Trip to the Big Apple proves fruitful for Smith

NJ star bounces back with an indoor personal best mile at the Hispanic Games


There would be no ceremonial glassware or automatic invitation to the Millrose Games, the spoils heaped upon the victor of the annual Hispanic Games mile.

However, Doug Smith did not depart the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory empty handed last Saturday. In fact, the Gil-St. Bernard’s star headed back to New Jersey with something far more valuable – his confidence.

Never was a parting gift so sorely needed. His first major competition since pulling the plug early on a cross country season,  that he admits was less than inspiring, was a success. Some 30 minutes after the race ended, with a smile suggesting equal parts ecstasy and relief, there was little doubt that New Jersey had one of it best runners back in the saddle.

Believe him when he tells you there was time, not too long ago, when all he had was doubt, the most debilitating of demons a distance runner can endure.

“I was afraid that I wasn’t going to get out of it – the funk. I was afraid, ‘Is this who I am now?’ Those are the things that cross your mind,” said Smith.

If you need further validation that the NJ senior has rebounded just consider that his effort came in one of his least favorite track events.

Smith (pictured right, photo by Winger Foot Photos), freely admits he hates the mile. But he cites his experience of running at Madison Square Garden a year ago as the greatest ever, and it was the impetus for running it last Saturday, hoping to garner the automatic invitation awarded to the winner in an effort to return to the Millrose Games.

Of course, Port Washington’s Marco Bertolotti stole that show, zipping through the last 100 meters like a gnat hopped up on Starbucks, passing Smith, Brett Johnson and anyone else in his way in the process.

Bertolotti clocked 4:15.14. Johnson was second in 4:16.01. Smith took third in 4:16.19, just off his indoor personal best of 4:15.76 set at the Millrose Games a year ago.

Johnson had already accepted a bid to Millrose, and is now joined in the field by Bertolotti. Based on his effort, a bid also could be forthcoming to Smith, who certainly didn’t shy away when the race reached critical mass.

With three laps remaining, he pulled along side of Johnson and two of the Garden State’s most feared competitors slugged it out for the next 500 meters. The battle would eventually take a toll on both, opening the door for Bertolotti to swoop in and claim the win.

“I gave it all I had,” said Smith. “ If you saw my eyes. I was like ‘I’m going to win this race, Brett’s done.’ He put up a good fight. And then once that kid past us, I’m just looking at Brett, we both had nothing left. We were both down for the count. [Bertolotti] ran a perfect race. He saw us battling, he knew what we were going to try to do. He ran a perfect race.”

Still when asked if Saturday was a good day for him, Smith flashed a face full of teeth and nodded affirmatively. Whether or not a return trip to Millrose is a by-product of the day’s efforts, the afternoon was a huge success, considering where he had been just seven weeks earlier.
A 54th place showing at the NJ MOC  was more than enough convincing to put the toe tag on his senior cross country season.

“The break was good for me to get away from running and get a new mindset," Smith said. "And to come here and do this in my second meet of the year is phenomenal. It shows that I am right where I want to be.”

From the outset last fall, beginning with his debut at the Shore Coaches Invitational at Holmdel Park, things never really seemed to click for Smith. Sure he won his race, but his time of 16:29 was well of the day’s best, a 15:38 run by West Windsor sophomore Joe Rosa or the 15:44 turned in by Johnson.

After all, this was a kid with a pedigree, his resume bolstered by a pair of runner-up finishes in the 3200 at the indoor and outdoor Meet of Champions last year. Least we forget his personal best of  9:01.86.

Still it was early. And since it was his first start and there was very little competition in his race, the performance was easily dismissed, certainly no reason to panic. Things never really accelerated from there. Sure, he had his moments. At the NJ Prep School XC Championships, a week before the MOC, Smith out dueled Phil Wood, who went on to become a Foot Locker finalist, to claim a twp-second victory. His time of 15:29 was his best of the fall. But that was as good as it got.

A break was needed.

During that time, Smith made several key decisions, committing to Arizona State for one and announcing a new coach, longtime track aficionado Tom Fleming. The switch to Fleming was a much ballyhooed change, one that has ignited discussion on Internet message boards. Whatever the reasons behind the move, Smith has committed to moving forward.

“He’s stepped in and he’s believed in me and that’s what I needed after the way my cross country season, was someone to believe in me,” Smith said, who has moved the bulk of his workouts indoor at Drew University. “That showed today. I came here. Now I am confident in myself.

“He tries to change the way I run. He loves the way I run smooth through the middle of the race and he says, 'but you cant run faster if you don’t look different.' I think in one workout, in the last 200, he wanted me to change the way I looked six times because he wanted me to have that in my mind to run faster at the end I have to look different and feel different. That’s what I’ve been focusing on. Things are going really well. I’ve been running some really good workouts. I pr’d in the 1000 the other day during a workout.”

Speed. Confidence. Sounds like Smith is back.