Adventure Racer: Teri Smith

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by Faye Rapoport


Oregon’s Teri Smith is the mother of two boys, a sports model for Sports Unlimited, an Atlas Snow-shoe racing team member and oh yes, an adventure racer who does trail running, mountain biking, paddling, rappelling and basically anything a race director can dream up to challenge her and her teammates, often in far-flung, exotic locations.

Smith competed in triathlons and road running events before 1998, when she migrated toward off-road events such as mountain biking, off-road triathlons, snowshoe racing, trail scrambling and orienteering events. Those experiences served her well as she made the transition into adventure racing, a sport that pits teams against each other in the mode of “survival of the fittest.” Smith’s racing accomplishments are too long and varied to list here, but they include being a part of Team Leatherman in the 2003 Eco-Challenge North American Championships in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada and Team Odyssey in the 2003 Primal Quest in Lake Tahoe in September.

Smith is currently a member of Team Odyssey, and passing on her knowledge and passion for the sport is one of her goals. To that end, she is an Adventure Racing Training Instructor at Adventure Training Consultants in Santa Monica, CA and Odyssey Adventure Racing Academy in West Virginia. She also is a part-time faculty member at Portland Community College.

If you want to hear just how badly an athlete can “muck up” their feet, read our interview with Smith below, she has some interesting stories to tell! First, can you tell us how you got into adventure racing?

Smith: I was a triathlete for several years, and decided to get into the sport of Adventure Racing when I became tired of swimming laps in pools. I started mountain bike racing, and in 1998 I was in a bike shop where they were promoting a sprint series called Hi-Tec. It was for a sprint race that was coming to Portland, Oregon, where I live. I thought, “Oh that sounds like a lot of fun.” So I put a team together. I thought it would be simple to do with all of the triathlon friends I had, but no one knew what was involved in the sport. Still, our team ended up 25th out of 300 teams. What kind of sports were involved in the race?

Smith: You were doing mountain biking, kayaking and trail running. And they throw in special tests to challenge your teamwork as a group. They’re quite fun, now they are called the Balance Bar sprints because of a change in sponsorship. And from that time forward you entered adventure races?

Smith: I fell in love with the sport. There were a lot of things I needed to learn, because this was a sport I didn’t know anything about. You have to understand team selection, and you have to have your teammates prepared for every discipline in a race. But I knew at that point that I wanted to make adventure racing my sport of choice. What events do you have coming up?

Smith: I raced in the Subaru Primal Quest this year, is an expedition links race that will be televised on Jan. 10th on CBS. It takes place in Lake Tahoe, and it’s the first time in the history of the sport that an event has been televised on a regular mainstream channel, so it’s exciting for the sport. Can you describe the events for us?

Smith: They all have similar components, mountain biking, trail running and paddling of some sort, whether it be canoe or kayak or indigenous boats. Depending on the venue and race director they will throw in other things. Most of the longer races have a rope section of some sort, a rappel or ascent, or a Tyrolian Traverse. How do you train for the competitions?

Smith: I do a lot of different things. I work with a coach, not because I need one to develop my training program per se, but I wanted someone to really make my time efficient. Scott McMillan has been great to work with. He keeps my training unique and interesting. It’s so easy to burn out when you’re training all the time, but for this sport there is so much you can do, so I climb, I swim. I never got away from that even though I tried! But now I enjoy it more because it’s a different kind of training. I bike a lot, road or mountain biking, and I do a lot of trail running. Your feet must take a lot of pounding with that kind of training. Have you ever had foot problems that affected your training or competitions?

Smith: Primarily things like blisters and losing toenails. And also things can happen in an individual race. In the Eco-Challenge, the race director likes to keep you in water and that can be a problem. When you are wet all day for 10 days you can end up with serious trench foot. I make sure I know how the race director works and try to pre-plan for any possibility. What type of foot gear do you use, such as socks?

Smith: It depends on the discipline. I wear a thinner sock for biking. I like SmartWool socks a lot. Wool keeps my feet exceptionally warm but wicks away some of the moisture too. I like in cold conditions to keep my feet from getting really wet, but they also needs to stay warm and that’s what SmartWool allows. I’m becoming a huge fan of wool because they’ve made such great changes with wool in the last couple of years. It’s a really good option for an adventure race, trail run or just going up to the mountains for a day. What about Footwear?

Smith: I usually run in a trail running shoe and I like Adidas, they have a new shoe out that I’m really excited about. I wore it all through Primal Quest and had zero foot problems, and that’s a first. I did lose a toenail and that’s a first, too, but I had no blister problems or wet foot problems. That has a lot to do with your shoe, it has to have the right sole, the right fit, and if you pronate one way or another you have to make sure that the shoe addresses those issues. Why would you lose a toenail?

Smith: A lot of downhill running. If you have one toe that’s longer than the others, and your shoes are hitting your toe constantly, you can lose that toenail. It’s interesting because up until last year I had never lost one, and now the one I lost this year is the same as the one from last year. I’m not sure why, but I think once it’s compromised, that toe feels a little bit funny every time I’m out. I think it’s just more sensitive, it compromises the whole toe bed. I probably will continue to have problems with that. If I know I will be doing a long race or trail running, I put a little duct tape around it to hold it, making sure it’s smooth. It doesn’t ever give you a blister if used probably. A lot of us use it in the sport for many different reasons. Have you had any other foot injuries?

Smith: I was in the British Virgin Islands in Expedition BVI in December of 2001, and my teammates and I were swimming a lot. It was a race full of water sections. It was around islands, and we were doing a lot of paddling and swimming. You have a lot of different types of sea wildlife and sea coral there. I happened to get two blisters on each foot in the exact same spot. A blister on either ankle and a small blister right on the arch of my foot on the inside of both feet. Those got rubbed with sand, and it ended up that we were doing a night swim to another island. That night I ended up getting in some sea coral with my teammates and then I got stung by an urchin. So I needed to throw away my tennis shoes and race in Adidas water sandals for the next four days. My feet were so swollen and so infected, and my ankle too. It looked like I had just a long, swollen leg. It hurt really badly to walk or to do anything. The blisters had been so infected by the ocean water and animals and everything else that I had to go to a hospital and ended up with an infection from some medicine they gave me. It was quite a foot trauma, and basically all I could to treat it was antibiotics. Trying to treat those blisters was near impossible. I have scar tissue on the back of my ankles now and ironically I never have problems there anymore. But it took about a month to fully heal from that. And luckily that was the end of my racing season for the year. After hearing that story, I just have to ask. Why would you do this? What motivates you?

Smith: The sport is addictive in a way that nothing else is. It’s not the endorphin end of it, it’s about the experience and the knowledge that you gain about yourself when you’re out in the field so long with these people whom you spend every waking hour with for days. You work together so well, find out what you’re made of. Your limits. It’s a sport that I love, and that’s why I teach at the academy. You are dependent on other people and that transfers into real life where you’re constantly challenged. You have to overcome those challenges, and the races relate so closely to life, to anything you do, like caring for a family member or a friend. We’re all depending on other people, so when you can open yourself up to that you work so much better and accomplish so much more. I learn more form the sport and from these people that I’m with day in and day out, than I would in four months of working. Do you wear any orthotics?

Smith: I don’t wear orthotics. Once I was prescribed them but I had a lot of blisters and problems from them. Some people definitely need them, but I think it’s really important to go to a good solid shoe shop to have them look at your gait, and the way your feet are shaped, and to make sure that you are fitted into a pair of shoes that really works for you. And in my opinion I believe that the shoes now are so much better than they used to be, they make shoes for a variety of different feet. So I feel that for the most part people can find a shoe that will work for their foot, for a day hike or a ten-day backpacking trip or a long kayak with portage sections. Any other thoughts on foot care?

Smith: I feel that socks are extremely important. People should not wear cotton socks. And people should cut their toenails. I always carry toenail clippers, even on a short day hike, so toenails won’t push against the shoe. I also always wear shoes that are 1/2 size larger to allow for my feet to grow and swell during an event. How can people get involved in adventure racing if they are interested?

Smith: There are a lot of academies that are out there now. I think it’s important having taught at them and having seen the progression in someone coming from out of the sport. I think it’s important that someone go to a clinic, take the steps to learn the disciplines. It’s really important for safety reasons and success to know how to do all of the elements, how to paddle, how to navigate, understanding the map and compass. The Odysee Adventure Racing Academy is the best in the country in my opinion. What are your future plans?

Smith: I think I am stronger than ever this year and I don’t have any plans to quit. I do race for Atlas Snow Shoes during the winter, so now in the winter I focus on that. I pick and choose races more than I used to. But I love the sport and love to see people trying it out and will continue to do that for a long time.

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