The marathon season is in full swing and the London Marathon on Sunday, April 23, will be the highlight for many.
This will be the case for Sunderland Harrier Alice Smith, who at the age of 34, is an old hand at marathon running.
She has 10 marathons under her belt and she will be on the start line for her fourth trip around the streets of London on St George’s Day.
Her fastest time in the capital was set in 2007 on her London Marathon debut where she clocked 3.33. But she was forced to drop out of the race on her last appearance in 2010.
The mother of two said: “I was forced out at 19 miles as I was 12 weeks pregnant and a little tired and didn’t want to take any risks.”
With two children aged six and four, training is always difficult to fit in. She has been trying to run around 70 miles each week, but lack of time for the busy mother means she has not been able to achieve her aim.
“When my daughter unfortunately broke her leg, from the beginning of February for five weeks I had even less time to train. I’ve managed to average around 60 miles, with my longest training run so far being 20 miles,” she said.
“I have had weeks of 45 and 85 miles, though this just depends on whether I get a chance to run.
“I’ve been doing sessions set by Glenn (Forster) and training with Colleen (Compson) and Graham Lancaster at the club. This has helped a lot. I’m not very good at doing hard sessions by myself.”
There is talk at the Harriers that Smith could be the club’s first female runner to dip under the three hour mark. Her unofficial fastest time was set in the Hamsterley Forest Marathon in 2016 (3h.17.32), but the race was not licenced by UK Athletics. Her official fastest time is the 3.21.46 set last year in the Morpeth to Newcastle marathon where she finished second woman.
“Both Glenn and club member Tony Thompson said I should be able to get under three hours. I believe I could one day, but although I’ve trained more for this marathon than for any of the others and it’s the first time I’ve had input from coaches. Family life has prevented me from training as much as I should have.”
Such is the limitations on her time that some of her training is accumulated by running the two miles there and back from nursery with the pushchair and her youngest child in tow. Longer runs are sometimes completed between the hours of 4am and 6am, before the children are up and about.
Smith was born in London and throughout her childhood she was constantly on the move from the age of six weeks. But while at school in Geneva, her first taste of athletics was an indication of some hidden talent.
The Penshaw runner said: “My parents are from Somerset and are living there now, my dad is a businessman and growing up I lived in a lot of different places.
“I was born in London, moved to Yorkshire when I was six-weeks-old, Oxfordshire when I was nearly five, Holland when I was a seven-year-old and Geneva when I was nine.
“There I attended an international school for most of my school years. In around 1997 I did one inter schools competition in Lugano and I competed in the 800 and 1,500 metres winning silver in both.”
After Geneva the family moved to Nottinghamshire. She took a year out of education and went to India doing a community project for four months. When she was almost 20 she started reading architecture at Newcastle University, but changed courses to Sociology after a year. She lived at Newcastle for eight years before moving to Penshaw seven years ago.
It was at Newcastle University that Smith discovered the joys of athletics and the satisfaction of competition, although she found it hard at first to find her feet.
“I started running at university because I wasn’t particularly talented at any team sports, but was reasonably fit, so joined Newcastle University Athletics and Cross Country club.
“The first academic year I was there I only went to training a handful of times and didn’t do any races because it seemed to be all lads and I couldn’t keep up with them.
“Then the following academic year 2003/04, I started training with the club regularly because there were some other women of a similar speed to me. I started doing a few races, just cross country and other team events, and used to do better than I expected and always finished in the first half of the field, but nothing spectacular.
“After finishing university one of my club mates and I entered the Edinburgh Marathon in 2006. I tried to follow a training guide from a magazine, but I fell short of what I was meant to do for training. I enjoyed the day, surprising myself and my friend when I got 3h33 in a heat wave and he got over four hours, despite him seeming stronger than me in training.
“I did the Dublin Marathon in October in 2006 because my brother was at university there and it was an excuse to visit. Then I joined Claremont Road Runners at the start of 2007 and did a few marathons and bizarrely seemed to be keep getting the same time in each one of them.
“But at Taunton I got a personal best of 3 hours 21 minutes and finished fourth woman, one of my brothers entered too and got 3h16, despite not being a runner. The sibling rivalry may have made me run a bit faster in this race than my previous marathons!”
She had a five year break before she joined Sunderland Harriers and found she discovered she had a turn of speed over the shorter distances on the road.
“I was surprised how fast I was when I tried racing shorter distances like 5kms after joining Sunderland Harriers in the spring of 2016. Her personal bests are 5k (18.04), 10k (38.02), 10 miles (65.33), and half marathon (87.51).
“I’m doing the Blyth 10km on Sunday and that’s my final race before the London Marathon. I’ve entered the Yorkshire Marathon in October to give me another go at the distance.
“I’d be happy with about 3h10 at London this time, but would like one day to get under three hours.”
Smith’s marathon performances are: Edinburgh 11/6/06 - 3 hours 33 minutes, Dublin Oct 2006 - 3h33, London 22/4/2007 - 3h33, Belfast 7/5/2007 - 3h33, Dumfries 23/3/2008 - 3h32, Taunton - 6/4/2008 3h21, London 2008 - 3h36, Edinburgh 25/5/2008 - 3h33, Taunton 5/4/2009 - 3h39, Hamsterley 2/7/16 - 3h17.32, Morpeth2Newcastle 30/10/16 - 3h21.46.