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NJ Holmdel record holder looks back

After 25 years could the Holmdel course record be in danger?

Holmdel NJ

By Rich Bevensee

Janet Smith had revenge on her mind when she began reorganizing her training for the 1983 New Jersey high school cross-country season.

Smith, a two-time New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Meet of Champions winner, was upset by Michelle Rowen of Washington Township in the 1982 M of C.
And the loss to Rowen was just part of her motivation to re-evaluate her approach to running. After that disheartening M of C loss, she placed fifth at the Kinney National Championships for a second straight year. 
So Smith began pushing herself so hard and making herself so fast that absolutely no one could catch her.

``My goal for 1983 wasn’t the Meet of Champs. It was actually a couple weeks away,’’ Smith said. ``My goal was to beat everyone. My goal was to win the national title. So I go into the national championships, where I got fifth the year before, and I got fifth again. Wow, was I angry. The day after that (1982 Kinney) race, I made a lot of changes in what I did.’’

Diet, workouts, mileage. Everything changed for Smith, who utilized her new regimen to leave the rest of New Jersey in the dust. Smith’s singular focus led to her ultimate goal, as Smith won the 1983 Kinney national title.
Along the way to earning that national crown, Smith left her name in the New Jersey record books with a mark she assumed would be erased sooner rather than later.
Three weeks before her triumph at Kinney (now known as Foot Locker), Smith won her third M of C title at Holmdel Park in 17:35.5, a mark which still stands today.

This is the 25th anniversary of Smith’s remarkable achievement.
``Who would have guessed that the record would last this long?’’ Smith said.


There are two New Jersey girls who are bidding to make the 37th NJSIAA M of C, on Saturday at 10:45 a.m., the fastest in meet history.

Lanie Thompson, an Oregon-bound senior from Voorhees in Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County, won the 2007 M of C title in 18:02, but her Holmdel best is the 17:56 which she ran last week to win her third straight state Group 3 title.
Thompson’s chief rival is Chelsea Ley, a junior from Kingsway, a Woolwich Township school in Gloucester County. Ley lost to Thompson by three seconds at the group meet, but she posted the state’s season best time at Holmdel when she ran 17:43.1 at the Shore Coaches Invitational Oct. 4.
Ley, winless in 11 career meetings in cross-country and track against Thompson, believes she can beat Thompson, and that Smith’s course record can be broken when the gun goes off Saturday.

If Ley sticks to her plan of chasing the clock, and Thompson sticks to her plan of chasing Ley, the record is in serious jeopardy.
Smith, who now goes by her married name, Janet Leet, lives in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., with her husband of 16 years, Brad, and her two children, 13-year-old Michael and 11-year-old Jennifer.
Reached at her home this week, Leet, 43, said she figured girls would be training as hard as she did once she laid the blueprint back in 1983. It just hasn’t turned out that way.

Before Ley, the closest anyone has come to Leet’s record since she graduated was in 2006, when Danielle Tauro of Southern Regional in Manahawkin beat Ashley Higginson of Colts Neck by three seconds to win the M of C title in 17:47.

``I am shocked that the record is still there,’’ Leet said. ``Records are meant to be broken, times are meant to improve. It’s something I would have never expected. My actual goal in 1983 was to win the national title. My record was just something that came along the way.’’


Janet Smith didn’t have the internet to surf for ideas on how to improve her training following that 1982 loss to Rowen. But she did have motivation, and sometimes that’s all an athlete needs.
She resorted to weight training. By the time she accomplished her historic triumph, she could do full squat thrusts of 150 pounds 169 times with six-second intervals in a single session.
She kept a diary of everything she ate, every mile she ran, every hill she climbed. Leet estimates that she averaged 80 miles per week during the summer before her seminal season, and she upped her total to 90-100 miles per during the school year.

``Back in the 70s and 80s, girls sports wasn’t what it is today,’’ Leet said. ``It was a struggle for most schools to get seven girls out for the team. Maybe I had an advantage in that sense because I don’t believe many people took the sport as seriously as I did. All I wanted to do that year was see how hard and how far I could take myself.’’

In fact, Leet’s senior year performances – fueled by confidence, demeanor and a willingness to push her inner limits -- earned her a full scholarship to North Carolina State, where she became a 10-time All-America.

When it came time for her rematch with Rowen, Leet said she was actually looking forward to her visit to Holmdel.
``That race was actually one of my easiest races that year,’’ Leet said. ``I visualized it over and over in my head before the day came. I thought of it as fun, maybe that’s the secret, to go in there with that attitude.

``Each section of Holmdel I tried to make as fun as possible,’’ she said. ``There’s the roller coaster, the prairie, the bowl of course, and the woods were my Enchanted Forest. Holmdel didn’t intimidate me at all. For me, the key to racing there was sprinting as hard as I could for 20 meters once I got out of the bowl. I knew my legs would feel icky for 20 meters, but if I could deal with it, I would have an edge on whoever was chasing me.’’


Like the Tauro-Higginson battle two years ago, the Thompson-Ley rivalry has re-energized the New Jersey cross-country community and added voltage to the talk about breaking Leet’s record.
In the state Group 3 race, Ley and Thompson went through the mile in 6:10 and the two-mile mark in 12:05. Those splits will have to be a lot faster for Leet to say goodbye to her record, but the Thompson-Ley matchup definitely makes it a possibility.  
``I’ve been keeping up with what’s going on in New Jersey,’’ Leet said. ``Lanie seems to be one tough competitor, based on what she’s accomplished. And Chelsea obviously has what it takes to break the record. I read about her mileage and she clearly is willing to do the hard work. I’m cheering for both of them. I hope they both get it, because then I’d like to talk to them and ask them how it feels to be the state’s fastest girl.

``It will be a little bit painful to see my record get broken because then I wouldn’t be getting calls from people asking me about it anymore. But that’s what our sport is about. Going faster.’’