IN NEW ROLE, LARRIEU SMITH RETURNS TO INTERNATIONAL STAGE
March 20, 2009
By Austin American Statesman Central Texas Running Columnist Brom Hoban
Southwestern University track and cross country coach Francie Larrieu Smith runs for fun now, but she used to be a serious competitor.
Serious as in being a five-time Olympian -- first at 1,500 meters, then 10,000 and finally the marathon. Serious as in setting 35 U.S. records and 13 world indoor track records in distances ranging from 1,000 meters to 10,000 meters. Called "the most versatile runner of the quarter-century" by Runner's World magazine, Larrieu Smith is a member of the Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame, the Texas Women's Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Now, 56, Larrieu Smith has basically retired from competitive running. She earned a master's in sports management from the University of Texas and her running is now with a RunTex training group in Georgetown.
"It feels good to be able go out and train with a group again," she said. "Last fall, we did a workout, and I thought I might be able to run a sub-20 5K. And I did the next week -- I ran a 19:51. It's fun. I just feel better when I work out. It makes me a better person. A lot of it's social, too."
For someone whose 5K best is 15:05, her current running is not about proving anything. Where she puts her real competitive emphasis is with her men's and women's teams at Southwestern. She's taken the Division III Pirates to fourth at the annual conference meet, and several athletes have gone to nationals.
"It's the largest team we've ever had -- 34 altogether," she said. "It's a delicate balance coaching distance runners, especially when the students have a lot of academic pressure."
On March 22, Larrieu Smith will leave her Pirates behind for a week. She will coach six collegiate runners from around the nation at the International Association of Athletics Federations' World Cross Country Championships on March 28 in Amman, Jordan.
"This is the first international competition for these ladies," said Larrieu Smith. "I have a very vivid memory of some of my first international competitions, especially the meet in Stuttgart, Germany, where I was 16 and running the 1,500. I took third, and tied the American record."
Larrieu Smith is confident the team is ready for the 6,000-meter cross country race on an Amman golf course, with similar weather conditions to Central Texas.
"Most of the team have had great cross country seasons," she said. "They peaked for the cross-country trials on Feb. 7, and they've been keeping their speed for this race and spring track season."