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Geoff Smith — February, 2014
Geoff Smith won the 1984 and 1985 Boston Marathon, becoming the second Englishman, after Ron Hill, to win the famed race. Both victories were dominating performances as no one was within four minutes. He finished in second place at the 1983 New York City Marathon in a British record and his personal best time of 2:09:08, only nine seconds behind Rod Dixon, who passed him late in the race. Geoff also finished third at the 1987 Boston Marathon. He was a member of the British 1980 and 1984 Olympic Team at 10,000 meters and the marathon, respectively. The versatile runner won the prestigious Emsley Carr mile in 1981 in 3:55.8. Geoff won the 1981 and 1982 Bermuda 10k and is course record holder at 28:14. He won the New Bedford Half Marathon in 1985 and 1986 and still holds the course record at 1:01:58. While at Providence College, he won two Big East titles and his 13:22.1 win in the 1981 Millrose Games 5,000 meters missed the indoor world record by 1.5 seconds. Geoff didn’t start competitive running until he was a firefighter after high school. His personal best times are: 800 meters – 1:51; 1,500 meters – 3:40; mile – 3:55.8; 2-mile – 8:23; 5,000m – 13:22.1; 10,000m – 27:43.76; Half-marathon – 1:01:39 and Marathon – 2:09:08. He was the 1981/82 Providence College Athlete of the Year and was inducted into the Providence College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003. Geoff is available to speak at races and has founded, a running promotion company which puts on many events in southern New England. He resides in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.
GCR:Often top runners have ‘defining moments’ such as competing in the Olympics, winning a major marathon, or earning an Olympic medal that affects their life and shapes how others view and relate to them. As it has been 30 years since you won the first of your back-to-back 1984 and 1985 Boston Marathons, how have those days been ‘defining moments’ for you?
GSBoston is one of the biggest races and sort of the grandmaster of marathons. It was brilliant to come in and win at Boston in 1984 as that was my Olympic Trials so it set the way for me. To come back the following year when everyone else was looking for prize money, I was looking to run fast. I believed that I could run fast at Boston, so I ran a solo race on a very hot day. Everyone recalls me pulling up with cramps at almost the top of Heartbreak Hill. I was on record pace and had all of the course record split times from that year. I was running very fast – probably in the 2:05 range for a good portion of that race. To pull up with a cramp and to continue was something special.
GCR:Before we talk in depth about those Boston Marathon victories, let’s set the stage by going back half a year as you were preparing to race your first marathon, the 1983 New York City Marathon. Why did you decide to step up to the marathon and what did you do different with your training as you made the jump in race distance?
GSLet me even go back one step even further. I had intended to run the Boston Marathon in 1982 which ended up being the battle between Salazar and Beardsley. I had been training for a year to run that race and was most probably in the best shape of my life. I was running at sub-50 minute ten-milers back-to-back in training on two ten-mile loops. I was hitting 48, 49 or 50 minutes on each loop. But I had gone to New York for Easter break and somehow I got strep throat. It was that bad that I ended up going to the hospital as I could hardly breathe. I was on antibiotics, was feeling terrible and could hardly move. So I cancelled running Boston and had to sit and watch that race. I put the marathon on hold and wanted to run fast again. I decided to skip Boston in 1983, talked with my coach, Eddie Soens, and we thought that in New York it would be a good time to jump into the marathon. I went through pretty much the same routine. I hadn’t run a half marathon prior to that as my furthest race was a ten mile race. I went down to the Dayton River Run a month before the New York City Marathon and ran 1:01 something and Paul Cummings out sprinted me. He sat behind me the whole way. I knew I was in pretty good shape and wasn’t upset Paul beat me as it was part of my training.
GCR:Much of the running community and media were disappointed as three-time defending New York City Marathon champ, Alberto Salazar, and his top adversary, Rodolfo Gomez, weren’t competing. How did you size up the competition with: your countrymen John Graham, Dave Long and Jim Dingwall; three Americans Tony Sandoval, Kirk Pfeffer and Ron Tabb; a trio of Kiwis Dick Quax, Rod Dixon and Kevin Ryan and African Gidamis Shahanga?
GSI didn’t pay any attention. I didn’t look at who was there and who wasn’t there. I didn’t care. I trained as if I was a 5,000 and 10,000 meter runner. I was capable of running a sub-four minute mile at that point in time. I just wanted to see how it went.
GCR:What was your race plan and strategy since this was your first marathon and how did the pace and tactics dictate changes in the first half of the race?
GSI sort of held back for the first twelve miles or just under thirteen miles.
GCR:You could have stayed with the pack, but you were nine seconds behind Shahanga at the halfway point and caught him by fifteen miles. How were you feeling and what was your thought process during this stretch of the race?
GSI passed Gidamis Shahanga going over the bridge. I was feeling like I was jogging and that was where I think I ended up losing the race. I just went too fast down that straightaway when I ran a 4:28 mile.
GCR:Bill Rodgers told me that there was a point in all four of his New York City Marathon victories where it was right to make a move around fifteen to eighteen miles. Do you feel that was a good spot to make a move in the 17th mile when you dropped Shananga, but that it may have been a little too fast?
GSYes. I ended up averaging five miles from 13 to 18 miles in the 4:40s. It was most probably a little too fast in hindsight. But, I felt good, I was smiling and I was in great shape.
GCR:You built quite a lead, but started suffering in the last miles. How badly were you hurting and how did you fight to maintain your pace?
GSIt wasn’t until about 22 miles when we entered Central Park that I started to feel cramps in my legs. I was trying to maintain my pace, but I knew I’d slowed down. I had raced in Central Park multiple times at the Perrier 10k so I knew Central Park. But when running the 10k you couldn’t cut the corners. You stayed within the blue line. So I wasn’t paying attention and I was on freewheel when I got into the park and I got on the blue line and was just running.
GCR:Rod Dixon caught you at 26 miles and you were unable to respond to his pace. Did spectators or those on the press truck make you aware he was catching you and how close he was? What do you recall from those moments?
GSI didn’t know Dixon was there. If they did try to let me know I didn’t hear it. The crowd was noisy and I would take a quick look back, but not excessively. You know that when you look back the other guy gets information that you aren’t doing too well. So I tried not to look back. Dixon is a fantastic runner and is very smart. He had been running a lot longer than I had.
GCR:He had got the Bronze Medal in the Olympic 1,500 meters 11 years earlier so he was at a high level for many years.
GSI was playing soccer when he was doing that!
GCR:When he came up and caught you, when did you realize that he was there and how hard was it to respond to his move?
GSHe was very shrewd. He went to the right-hand side of the road and I didn’t know he was coming up. Normally if people come right up on your shoulder you know they are there, but he was ten yards away and I didn’t know he was there until I glanced over. At that point he was already a couple of strides in front of me. Before I could react it was already over because he was proactive and we had only 365 yards to go.
GCR:There is an iconic photograph where you are on the bad side with Rod Dixon celebrating while you have collapsed on the ground in second place. How disappointing was it to race so hard and come up short and how much did it motivate you to get ready for your next marathon?
GSI knew my legs were really sore. My hamstrings were sore and all I wanted to do at the end of the race was to take the weight off of my legs. If you look at my legs in that photograph I have lifted my legs into the air just so I could get the weight off of them. It wasn’t a collapse – it was just that I wanted to lie down and get my legs up. It sort of motivated me. You can’t win every single race – that’s the bottom line. You use every race as a learning experience. I put it down to a learning experience. It was my first marathon and Rod’s second time in a marathon. Running twenty miles at sub-five minute pace in training is one thing. Running 26 miles at race pace in a race is a totally different animal. The stress on you is far greater in a competitive situation than in a training situation. It was the fastest first time marathon ever and it was a British record so I couldn’t be too disappointed. It put my name at the top of the list for the British Olympic team.
GCR:What was your thought process as you decided which marathon to race next?
GSI was in school at Providence College so I had a decision to make – do I go back and run London and chance being selected? The British Olympic Committee wanted another marathon performance from me. I was in school and Boston was right there. I didn’t want to leave school a month early in my final year and not graduate.
GCR:Did you adjust your training much when getting ready for the 1984 Boston Marathon in terms of mileage, number or length of long runs and addition of hills to your regimen?
GSI did fairly much the same thing. I was doing a ten-day training cycle which was different from what most people do.
GCR:It has become more common now, with groups like the Hanson’s team using it in their program, but I think you were ahead of your time, and maybe the first, with the ten-day cycle.
GSI certainly was the first because it came from a cyclist. My coach was a cyclist.
GCR:The field at Boston wasn’t as strong as in New York since it was during an Olympic year. How did this, and your need for a second strong marathon effort to make the British Olympic team, affect your race strategy? And how hard did you race when it was apparent early on that no one was going to seriously challenge you?
GSI knew what I had to do. Going there, running a 2:14 and winning wasn’t going to get me on the Olympic team. I knew where my pace was, I was in control the whole way and I knew I had it won. I took it from the gun and led almost every step of the way. My splits were right on cue. I always tell people that hindsight is 20-20 and that you are always smarter after the fact, but today if I was doing it again I wouldn’t have eased back. From probably the top of Heartbreak Hill I eased back and that cost me a minute or a minute and a half maybe. I ended up running 2:10:34. I was on pace for a lot faster time, but when you are on your own and aren’t competing your mind starts to work. I started thinking that a win in a relatively good time would get me on the Olympic team and I didn’t want to kill myself. I wanted to come out of the race, recover quickly and get back into training.
GCR:Greg Meyer told me that a similar thing happened the previous year when he was out front and won in 2:09:00. He could have run faster, but had the win and didn’t push all out the entire way. Did you and others run more for victories versus time back then?
GSI disagree slightly there because I raced 99 percent of the time to the max. I did that in Bermuda where I took over a minute off of the course record which was set by Craig Virgin and my time of 28:13 still is intact today. Most of the time when I went to races I wanted to run as fast as I possibly could. Obviously I wanted to win, but I would look for races and want to know what the field was before I said, ‘Yes, I’m going.’ I t wasn’t to avoid them, it was because I wanted to go the races with the best field.
GCR:Since you were off the front alone, were you able to enjoy the crowds and course more so than if you were locked in a fierce battle to win?
GSYes, I did. Being a local guy I had a lot of Friends from Providence College and a lot of friends in the Boston area who came down and cheered me on. It was always nice going past Wellesley College at the time.
GCR:You didn’t stop and kiss any girls?
GSI thought about it.
GCR:What were your thoughts when you crossed the finish line in victory and how exciting was it to be crowned, along with Lorraine Moller, as Boston Marathon Champion?
GSWinning any race is incredible. Winning Boston was good, but you know what, you don’t really realize it until after the fact. At the time it was just another win. It was a great race and it was a win. I look now and I look at the picture of Mayor Ray Flynn’s wife presenting me with the laurel wreath and there was a very young John Kerry in the background on the podium with me. It is something you treasure more so after the fact than at the particular time.
GCR:Illness reared its ugly head at the wrong time, but how ready were you to compete for a medal at the 1984 Olympics?
GSI ran twenty miles in Providence a month before the Olympics in 49 minutes and 49 minutes for each ten mile loop - all by myself. One of the kids, Richard Mulligan, from the Providence team, joined in with me for the last five miles and he couldn’t stay with me. I was in unbelievable shape and my coach, Eddie, was with me in Providence at the time. We went to Point Loma College in San Diego and the Sunday before the race on the track I ran four 400s with about a two minute recovery in 54s, really comfortable. Then I ran a five mile time trial on the track in 25 minutes. Then I went off and jogged for ten minutes, came back and did another five mile time trial in 25 minutes. Then I finished it with 200 meters in the 25 to 26 second range. I was in unbelievable shape. There is a high school coach now in California who is one of the current top coaches in the country as his team seems to win nationals on a consistent basis. He befriended me on my first run there. I was running down by the water and this guy pops up and says, ‘Geoff Smith, do you mind if I run with you?’ And I said, ‘be my guest.’ Every morning there was Jimmy running with me, he invited me over to his house and he let me borrow his MGB. He watched me run on the track. He worked at the Naval Academy at the time in the physiology section and he asked me if he could do a VO2 max test on me and I was off the charts. Body fat – there wasn’t any. My VO2 max was the highest he had ever seen.
GCR:How disappointing was it when the effects of an infected tooth and antibiotics forced you to abandon the lead pack after about 11 miles and to drop out?
GSIt criminal when I think back. We got on the plane and flew into L.A. and I got strep throat. I stood on the start line and was sweating. I was feeling like death. If you pull up the tape of the Olympic marathon I was with the leaders for over ten miles. But when I look at myself in the films I am as white as a ghost. If it had been any other race I would have just walked away. But it wasn’t – it was an Olympic marathon and pride wouldn’t let me walk away.
GCR:You started to round back into shape with a fifth place at the Chicago Marathon that fall as you prepared to defend your Boston Marathon title in 1985. Did you up your training and what was your race plan?
GSIn Chicago I was with the leaders at twenty miles and there were about ten of us there with the Kenyans and Steve Jones. One of the Kenyans cut me off, I went down and Steve Jones grabbed me and pulled me back up. But from that point on I lost my focus and my rhythm. I still ran 2:10 and Jonesy went on and won it. I went back afterward knowing I had to focus on speed again. I did everything I did for New York and Boston and when I stood on the line at Boston I went for it, but it was a hot day and I paid the price at Heartbreak Hill.
GCR:Despite it being a hot day for racing at the 1985 Boston Marathon, as you mentioned earlier, you still ran the first half marathon at record pace. In retrospect, should you have been a bit more conservative or were you just going to test yourself no matter the conditions?
GSI knew that in Boston you can get a good time in the first half as it is predominantly downhill. So you can get a good time if you are in good shape and I also ran hills all of the time in Providence. Heartbreak Hill wasn’t really a concern for me, though that year I paid the price there.
GCR:You cramped up in the twentieth mile, were forced to stop briefly and only managed a 6:17 mile after running at sub-4:50 pace. Did you think about quitting and how tough was it to resume running and racing as you were still in the midst of the Newton hills?
GSThe thought of dropping out can’t be there when you are in the lead. You just can’t drop out. I got myself back to moving again very slowly. I got back down to maybe six minute pace again, which is a far cry from the four and change pace that I was doing. I ended up being okay. If someone had passed me it would have been over. There’s no point.
GCR:Even though your time was slower than the previous year, how rewarding was it to stick it out and push through adversity when you were having such difficulty with cramping in the heat?
GSAgain it’s all hindsight. Now that I look back I think, ‘how the hell did I do that?’ It was nice to win. It’s always nice to win. But I had gone there to break the World Record. That was my intent – to smash the World Record. Unfortunately I didn’t get there, but I went for it and everybody at that time knew that I was going for the World Record.
GCR:You had one more top finish in Boston as you caught Toshiheko Seko in the early Newton hills in 1987 before he pulled away from you. How strong was Seko that you and Steve Jones couldn’t reel him in even when you worked together?
GSIn 1987 the field was loaded. Everybody and anybody - Treacy was there, DeCastella was there, Steve Jones, Ikangaa, Shahanga – it was absolutely a ‘Who’s Who’ of running. There was a big crowd and we were all running together. I was in about third or fourth place in that group. We were just going along and when you are in a group like that you expect everyone to cover the breaks. When you are two or three back, or four people back in the line you are relying on the people in front of you to maintain the pace of the leader. If somebody goes by you expect the pack to pick the pace up so no gaps open up. I don’t know if he was leading or went past, but I looked up and Seko had made a move. He was ten yards away and no one had responded. So now I had to come out, pass a couple of people and try to counter his move. He was moving hard and I was moving hard to chase him. Nobody else came with me. I was following Seko and he slowed down. I kept it up until I caught him and as soon as I caught him he took off again. That didn’t give me time to recoup and get my air back. So the gap opened up and by that time Steve Jones caught me up. The two of us looked at each other and said we can pull him in together. And we tried and worked backwards and forwards to catch him. But Seko was too strong that day and even though we were working together we weren’t closing the gap. If anything he was continuing to pull away. But we were pulling away from the rest of the field. It was a good race though I had been ill again and wasn’t as fit as I had been in the previous years.
GCR:Let’s take a look back at your unusual path to becoming a top runner as you didn’t really take up running seriously until you were around twenty years old. What were your athletic pursuits as a child?
GSI played every sport you can think of as a kid. At school my favorite subject was gym class. I played on the soccer team at school. In the summer we had track and field and I got involved with everything, doing the high jump, the long jump, the 100 yards, the 200 yards, 400 yards, 880 yards, the mile. You didn’t go over a mile – that was it. I always wanted to win. I generally couldn’t win the shorter races, but I could win the half mile and the mile. I don’t remember times when I was younger, but when I was 16 or 17 I ran a 3:54 or 3:55 for 1,500 meters. That’s when I wasn’t even a runner.
GCR:Were you still in school or was this when you were out of school and working as a firefighter?
GSI left school at 16 and was in the fire department. It was at a church meet where I raced.
GCR:What type of training were you doing at this time when you were in the fire department?
GSI ran for the fire department because in training we had to run. Once a week they would take us out for a long run. We’d get on a bus, they’d drive us to a railway embankment, drop us off and we would run six miles. There was no time on it. We just had to run it so I did it. I would run and everybody else would walk. Afterward I would go sit in the pub and have a beer with all the officers. The other guys would walk and get shouted at. That was the beginning of my running. On the drill square at work we were always active. I played at that time on two soccer teams every weekend so I played Saturday and Sunday. Every night of the week when I could I would go down and play soccer with friends after work. In the fire department I picked up two more games a week so I was playing four games a week. They had a running team that I would only join when there were races. But I never trained – I just went and ran them. I was running six miles in 31 or 32 minutes I would say back then.
GCR:So, with very little focused training it was obvious that you had some talent?
GSYes, though I wouldn’t win the races. I would finish down a little in fourth, fifth or sixth – something in that range. But then they said they were going to take a team to Paris and you had to finish in the top six. We would get time off work and I thought that I wouldn’t mind a trip to Paris. I trained serious and ran every day for six weeks. I just went out the door and I blasted five miles every day. I went to the trial race and I blasted the 10k cross country and won. I carried on for another four or five weeks blasting my five miles. And I won in Paris. I found that you get a lot of attention when you win. I liked that. I thought I was pretty good at this.
GCR:How did you start running with your first group running - the Southport Harriers?
GSNow everybody in the fire department was telling me, ‘You need a coach. You need a coach.’ One of the guys on our team had joined the Southport Harriers so I started going with him for training sessions. I lived in Liverpool, so I was driving twenty miles to go training with guys. I didn’t know anything about running. I didn’t know about running clubs. Runners were backwards – I wanted nothing to do with them (laughing). I still didn’t have a coach per se – I was just running with their group. It was predominantly Sunday runs and they were all too slow for me. I would go out for a run with them and end up running by myself.
GCR:That must have made it an easy choice to stay in Liverpool and to run with the Liverpool Harriers?
GSOne guy, Keith Burrow, who was really good in Liverpool, came out of retirement when I started running for the Southport Harriers. He started running and Keith was better than me. He was really good. As a kid he came through the ranks and was one of the top kids in Liverpool, but he backed off and didn’t follow it through. Once I started he came back on the scene and told me that I needed to come to the Liverpool Harriers. I started training with them on Tuesdays and they had a great group session. Fifteen or twenty guys would show up that could all run thirty minutes for 10k. Dave Murphy was one of the kids in the group. We were the kids. The rest of them were well into their twenties. I was 21 and Murphy was 18 years old. John Woods was 18. They were all very good runners and I learned a lot there from them.
GCR:How and when did you start working with Coach John Butler and did he really help you out?
GSI still didn’t have a coach and when I started going to the track for workouts John Butler was the track coach. He would organize and supervise the track sessions. I would show up and these guys, I swear to God, they just wanted to blow me away. We would go out and do the session, the quarters, whatever, and people were saying I should get a track coach. So I asked John Butler if he would coach me. He said, ‘Yes.’ Sometimes I wouldn’t be there and, when he asked other runners why, they told him I was a firefighter and couldn’t make it that day. So once he found that out he started writing track sessions for me and he would see me during the day. He would get out of work for a couple of hours. He was old school His philosophy was we could go from A to B in 12 months and it’s all over – you’re burnt out in two years. Or we can look at 1976 where I was running 29:20 for 10k and we could look at the Olympic year of 1980 where we wanted to be running around 27:30.
GCR:So Coach Butler came up with the idea of a long-term, four year plan?
GSYes, so we set about it with that plan and every year we were right on course or a few seconds off. It worked but originally they had thought I would be a great 800 meter runner. But my first session burned me up. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t do it as I wasn’t in control, whereas if I do the 5,000 and 10,000 meters I could run forever. I could run 68 or 69 quarters with no problem. I said I want to be a 5,000 and 10,000 meter runner so that’s what I did. I didn’t do the speed and I noticed that I could beat runners up to a certain level, but when it came to beating McLeod and Foster I couldn’t win. I raced Brendan Foster in 1978, but that was only two years into my plan which was 30 seconds improvement a year. I ran 28:30 that year, but I was a minute behind Foster. He was coming up to his last lap to lap me and there was no way in hell I was going to let this guy lap me. His last lap was run and I wasn’t playing etiquette. I wasn’t moving out of his way. I was sprinting. He followed me and I led him the whole way around. He was coming to the finish with his arms raised, but I was in front of him with a lap to go. I ran sub-60 for that lap and a 66 final lap for 28:34.
GCR:When did you switch to being coached by Eddy Soens?
GSIt was right before the 1980 Olympics. In 1979 I ran 28 flat, which was my next thirty seconds. I ran that solo in April. I think I lapped a guy, Nick Lees, and some very good runners. It was the beginning of the season, I was feeling great and I got my first international call up. There was only one problem – a month later I had shin splints. I’d rest and they would seem to be better, but when I started to run they would flare up again. To run I had to run through the pain and I couldn’t get rid of the pain. I was one of the fastest guys in the world and it was coming up to the Olympics the next year. So I phoned up the three A’s, which is the British Amateur Athletic Association and told them I had shin splints and couldn’t do anything. They got me in to see a specialist in August. They took an x-ray, saw a shadow on my calf and told me they had to do exploratory surgery to see what it was. I came in within a couple of days. They did compartment syndrome surgery and split the sheath. It was before arthroscopic surgery so I had a scar from my ankle to my knee. I had a cast on my leg for five and a half weeks. My leg disappeared. From mid-September onward it was a matter of building my leg back up. The guy whose bed I took in the hospital, Bill Hartley, had his Achilles tendon scraped in an attempt to get ready for the 400 meters. He also ran for the Liverpool Harriers. I talked to him and he was going to see a guy named Eddie Soens. He told me Eddie could massage scar tissue away. He introduced me to Eddie and I was going there daily once I built my leg back up. Eddie would ask me what I ran and tell me when I could do more. Then he told me when to do two sessions a day. He got me back running much faster than anyone else could have. When talking to somebody you develop and affinity for them. He was always about doing things to the max. John Conti, who was a World Champion boxer, came to him. Guys who were winning bike races all over England and Europe went to him.
GCR:So he was successful with athletes in multiple sports?
GSAll sorts of people were coming in as he had this charisma and he instilled the winning spirit. When I ended up getting into form I asked him if he would coach me. He said, ‘I’ll tell you what – go home, brush your teeth, get a haircut and ask me again tomorrow.’ And the next day I went back. He asked me what I wanted to do and I said, ‘I want to break the World Record at 10,000 meters and win the Gold medal.’ He asked me who was the World Champion and I told him it was Miruts Yifter. He asked me what time he had run and what he ran his for his last quarter mile which was about 52 seconds. Then he asked me what I could run for a quarter mile which was about 58 seconds. His next question was, ‘There are two of you in a race and it comes down to the last lap – who’s going to win, Yifter with 52 or you with 58?’ So he made me realize that I needed to have the speed of a 1,500 meter and 800 meter runner which is what John Butler wanted me to do four years prior.
GCR:Now you were stronger, so using your strength and this speed training was evidently a good combination leading up to the 1980 Olympics.
GSI ended up running 23.8 in a session for 200 meters.
GCR:Was it sort of amazing how far you had progressed compared to a few short years earlier?
GSFour years before I was playing soccer and was a fireman with no thoughts about an Olympics. England had what they considered A players and B players for medals and all the potential medalists were in Kenya at altitude for several months. The B players, which is where I was, even though I had run 28 minutes flat for 10,000 meters, were left at home. I was a fireman working my butt off 56 hours a week. I wasn’t putting out fires anymore, but I had a job at the training school. I was training sailors how to put out fires. So I was seeing more fires than if I was at the station but I didn’t have to do nights. I was setting and putting out 15 oil fires a day. I set them and showed sailors how to do it. I had a hard, hard job. I ended up training really hard and two days a week I did three sessions as they let me out two days a week at twelve or one o’clock to do a track session, so that was the good thing about it.
GCR:It all seems to have worked out as you made the team even though you weren’t at that camp in Kenya.
GSI made the team and we were only running for one spot as Brendan Foster and Mike McLeod were preselected. There was Nick Rose, Danny Ford, Dave Black, Steve Canyon – a ‘Who’s Who’ of British athletics vying for one spot and Nick was the favorite.
GCR:How did the race play out and it must have been pretty exciting to get that last spot on the team?
GSIt was perfect British weather. It was raining, it was cold, and it was blowing a gale. I ended up running 28:20 and got the Olympic qualifying time, which was good.
GCR:What are top memories from the 1980 Moscow Olympics as far as competition and the Olympic experience?
GSI got a terrible draw for the first heat of the 10,000 meters which included Lasse Viren, Marti Vaino, a top Russian, John Treacy, and Miruts Yifter. It was the ‘Who’s Who’ of the entire race.
GCR:It does seem like you would have made the final of the 10,000 meters in any heat but that one.
GSIt was the hardest heat and the hottest part of the day about two o’clock in the afternoon. We went out like bats out of hell. It was the last race of the afternoon session and was thirty degrees Celsius in the stadium which is about 86 degrees Fahrenheit. It was hot and our fast early pace slowed down. People were croaking. People were dropping out. The Russian dropped out. People were collapsing. John Treacy was about twenty yards in front of me in fifth or sixth place. I saw him collapse and he was carried off with an IV in him. I staggered. I literally weaved from lane to lane down the finishing straight and ran thirty minutes or high twenty-nines. That was the end of the afternoon session and in the evening when it was nice and cool the other heats went off. They just jogged around and left it to a sprint finish as all they had to do was twenty-nine and a half minutes to make the final. So I didn’t have a very good Olympic running experience. But I had a good time. My coach was also coaching a cyclist who made the Games. I was hanging out with him and the next day he got knocked out because his tire burst. We were both disappointed. He came down and timed me the next day and I said, ‘How the hell can I do this and I stunk yesterday?!’ We just sat in the restaurants and ate and I put on about ten pounds in four days.
GCR:You came to the United States to run at the older than usual age of 26 in 1980. Why did you decide to make this big change?
GSIt was scary. I actually filled in the forms on October the twenty-fourth, my birthday, at the bar on a harrier’s track night. The president of the club, Tom Omani came in and he threw me the letter. I said, ‘Do you want me to go to college?’ It was filled in as a joke really because I was very happy as a fireman. In two weeks I had an offer letter back from Clemson. I talked to my uncle who is a school principal and he said to go for it. He told me it was a great opportunity, that I had my whole life to work and that I could only run when I was young.
GCR:This letter was from Clemson. How did you end up at Providence College?
GSClemson wanted me to come to school after Christmas, but I was still getting over having my leg in a cast.
GCR:1981 was a monster year for you at many distances as you raced 1,500 meters in 3:42.6, a mile in 3:55.8, 5,000 meters in 13:26.33 and 10,000 meters in 27:43.76. Was this a natural progression or was there some other reason that you were racing so fast at a variety of distances?
GSIt was a natural progression. I started training with Eddie in October of 1979 right through to the Olympics. When I got to Providence College I didn’t have Eddie, but he had told me what to do. Unlike today I couldn’t phone him up or e-mail him. The only time I would phone him, because it cost an arm and a leg, was when I was hurting and things weren’t going right. I was following exactly what he had down. I wasn’t training like a normal runner. I was training like a cyclist. He’d give me sessions that were totally alien to any track coach. I’d run a mile or three-quarter mile or half mile as hard as I could. I’d jog off for ten minutes, stretch and then he’d have me run a mile as hard as I could. I’d run close to four minutes. Then I’d jog another ten minutes and come back and run four 200s with a lap and a half or two lap recovery and go into four 400s the same deal, as fast as I could. Then I would jog for ten minutes and come back to do a two-mile or three-mile at 68 pace. I would try to get somebody to run with me and jump in for one lap at 60 second pace and then I would go back to my 68 second pace. There was a guy named John Evans from the Liverpool Harriers who would jump in with me. He ended up coming to Providence and ran a 1:46 or 1:47 for 800 meters.
GCR:Can you take us through some of the races from that 1981 track season leading up to the Emsley Carr Mile?
GSIt had been a tough year as I had come back to England and wanted to run the Golden 5,000 meters and the Golden 10,000 meters. What happened was that three days before the Golden 5,000 meters, which was at Gateshead, I had to go to London and run for Great Britain at 5,000 meters. I ran about a 13:30, travelled home from London to Liverpool and then from Liverpool to Gateshead all within three days. I ran another 13:30 and didn’t run very well.
GCR:Didn’t the British athletics federation also make it cumbersome for you to run the Golden 10,000 meters?
GSI wanted to go to Prague for the Golden 10,000 meters, but they said I had to first run 10,000 meters for Britain at a dual meet in Dresden, Germany. So Dave Murphy, me and Werner Schildhauer, who ended up being ranked number one in the world, were there with another East German. There were four of us on the track. Schildhauer took off , I followed him and we went through in about 14:02. We lapped Dave Murphy and the other guy. I was a step behind him. He was about six feet four – just huge. Around about 7,000 meters he tried to wave me by. But I just wanted to win the race, so figured he could slow down. This is against what I normally do, but I just wanted to win. I wasn’t concerned about time. I wanted to win as slowly as possible to save myself for the Golden 10,000 meters. So I didn’t go by even though he waved me by a couple times. Finally he stopped. So I stopped. Then he took off again and I took off again. Then the pace got gradually faster and faster and faster. With 500 or 600 meters to go I came out and just blasted. I ran 1:56 for my last 800 and won by about nine seconds in 27:43. Three days after that I had to run 3,000 meters in London and ran seven minutes and fifty-something seconds. I had the fastest times in the world that year.
GCR:After having to run those races, how did you finally do in the Golden 10,000 meters in Prague?
GSI was all set ready to win the race. I was sitting behind Suleiman Nyambui and Miruts Yifter going up to the bell lap. I was waiting for them to make their usual kick to the finish and it didn’t happen. The entire field went past us – and I mean the entire field. So I had to come out going through people. It came down to a photo finish between me and Mike McLeod. Mike was the reigning Golden 10,000 meters champion and he got the nod on the photograph. To this day I think I won it. I ran 27:59 so shortly after the 27:43.
GCR:Despite these excellent performances, didn’t the British federation continue to snub you?
GSThey asked me to be the travelling alternate for the 5,000 and 10,000 meters for the European Cup semi-final. Since I was an outsider I told them to stick it up their backside. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m as fast as the guy you selected in the 5,000 meters and I’m the fastest in the world at 10,000 meters and you are asking me to go as a traveling reserve? It isn’t happening!’ And apparently I was the third of fourth person they had asked. I wasn’t even considered. Pete Squires had asked me to come to the U.S. to run Peachtree for Adidas so I told them I was going back to the U.S. to run some road races. They said, ‘No, you’re not.’ Then they told me I couldn’t because I didn’t have their permission. But I told them I had a letter that said I could run for the next four years in the United States. I said, ‘I’m going to America to run.’ Before I came over to Peachtree there was an air traffic controllers strike in Manchester and I spent 48 hours in the airport. I got to Atlanta for Peachtree the morning of the race and didn’t run very well. Dean Matthews was an Adidas runner at the time and was all over Pete Squires that he had beaten me.
GCR:But this still wasn’t the end of the British athletics making troubles for you.
GSNo. When I was trying to fly back to Oslo, Norway to race there the race organizers cancelled my ticket because the British board had banned me. I ended up spending a week on Long Island jogging and drinking for a week.
GCR:So how did you finally end up racing the Emsley Carr Mile since this wasn’t your usual race distance and how did the race play out?
GSI went back to England and started to get back into my training. The only race I could get into was the Emsley Carr Mile. It was the same weekend as the race I had wanted to run where they wanted me to be a reserve. Since I needed to race and I could only get into the Emsley Carr Mile, three day before the race I went to the track and did one of Eddie’s training sessions. I did 1,000 meters in 2:25 or something ridiculous like that so I knew I was in great shape. I stood on the line for the Emsley Carr Mile with all of the top milers excluding Cram, Coe and Ovett. But the rest of them were there. Steve Jones was in the field and wanted to break four minutes that day. I took it out from the gun in 59, 1:58 and 2:57. A guy with a name like Epstein passed me with about 250 meters to go in the middle of the back stretch and I sucked it up, sat on him, wouldn’t let him go and sucked it up. When we were coming off the turn into the straightaway I put in that final burst. Since I almost always finish training sessions with Eddie with a fast 200 meters, I thought, ‘I only have 100 meters to go – let’s do it!’ I gave it one last blast and left him in the wind. I won the Emsley Carr Mile with my hands in the air giving the ‘V for Victory’ sign in 3:55.8
GCR:You had a pretty good group of teammates at Providence College with runners such as Ray Treacy, Brendan Quinn, Jimmy Fallon and Steve Binns who were all Big East Conference Champions at various distances. How did training with these men and racing in the collegiate competitions help your development as a runner?
GSI was doing my own thing. Steve Binns could do some running with me, but the others could not. It would have blown them out. I would stretch with them and the coach was smart enough that when we ran down the road if I went right, they would go left. Sometimes I ran with them, but if I did a hard session I did them by myself. They were straight out of high school, and were 18 or 19 years old and I was a 26 year old Olympian. It was a matter of common sense as they were learning. I hadn’t been running that much longer than them, but my body was already mature. Even though I hadn’t been running as a youth, I was playing soccer and was a fit person.
GCR:You mentioned earlier that one of your goals was to break a World Record and you narrowly missed the indoor World Record for 5,000 meters by 1.5 seconds when you won at the Millrose Games in 13:22.1. What are highlights of that performance and did you know you were on record pace?
GSI did know as I was the only person to break the World Record twice and finish third twice as I had done the two previous years. I knew I was running fast and again I wanted to win. There was a loaded field the year before. There was Suleiman Nyambui and I knew I was ready to do it. But when you take it out from the gun you set yourself up for that whirlwind at the end and each time I was brow beaten. It’s nice to run indoors. When I nearly set the record I was running to run as fast as I possibly could and to win the race. Eddie’s philosophy was if you were hurting, the guy behind you has got to hurt more to beat you.
GCR:Speaking of running fast, twice you won the New Bedford Half Marathon in 1985 and 1986 and your course record of 1:01:58 from the first year still stands. Are you surprised no one has beaten your time?
GSI’m not surprised because that race lost their big prize money. They aren’t going to get top runners coming in to run as fast as they can for a thousand or seven hundred and fifty dollars. They changed the course so my course record is safe. It will never be broken. The new course is about a minute faster comfortably.
GCR:Let’s talk about training sessions a bit. You mentioned about that fast long run where you did two ten-mile loops in around 49 minutes each and workouts where Coach Soens had you doing several repeats at a very fast pace. What are some of your favorite workouts or races other than those which really got you tuned up to race fast?
GSThe Tuesday night sessions with Liverpool Harriers when I first started running were incredible sessions because there were good runners – world class runners- they were the best. They knew what they were doing and loved what they were doing. There were fifteen guys plus running and it was a varied session. We’d do strides. Then if we did quarters each person would take out a quarter at a set pace – it wasn’t to race. You didn’t go past that person. They were incredible sessions and I loved going down there at that time. It was a challenge for me to stay with those guys and I was in awe of how fit they were. With John Butler we would do 16 quarters and start off at the beginning of the season with 68s and do them with a minute recovery. We’d always say the last one was a trial and he would pick one of us from our seven or eight man group and that runner would be the leader. He would run at any pace he wanted and his goal would be to just go at some point. You could go easy and go with 200 meters to go or 150 meters to go or 300 meters to go. It could be as slow or fast as you wanted but the idea was to simulate a finish. They used to hate me because my sprint would be from the gun and they knew they would be running sub-60 seconds. But I enjoyed it as it made you focus on that one person and his body language and movement. It helped for racing as when you are alongside a guy it helps you figure out what he’s going to do and when he’s going to break.
GCR:We’ve talked about physical training, but how important is the mental part of training and racing and developing the ability to endure increasing levels of discomfort?
GSI tell people that unless you can experience the pain in training how can you expect to run through it in a race? A lot of runners today want to travel and get into certain high-profile races because they need the field to run fast. They don’t believe they can run fast without a fast field. My response to that is bullshit, because if you can’t do that by yourself at the track, what makes you think you can do it in a group? Why travel halfway across the country?
GCR:That’s how Gerry Lindgren ran in the sixties, that’s how Prefontaine ran and that’s how Craig Virgin ran, so it does seem there is a common thread amongst these top runners that it did help them to compete at the highest level. Speaking of competitors, who were some of your favorite competitors and adversaries over the years because they were tough out there, gave you good races, made you work hard and you enjoyed racing them?
GSI’ve got to go back to England - Nick Rose, Alwyn Dewhirst, Steve Binns, Steve Jones and Dave Edge. My path crossed with Steve Jones a lot over the years with my being in the fire department and he in the Royal Air Force so I raced with him in inter-service races when we were both nobodies. I enjoyed racing against Greg Meyer, Craig Virgin, Paul Cummings and Mark Curp.
GCR:Another thing you mentioned briefly was about how hindsight is ‘20-20.’ With the luxury of hindsight, is there anything you could have done differently in training and racing that may have resulted in better performances?
GSI think I pretty much hit it spot on. My training was perfect. It’s the conditions that dictate the problems. I couldn’t control strep throat at the Olympics in L.A. I couldn’t control the heat in Boston in 1985. If I had went out slower I never would have experienced the thrill of going fast and attempting a World Record. If you have something planned you have to go with it. In 1984 it snowed the day before the Boston Marathon. On the radio I listened to a famous coach in the Boston Marathon who coached Bruce Bickford and he was saying that with the weather that Geoff Smith should pull out of the race and look for another race. I went on the radio and corrected him saying, ‘That’s ridiculous. I’ve trained six months for this race and everything is geared for this day. ‘My ten day cycle revolved around competing on that Monday. It was that day or never.
GCR:You have been recognized for your running achievements by Hall of Fame inductions. How special is it to be so honored?
GSIt’s always nice to be remembered. Getting into the Hall of Fame at Providence College was no easy feat with the quality of athletes who had gone through there. When it happens it gives you a recall and something to look back on.
GCR:You had some issues in the early 1990s that stopped you from running and have had hip replacement surgery. How your health, what is your current fitness regimen and are you training to run the Boston marathon this year on the thirtieth anniversary of your first win?
GSWhen I fell all those years ago I destroyed my hip. I went from being in the top five in the world to being told I would never run again. A few days prior to the fall I ran 16 quarters in 60 with a minute recovery. I’d made a decision to lay off the marathon for twelve months, reduce my mileage and to run 5k and 10k again with the intention of running the U.S. Olympic Trials two years later as I was by then an American citizen. But the fall ripped my groin and smashed everything into the socket. It was sort of like what Bo Jackson did and I was told I would never run again. I’m reinvigorated now and have started to run again. I have two new hips and am pretty healthy. I’ve lost about twenty pounds. I’m still on the slow side but I’m working on that. Unfortunately my plan ended up as one of the best laid plans that aren’t going to happen. I pulled a hamstring a month ago. I was up to running a long run of two hours and ten minutes a month ago and now I haven’t run for a month. Hamstrings are one of those things that don’t heal easily. I keep looking at the clock and it’s getting closer and closer to Boston. I planned on running in Bermuda and New Bedford as time trials to see what sort of shape I was in because if I run I want to be able to run well.
GCR:Maybe you just need to push it back a year and gear it around the thirtieth anniversary of your second win.
GSThat is most probably what is going to happen. If it doesn’t happen this year the nice thing is I did win it back-to-back so I have the luxury of another twelve months. I’ve got the bug again so it’s a matter of when. It is going to happen. I want to run again and I don’t want to run ten or fifteen minute mile pace.
GCR:When you were doing that two hour and ten minute run, at what type of mile pace were you running?
GSI was running on all sorts of different terrains. I would run on dirt roads, paved roads, in the woods on nice trails and bad trails, and also on soft sand at the beach. So my pace was dictated by the terrain. I tried to get it so I was running anything from high 7:00s on the road to low 9:00s on sand or tough trails. What got me going was I ran a 5k in September. At that time I was running about twelve miles a week with no intent of running Boston. I had talked about it, but it was just talk at that point. I ended up racing Bill Reilly who is 77 years old and is pretty good. He wouldn’t tell me how fast he was going to run as I was thinking about running around 24 minutes. His wife told me he was planning to run 21 or 22 minutes. I ended up running like 21:50. I thought that if I could run 7:00 pace off of basically zero training that I should up my training a bit. I started doing quarters and 200s but I never got to see how fast I got. I did a three-quarter mile in 4:30 which is 6:00 mile pace. I was running about an 85 second average for my quarters and 39 or 40 seconds for 200s. It’s encouraging as I hadn’t run a step in over twenty years. I am hoping when I start back that my legs are fresh. I want to reinvent myself. I want to run again and I don’t want to run slow.
GCR:What else are you doing to keep connected with the running community?
GSI’ve started my own running company called and this is how I’m getting back into the sport. After my fall in 1990 and then not being able to run I got a job as a stockbroker with Merrill Lynch and stuck that out for ten years. My teaching certificate had lapsed, so I went and got my teaching certificate and got a job as a special education teacher. I did that for ten years and two years ago decided I wanted to get back involved with running. I looked at what Dave McGillivray and other people I know were doing to put on events and I thought that I could do that. I started my event company with a Santa Run two years ago and added a second event, an Irish Run, this past year. This year I am increasing it to about eight events on the south coast of New England area. I would like to get on the speaking circuit as I have a million stories. If people are interested I am available to run and be at their events up to 10k at the moment and, hopefully, half marathons soon. I can come out, talk and give pearls of wisdom.
GCR:When you are talking to a group and give them a wrap up of the major lessons you have learned during your life from your youth in England, your years as a firefighter, the discipline of running and sharing your knowledge and experience with others, would what do you say?
GSDon’t be afraid to dream and don’t be afraid to go for that dream. There is only one way to succeed and that is through hard work.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI enjoy working in my yard
Favorite moviesI’ve got to go back in time. My favorites are ‘Mad Max,’ ‘The Matrix’ series and ‘Goldfinger.’ I see ‘Goldfinger’ all the time now and I remember seeing it at the movies when it first came out with all my buddies one night
Favorite TV shows‘Dr. Who’ when I was younger and currently. I saw the first episode
Favorite musicI like all types of music, but I prefer any kind from the 1970s
Favorite books‘Papillon;’ Robert Ludlum’s spy and espionage books; ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I like any science fiction
First carA 1972 mini-1000 brand new off the lot. It cost 850 pounds and was mustard yellow. I can’t remember the license number though
Current carA Hyundai Elantra
First JobI worked in an Army and Navy store for about twelve months on the weekend on Saturdays when I was about fifteen years old. It was cutting into my soccer so I ended up quitting
FamilyBoth of my parents are still alive. Their names are Doris and Walter Smith. They have been married for 63 years. I have a younger sister, Elizabeth
PetsI’m not a pet guy, but I have a Lhasa-Apso dog
Favorite breakfastIn England a full English breakfast of sausage, eggs and bacon. Now at home I like porridge and toast. If I go out I found a great place for two eggs over easy, ham, hash browns and toast
Favorite mealI love everything so it wouldn’t do justice. I guess I am a steak person and like a good steak
Favorite beveragesI don’t like soda. Generally, my favorite drink is water. I like a pint of Guinness and a pint of lager
First running memoriesWhen I was in elementary school before age 11, maybe at eight, nine or ten there was a kid I could never beat over 100 or 200 yards. Then from age 11 through 12, 13, 14 and 15 we would run around the school, maybe a two-mile loop. We had to run it and it was a class race. There was that one kid in the class, Frank Pilo, and he wanted to win that race so badly. And I never let him win once
Running heroesThe thing was I had no idea about running. I could go back in soccer and name all of the old names. But in running I knew nobody, as it wasn’t something that I followed. But I liked to do it and I knew the names of the people I was racing against at that point in time. But I couldn’t look up to them as I was racing against them. They were great runners like Brendan Foster, Dave Bedford and Mike McLeod, but they were the guys I wanted to beat. My biggest advantage over the guys in my club, the Liverpool Harriers, was that I had no idea who these guys were and I didn’t know what they looked like. Other runners were looking at Foster, Bedford and McLeod on the line and had already put themselves out of the race whereas I would look at them and think, ‘I don’t know who they are and I don’t care who they are!’ When I was running the others were wondering who the heck I was and why they couldn’t drop me
Greatest running momentWinning the Emsley Carr Mile
Worst running momentI don’t think I have any dark moments. I enjoyed running. When I didn’t run as well as I wanted to it was a learning experience to come back and redeem myself
Childhood dreamsTo play for the Evian Football (soccer) club
Funny memoriesI was running in the West Langst Cross Country and it was a muddy, muddy cold day with a little bit of rain and a little bit of snow. The ground was partly snow covered. One part of the course went into a cow field and it was liquid mud about 18 inches deep. We had to run through it and go down a little dip where there was a small stream that was flowing pretty hard. There was one plank across the stream and in order to get across you had to time it right to get one foot onto the middle of the plank and the next foot onto the embankment on the other side. We were running with Dave Edge, John Woods and myself – one, two, three. We were on our third lap with maybe just over a mile to go. Dave Edge goes across with no problem. And you’ve got to realize that we were inches apart. John’s foot missed, he struck the plank off and I smacked into his back. I went head first into this freezing cold brook. I went in and flew out grabbing hold of my private parts and running as fast as I could to the finish line. I didn’t even beat either of them
Favorite places to travelNow my favorite place to travel is the U.K. I enjoyed Malta, Bermuda and Barbados. I liked St. Petersburg in Florida