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A Long Run Gets Longer
Kenny Moore
July 22, 1992
Francie Larrieu Smith, who burst onto the world track scene in 1969, is now 39 and has made her fifth U.S. Olympic team-this time as a marathon hopeful
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July 22, 1992

A Long Run Gets Longer

Francie Larrieu Smith, who burst onto the world track scene in 1969, is now 39 and has made her fifth U.S. Olympic team-this time as a marathon hopeful

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After Benoit, Waitz and Mota made the 1984 women's Olympic marathon a hit, the IAAF, the world governing body for track and field, added the women's 10,000 to the Olympic program. Larrieu Smith ran fifth in Seoul in 31:35.6, narrowly missing Slaney's American mark, but by then she knew her race had to be the marathon.

"Ingrid Kristiansen's 10,000 world record is 30:13, and, woo, that sounds fast when your best is 31:28," she says now. "Besides, there are a lot of others around 31 minutes. But in the Barcelona Olympic marathon the heat is going to be a factor, and anything can happen, especially since they have a two-mile hill at the end. That will be my best chance, my shot at fulfilling the old dream I had at 13."

She ran her first 26-miler in 1986, in Houston, gingerly. "Not being a marathoner, it seemed to me a race you needed to learn to run," she says. "But I had a good solid 20 years of base training before moving up." She seems a natural for the distance, weighing but 105 pounds and possessing a stride reminiscent of 1972 Olympic champion Frank Shorter's. "I am light on my feet," she says. "I go forever in a pair of shoes."

She still trains much like a miler, racing at short distances to preserve her speed. "I still think I'm a miler, even when I shouldn't," she says. "1 confidently kicked the last lap of this year's TAC 10,000 in 67 seconds. Unfortunately Lynn Jennings ran a 63."

Studying her new craft, she placed second in the 1990 London Marathon, and won $37,500. Such prizes create a great temptation to race herself to road-pounded wreckage. "Especially at my age," she says. "You think, How much longer can I go on at this level? So go for the money. Go for the money."

With Vaughan's help, she tries to resist. In good years she has won $60,000, but she won't approach that figure this year. "All the best-paying races came in my healing time after the marathon trials in January," she says.

Larrieu Smith finds marathon training wearing and plans to revert to track racing as soon as she turns 40 next November: "Getting ready for the trials I didn't have real problems, but I didn't feel physically perfect, either, and I'm in constant pursuit of feeling perfect. It wasn't fun, and I almost got to wondering whether I didn't have to start giving in to my body now, finally." Whereupon Vaughan noted that listening isn't exactly giving in, and Larrieu Smith cut her weekly mileage from 100 to 90. "And I feel a hundred times better."

She claims she's aged. "Get real," she says. "I'm going to be 40.1 need a routine more now. I don't want to upset my comfortable life with Jimmy and our dogs or miss my coffee with friends every Friday morning." She about convinces you with this smoke, but then she wonders what she could have done in the marathon by now if she had started at 30 instead of 35, and you sense the force in her still, and you ask again: How did she make it here, so green and fiery?

Vaughan considers the question and thinks of how Larrieu Smith once strained a tendon in her ankle and yet ran on it every day for the month it took to heal, or of the race in which she dislocated her toe, kept going until it popped back in and won. "Then she hid it from me," he says, "because I'd have made her rest. I think she does things like that because she just enjoys the competition and the training. She just still likes it." Vaughan speaks with a clear sense of his words' inadequacy. In a scientist's last try, he cites her "great genes."

It would seem that he has explained as much as anyone can and that it is unfair to push Larrieu Smith on the point. You can't expect a chrysanthemum to say why all the daisies have withered. But this one will take a last run at it.

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