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ND Cross Country: Smyth runs for history at NCAAs

Chris Doyen | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Patrick Smyth was a born runner, but for the first 14 years of his life, he didn’t know it. Smyth’s sister, Kathleen, was the one who opened the door to Smyth’s running success.

Kathleen Smyth broke state track records in the 400- and 800-meter races, and earned a full scholarship to run at Boston College.

Kathleen’s former coach invited Patrick Smyth to a camp the summer before he entered high school, calling it a conditioning opportunity. From there, Smyth’s natural abilities set him on the path that has led him to the NCAA Championships. “There was a time trial race at the end of the camp to decide who would make the varsity squad,” said Smyth, a senior, “and I took sixth on the team after only a week of ‘real’ training.”

He didn’t hesitate to move even further up those ranks.

“By the end of the season I was our No. 2 guy and my interest in the sport was officially sparked,” he said.

The improvement shown in his first season as a runner hasn’t waned. From last year’s regional meet where he finished eighth overall, to the 2007 Great Lakes Regional, Smyth knocked nearly 45 seconds off of his time and vaulted seven positions to win the meet. Part of that improvement can be attributed to the fact that, for Smyth, there is no off-season.

“Consistency has been the key,” he said. “I built off of the solid track season that I had last spring, put in some serious summer training, and set some high expectations for myself this fall.”

All of that work has now paid off, as Smyth became only the second runner in Notre Dame’s history to take first in the NCAA regional meet. The enormity of that accomplishment is not lost on Smyth.

“We follow in the footsteps of those who have come before us,” he said. “We are chasing after their achievements and records every time we toe the line. The Luke Watsons, Ryan Shays, Kurt Benningers, Thomas Chamneys, and others are the precedent for current runners like myself and my teammates.”

Smyth will have the added benefit of having raced at nationals each of the past two years. That experience will help Smyth overcome some of the intangibles that can get in the way for inexperienced runners.

“I feel better prepared for any nerves, tactics or conditions that may be thrown at me,” he said.

Fortunately for Smyth, the teammates who have been supporting and running with him all season will join him at the NCAA Championships. The team received one of the at-large bids distributed by the NCAA following the regional meets.

“My teammates mean everything to me,” said Smyth. “When it starts to really hurt that last [two kilometers] of the race, you always press a little bit harder and pass a few more people knowing that you have six other people behind you with ND on their chest doing the exact same thing.”

The Irish runners will look to help each other when the meet begins in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 19. The team is hoping for a top 10 overall finish, while Smyth is hoping to do the same on an individual level.