Pam Smith rebounds to win cougar trophy at Western States

She trims more than 10 hours off her 2012 time
By: Todd Mordhorst / Special to the Journal
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Pam Smith knows what it’s like to spend all night on the trail, struggling to put one foot in front of the other and aspiring to “just finish” the Western States Endurance Run.

In 2012, Smith ran with the back-of-the-pack crowd. She covered the 100 miles in 28 hours, 58 minutes and wore a broad smile as she crossed the finish line.

On Saturday night, Smith’s smile was on display again after she was the first woman to the Placer High track. She trimmed well over 10 hours off of her time from a year ago with a stunning performance in the brutal 102-degree heat.

“It was spot on, magic. Everything just hit the way I wanted it to hit,” Smith said. “I didn’t have the best race last year, so it was very nice to come back and have that redemption and not just have a good race, but take it all the way.”

Smith’s time of 18:37 not only earned her the women’s title, it placed her in the top 10 overall. Three-time WS champ Nikki Kimball was the second woman to Auburn, but she was well off Smith’s pace, finishing in 19:21.

Smith was remarkably steady all day. Joelle Vaught took an early lead into Robinson Flat at mile 30, but she slowed down and eventually dropped out of the race at Foresthill. Smith took the lead out of Dusty Corners (mile 38) and was in control all the way.

At one point in the race, Smith stretched the gap to nearly an hour on the rest of the women’s field and she picked off several of the top men in the field along the way. She became the first woman to finish in the top 10 overall since Anita Ortiz’s ninth-place finish in 2009.

The glorious celebration with her family at the finish line was in stark contrast to the adversity she experienced one year earlier.

“We had snow last year and I just didn’t come prepared for 40 miles of sleet and snow,” Smith said of the 2012 race. “No pun intended, but everything just kind of snowballed from there. I got hypothermic, the cold caused asthma, I gained a lot of weight and they held me at (a medical checkpoint) for three hours and I just wasn’t moving very well.”

Smith put the competition on notice in April, when she outlasted a strong field to win the American River 50, which finished at the Auburn Dam Overlook. Still, many experts tabbed Rory Bosio, Emily Harrison, Amy Sproston, Aliza Lapierre and Kimball as WS favorites.

Sproston finished strong to place third in 19:25. Meghan Arbogast’s remarkable season continued as the 52-year-old placed fourth in 19:30. Bosio — the runner-up in 2012 — never seemed to hit her stride on Saturday, but still battled to take fifth in 19:52. Lapierre (20:04) was sixth and Harrison (20:28) placed seventh in her first 100-miler.

The heat that wilted several top runners on Saturday never seemed to bother Smith. At one point she was carrying bags of ice in her shirt, prompting WS Board President John Trent to joke that she looked like Dolly Parton on the trail.

How does a physician from Salem, Ore., prepare for the heat of the American River canyons in late June?

“I train in the sauna with ‘People Magazine,’” Smith said. “I sit there for as long as I can take it. We don’t have very many hot days (in Salem) so I do a lot of sauna training.”