Daughter of Distance of the Week: Erica Smith

One of my goals this year is to support more women in endurance and help them connect to each other. There are so many of us out there, grinding out those miles and sometimes feeling alone in our awesomeness.

I thought: What better way to promote female athletes than to feature one Daughter of Distance each week? These will be women who love and embrace endurance sports of all kinds. They are not necessarily elites, though they can be. The majority of them are “regular” moms and wives and girlfriends and friends, balancing work and kids and training.

This week’s Daughter of Distance is: Erica Smith!

Check her out:


Who Is Erica?

My name is Erica Smith (AKA La Chiva).  I started running in Winthrop, Maine, where I ran roads with my dad. He has always run and it continues to be something we can always do together, no matter what time or where we were.

I went to school in upstate New York, pursued my passion of painting, and came out of it all with a “real” job (teacher). I had some travel experiences before this, so I promptly fled the country after finishing school.

I tried out Costa Rica. I managed to travel and teach for a couple years in Central America, meeting some amazing people who, crazy as it seems, were not all trail runners!  The beaches got redundant, so I headed to Peru for a bit and did some rock climbing. One thing I love about running is you can do it anywhere you are. For the most part wherever I have lived, I have run.

Where do you call home these days?

One way or another I found myself in Phoenix. After a breakup with the guy, I found myself completely alone. I have traveled all over the world on my own, having no problem befriending complete strangers, but for some reason in the U.S it seemed harder. People were established more or less, had their groups, their families.

When I realized in this setting I am too shy to make friends with random people on the streets, I found a couple meetup groups to check out. One of the first I went to was a group run with Aravaipa Running.  It was still a relatively small group back then.

After going a couple nights, I met my first friend in Arizona, Nadine Haluszczak. Look her up, she is a badass. We ended up doing our first Aravaipa race together, then first 50K, all the way up to 100.

Why ultrarunning?

When starting with the group I had just run my first marathon, and I thought that was a pretty big deal. But these people I was now hanging around didn’t blink an eye at this.  I heard this new word “ultra,” and realized these people were not marathon runners. They did not run on pavement. They did not follow the rules. But really all that mattered was they liked to drink good beer after a run, so that’s where I started.

Now I have a family, people who support me not only in my running, but in my life. I have since worked up the ladder from 50K to 100 miles. The racing is not what matters, so I will not list my accomplishments. I do it because I can’t not do it. The people I have met, the trails I can’t live without, the feeling of being out there alone and loving it. This is why I run.

Tell me about a memorable race experience.

My most memorable race experience was el ultramaratón de los Cañones in Guachochi, Chihuahua, Mexico.  My first trip to Mexico was to run in the 13th Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco, made famous by the book Born to Run.

It was a wonderful experience, traveling to Urique, reuniting with some of the Tarahumara guys that have come up to Arizona for races, and actually being able to camp with the Raramuri. After many encounters with goats along the trip, I also got my trail name, La Chiva, which means goat.

As many know, the race was cancelled due to cartel activity in the area. The race directors cancelled, but the government in Urique still put on the race. Though controversial, my friends and I still participated in this race. To read more about my experience there, please read Michael Versteeg’s blog: http://michaelversteeg.blogspot.com/2015_03_01_archive.html

What are your fitness goals this year?

Looking ahead at 2016, my first goal is to be healthy. Since November I have had some problems with my hip that have kept me from running more than 10 or 15 miles per week.

I am registered to run the Zane Gray 50 miler in April, so my biggest goal is to be healthy enough to train hard for this race and feel strong. I continue to run with the Aravaipa group, and am helping out as much as possible. This helps me stay connected with the running community even though I can’t run.

This is the longest I have been out, and mentally and emotionally it is a struggle. Through this I have discovered much about myself, and have found other ways to occupy my time, with activities like yoga, painting, and dancing. My goals in running are similar to my goals in life: be happy, healthy, and surround myself with people I love.

Erica shares many of her experiences in life and running through Facebook and her blog: http://lachivarunning.blogspot.com/


What does it mean to be a female in endurance sports?

This series is inspired by my book: Daughters of Distance: Stories of Women in Endurance Sport. Here, hundreds of women open up about their realities as athletes, wives, girlfriends and mothers. From the intimacy of the bedroom to the community of competition, some of these stories will encourage and uplift. Others will surprise and infuriate. Welcome to the beautiful and complicated world of strong women.

Check out the Amazon reviews and purchase at tinyurl.com/daughtersofdistance

Will you be our next Daughter of Distance?

Interested in being featured as a Daughter of Distance? Shoot me an email at vanessaruns@gmail.com.

This is a project to feature one woman in endurance each week on social media. The goal is to connect strong women across sports and across the world in celebration and appreciation. Each Daughter of Distance will receive a copy of my book, Daughters of Distance: Stories of Women in Endurance Sports.

And don’t forget to tag your photos and stories with #daughtersofdistance to connect to this awesome community.

See you on the singletrack!

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Other Books:

The Summit Seeker