I have that competitive spirit, especially if you’re going into the last few miles and somebody is close by, you want to give the effort, just to see if you can reach them or pass them.”
Smith, 31, graduated in 2009 from Stanford University with a degree in human biology. She works as a child birth assistant and a pilates instructor.
She never thought that she’d be winning races and breaking course records when she started out.
“When I’m out training, there’s just something that just makes me feel really good,” she said. “I just really enjoy it. I kind of came at running just from the pure joy of it and then I wanted to get over the anxiety of competing. And once I got over that, I feel like a lot of things came together and I’m really happy about that.”
She was in 23 races last year and had 27 races in 2011. She had 26 races in 2010.
“When you’re racing, there’s hard parts. It’s never super easy,” she said. “There’s just like a joy and a feeling you get, particularly when you finish a race.”
All proceeds from the Napa Valley Marathon (a non-profit organization) are donated to local charities and schools in the Napa Valley region.
For more information, visit the marathon’s website at www.napavalleymarathon.org or call 255-2609.