Nov. 5, 2013
University of Michigan alum Hannah Smith ('09) swam for four seasons for the Wolverines and achieved a considerable amount between 2006 and 2009. She was a three-time NCAA All-American and two-time CSCAA All-America Scholar. She etched her name into Michigan's record books, assisting on two school relay records that still stand: the 200-yard freestyle in 2007 (1:28.80) and the 800-yard freestyle in 2009 (7:06.32). Since graduating from Michigan, Smith attended and graduated from physical therapy school at Duke University. She currently works in the Triangle Area at Athletic Advantage, an outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinic.
While at Duke, Smith began competing in triathlons and recently she reached the pinnacle for triathletes when she competed at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii (Oct. 12) -- a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. Smith qualified for the Kona Ironman by placing second at the Ironman Lake Placid on July 28th. She spoke with MGoBlue.com shortly after returning from Hawaii.
How did you set your sights on the Kona Ironman?
I've been watching the Ironman on television for years. I remember being amazed at the levels those athletes achieved and just how grueling of an endurance event it was. In the back of my mind, I knew I would like to do an Ironnman one day. I never thought too much about it, until I went to Duke and met a bunch of people that had done Ironnman competitions (in the Duke triathlon club). They all talked about how amazing the experience was to cross the finish line of an Ironman, and as I got into triathlons and got more competitive, I realized it was something I wanted to do.
The question was when was the best time to do was because the commitment for the training is really high. Similar to the hours I swam at the University of Michigan, I would have to devote to train for the Ironnman. I registered for Ironman Lake Placid a year in advance. It just worked out that when I graduated from Duke in May, I had to wait to take the PT board exam until July. So pretty much in that time span, I was just studying and training. I devoted a lot of time to training for that and then at Lake Placid, I qualified for Kona.
The story of you qualifying for Kona is pretty interesting.
Halfway through the marathon at Lake Placid, my parents and boyfriend told me where I was in the race -- third place -- because I had no idea what place I was in for my age group. I had to get in the top two to get a Kona slot. I was gaining on the girl in second; my competitive mode kicked in and tried to track down this girl. It was during the last half of the marathon, I was trying to catch her, trying to catch her, trying to catch her, and I never did. Then about mile 24, I thought I wasn't going to catch her because I hadn't at that point. And then I saw my parents a mile before I finished and they told me she was right up the road. I just turned up into another gear, and I passed her with about a half mile to go. It was an exciting finish; I wish it wouldn't have come down to the last couple minutes in the race after 11 hours of it, but it was exciting.
You achieved your goal of completing an Ironman, any hesitation about taking on Kona 10 weeks later?
I was super excited to do Kona, there was no way I could pass up that opportunity. But at the same time, did I want to do another Ironman in like 10 weeks? There's kind of that mentality from Big Tens to NCAAs that you just come off from that high from Big Tens, it's hard to regroup and refocus and get ready for NCAAs. I kind of compared it to that, just having to refocus my energy and keeping the training up to get to Kona. It was all really worth it.
What was your experience racing in Kona like?
It was a really, really cool experience. Probably one of the coolest races I've ever done, including all the swimming meets I've ever done because it's the top Ironman athletes in the country. It was really cool. You meet other athletes, and it was really humbling because at Lake Placid I was near the top of my age group. But at Kona, it's just a whole different ball game. People are way more competitive, way faster. I don't think I've ever been passed on the bikes so much as I did at Kona. Everyone is fast and bringing their A game. It was really cool to be in the same race as the pros, people that I follow and read about. It was just cool to see them on the same course as I was doing. It was an awesome experience.
What moments stood about racing in Kona?
The swim was really cool, the water is just crystal clear, and you're swimming over super-brightly colored fish and sea turtles. I would get distracted during the race just watching everything below me and forget I was in a race. And then the biking across the legendary lava field that you see on television was cool. Just to realize that I was there at Kona was awesome. The end of the bike portion took a lot, from miles 90-105 I was in a low point there. There was a strong head of wind going back to Kona. Then the run, it's kind of a bore to tell you the truth. But coming down and coming back into Kona on Ali'I drive, with all the crowds there cheering for you, it was just a really cool experience. It's something I'll remember forever. I really like Ironmans and how much of a challenge it is both physically and mentally. You feel really good about yourself when you finish.
How did your experience at Michigan help you in your journey to Kona?
Michigan helped me a ton. Swimming is a very big time commitment, and the experience of Michigan definitely taught me so many things. Not just in triathlon, but things that I use on a daily basis and things that helped me excel at Duke and excel at teaching school and now at my job. Triathlon, specifically, is just about knowing your body and pushing it to a level that you didn't think you could go to. That's one of the most important things in an Ironman, and coming from Michigan and working day in and day out -- two practices a day -- I learned how to do that. The coaches would ask you to do something that you didn't feel like doing or didn't think you could do, but you would have to do it for the team, for Michigan and for you to get better. In triathlons it's different because it's more individual, but just having that drive and commitment to pushing yourself to a higher level is something that I learned and definitely helped me be successful at the Ironman event.
Smith finished the Ironman World Championship in 10 hours, 24 minutes and 18 seconds. She placed 46th in the women's 25-29 years-old division.
Contact: Michael Kasiborski (734) 763-4423