The Running Whys – Cathy (Cat) Smith

Cathy (Cat) Smith, left, and Marcie Holland before the Miramichi Rock N Run. Cat credits her friendship with Marcie for getting her back in the fitness game.

Cathy (Cat) Smith, left, and Marcie Holland before the Miramichi Rock N Run. Cat credits her friendship with Marcie for getting her back in the fitness game.

This is the 18th story in a series profiling runners who will compete in the 20th anniversary running of Emera Marathon By the Sea Marathon in Saint John on August 10. The stories are also running on the MBTS Facebook page and MBTS website.

Editor’s note: When this series started, we got a note from a participant in the Fredericton Marathon, who wanted to share her thoughts about another competitor – one who had walked the race instead of running it. But this was something different as this walker was fast, real fast, eclipsing the time of many who were competing. The walker was none other than Cathy (Cat) Smith, who through her friendship with Marcie Holland, has rekindled her competitive fire and now is one of the fastest walkers around. She has been turning heads all year and is ready for her next challenge – the 20th anniversary running of Emera Marathon by the Sea. Enjoy.


I’d like to start this whole thing off by saying my nickname when I was a child was Turtle. I was slow at doing everything, except learning new things. I was slow at getting ready for school, walking to school and back home from school. I was slow at putting things away, playing games, colouring and eating. My nickname lengthened to “Turtle, the Slowpoke”.

When I got to junior high school, I decided to try out for the track and field team. To everyone’s surprise, I was the fastest on the team. Every meet, I was a lap to a lap and a half ahead of the field and my teacher would always tell me to slow down. We also had speed walking races where I learned I was exceptionally fast as well.

Cathy (Cat) Smith is impressing many with her speed walking abilities.

Cathy (Cat) Smith is impressing many with her speed walking abilities.

I didn’t continue track in high school as my interests had changed. I was more into art. Although I still won races we had in gym, I ran outside of school – not because I had to but because I liked it. I was 100 pounds and I could run with the wind. I know it’s “run ‘like’ the wind’ but I always felt I ran ‘with’ it.

As a young adult, I started hanging with a lot of people who weren’t really into active living, running or exercising, so I slowly started getting out of it too. People started telling me I was way too skinny and that I had to gain weight. And the only way to gain was to stop running.

So I did.

Within the first year, I gained 12 pounds and during the next 5-7 years, my weight fluctuated between 112-118 pounds. Then, somewhere over the next 10 years, I got to a whopping 154 lbs.

I met Marcie, my running partner, in 1999. She was not like all the other new friends I’d made over the years. She was actually active, into hiking and biking. We instantly hit it off and we started hiking trails together. We had done a lot of trails over the years but I noticed I never really lost a lot of weight. But I didn’t gain any either.

I had wanted to start some sort of exercise for years. I would start it, but it wouldn’t last for very long. I kept saying “this is the month” but it never happened. Then Marcie decided we were going to start by walking faster when we walked our trails. We did and kept it up for awhile but then it died down.

During that time, I had a doctor’s appointment and she got me to step on the scale. To my shock, I was 174 lbs. I couldn’t believe it, I went home, told Marcie and we got back on the trails but not as often as either of us would have liked.

Then it was back to the doctor’s office again because as heavy as I was, I was having a lot of chest pains and even started having heart palpitations. Once on the scale, I could see why as the scale read 186 lbs.

Cat and Simon Whitfield at the recent triathlon in St. Andrews.

Cat and Simon Whitfield at the recent triathlon in St. Andrews.

I thought, ‘Ok, this is it, it’s now or never, something has to happen now.” The other half of my Team Marcat533 is Marcie’s sister Shelley, who asked her if she’d be interested in doing a Triathlon again with her sometime later on in 2013. Marcie started running and I decided it was time I get out there and do something, so I went with her.

I have got to say first and foremost that I’ve heard of people having good support systems and people that help cheer them on and such, but Marcie is “The” best” support system to have. She always has encouraging words and telling me I can do it. She always helps push me on when my head and feet are telling me to stop. Thankfully they listen to her and not me.

I wasn’t comfortable running at first but if it wasn’t for her, I’d have likely given up again and be having more chest and heart problems. So I want to send a big thank you out to her from my almost now perfect heart. We did routes close to home at first and even entered a few 5k’s to see how we’d do.

I also want to mention another person who is part of the reason I now have a faster pace. Marcie’s dad Brian. At first, when he heard I was walking them instead of running, he said “Cathy’s only walking?” but then my second race into it, he quickly changed to “Cathy walked it that fast”. His positive impression motivated me to go even faster. So by the time the Fredericton Marathon came around, I used his words to help me go even faster. I went from a 7:14 per kilometre pace to a 7:04. Thanks Brian.

I’ve been told I have an exceptionally fast walk. A lot of friends didn’t like going for walks with me, saying, it was like going for a run. I never really thought much of it until I started entering races and getting out of breath really fast. I’d have to stop to walk too much for my liking. It was so weird for me to not be able to just run… but I knew I still had speed walking.

Someone mentioned to me that there are some pretty fast walkers that enter the races and sometimes even get recognized for results. I thought there’s no way I could compete with people that had been doing it for years and I’d have no idea how to train to ‘walk’ a running race… even kind of laughed at the thought.

Cat was invited to join The Fundy Extreme Triathlon group on Facebook because she takes a lot of pictures for them but will now take part in training activities for biking and running.

Cat was invited to join The Fundy Extreme Triathlon group on Facebook because she takes a lot of pictures for them but will now take part in training activities for biking and running.

The first one I entered was the Brent Kelly 5 Miler (in April). Marcie suggested we go walk it the weekend before, to give myself an idea of a time I could get. She figured about one hour and 30 minutes. We did it and she had to keep jogging to keep up. I got a time of 1:15:45. When we got home, I decided to look up what the fastest time that had been done. The records suggested 1:13:22. Still not really knowing how to train myself to walk faster, I decided to time myself around a few blocks where we live that amounts close to a 1k.

My fastest time was 7:35, which I though was too slow. Marcie thought it was unrealistic to try for faster. I did the route three times for 3K. That was it, no other training.

Race day came, I got in my “I’m just going for a walk” mind set and off I went. I came in first ahead of women AND men and finished with a time of 1:02:22, beating the record by 11 minutes. This race didn’t separate walkers and runners, so it just looked like I ran a slow running pace because I was ahead of a lot of the runners.

My second race was the YSJ 5K. I figured since it was shorter, I’d somehow push myself to go faster. I still had no idea how to train for it, mainly because so many people are now into “race- walking” that speed walking doesn’t come up in a search. When it does, it’s just another name for race-walking. They are not the same thing. Race walking is an Olympic event and speed walking is just a faster form of your own walk. At the YSJ 5k, I finished in a time of 36:22, which I was very happy with.

My third race was the Fredericton Marathon. I wanted to try a 10K for the first time. I had already competed in three 5K’s and one 3K and did ok, but I wanted to try for first place at something people have been telling me I am naturally good at. I never really saw it as a big thing because I only walked but I guess it’s the pace I walk at that makes it a good thing.

Cat and Paula Keating met at the Miramichi Rock N Run.

Cat and Paula Keating met at the Miramichi Rock N Run.

There were so many nice people in that Fredericton run. Everyone was commenting on my speed and form and saying how amazing they thought it was and the whole time, I’m thinking I’m just walking. Even runners I passed complimented me. I met a really nice woman, Mary, who paced behind me from the 6K mark until about the 9K point, where my turn around was. She was doing the half marathon. We really worked well together, she was better at stopping for the water so she’d grab me one too. We encouraged each other as we went and we’re thinking of meeting up next year to do the half together.

My most recent race was the Miramichi Rock N Run. It was a 5K and I wanted to see if I could beat my YSJ 5K time of 36:22. I came in first for the walkers, women AND men with my new PB of 35:26… I beat it by almost a minute.

I was supposed to walk the Challenge St Andrews 10K but things happened a little differently and I didn’t get to but I did meet some really interesting people by still going and cheering for and supporting Marcie and Shelley on their Triathlons. I got to meet people, like Simon Whitfield, that I never would have otherwise met if I didn’t get into running and speed walking.

Recently, I was invited to join The Fundy Extreme Triathlon group on Facebook. They are a great bunch of people. I got invited in because I take a lot of pictures for them but I will now also pay to be a part of some training… biking and running.  They have an awesome group, both online and off.

Through her experiences, Cat got to meet Karen Smyers.

Through her experiences, Cat got to meet Karen Smyers.

I run now for a few reasons. I run/walk to keep my heart healthy, to get in shape, to stay fit, to practice for speed walking but of the reasons is to be a better me. I run/walk to remember the me I liked. I liked myself when I ran with the wind and until I can try it again, I’ll like the me who can at least walk with the wind or at a really close distance behind it. Most importantly, I run to remember those who ran before me.

I just received an email last week telling me “If you have received this email our records indicate you are one of 385 participants that have qualified for the New Brunswick Challenge Medallion. The next stage is the Emera Marathon by the Sea on August 10th so register early so you don’t miss out.”

I’m going to speed walk the 12K and try to get my 10K time of 1:12:12 that I won with in Fredericton.

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