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Smith is back and showing her class; NERVES AFTER FIVE YEARS AWAY.

Byline: INSIDETRACK Athletics news with BILL MCGUIRK

FORMER European Junior Championship representative Stacey Smith returned to action after an absence of five years - and looked as though she had never been away.

Her last outing on the track was an indoor meet in Lee Valley in 2012 and it was from there a series of injuries would see her sidelined until she decided to line up in last week's North East Grand Prix at Jarrow's Monkton Stadium.

It was a nervous Smith who faced the starter in what was the second of the five-graded 1,500 metres races on the programme.

Smith, who started her athletics career with Tynedale Harriers before moving onto Gateshead, was apprehensive before taking her place on the line as the only woman in the 12-athlete field.

Smith, 27, who represented GB in the European Junior Championships in Serbia in 2009, said: "The guys on the registration desk did not recognise me and they must have thought I was being a bit over the top when they asked what sort of time I was hoping for,.

"I said I think I can run around 4min 20sec, which I have to admit was more of a guess and a hope after being out for so long.

"As the meeting wore on I had to ask friends when I should warm up as I had lost all sense of how to run competitively.

"There were so many different opinions on what time my race would be, which certainly did not settle my nerves at all.

"Anyway, once the gun went I decided to settle in at the rear of the field and keep out of trouble.

"However, by doing that I tended to run in lane three for most of the race which showed how I had lost most of my racing skills.

"Running in a mixed race helped in one way but in another it is a hinderance as no man wants to be beaten by a woman - so a number of them made sure of that and kept forcing me wide every time I came on to their shoulder.

"In the end, though, I was pretty pleased to finish ninth - though just missing out on my target by two-tenths of a second.

"Four-twenty is not bad for openers and while I feel all my injury problems are behind me I think, with structured training and racing programme, I can only get better.

"Whether I can get near to my times I ran six or seven years ago - her best 1,500m time is 4:06.81 while her 800m time of 2:01.93 is even more awe-inspiring - we will have to wait and see.'' Just to show how impressive Smith's run was, her time is the fastest set outdoors in this country by a UK female athlete.

After her high of racing on the track for the first time in five years, Smith quickly decided to build on that success and switch terrains by taking in the Terry O'Gara Memorial 5k four days later.

Racing over 5k is alien to Smith, though she has taken to doing ParkRuns recently as she builds in an endurance base.

Facing a mixed field of close on 200 Smith, after starting off tentatively, worked her way through to eventually finish first woman in 10th place - and in doing smashed last year's course record of 16min 42secs by 27 seconds set by Elswick's Justina Heslop.

Smith added: "It showed I am a novice at the distance for mid-race I pushed on hard and paid the penalty as I slowed badly in the final kilometre.

"What it did show, though, was my fitness is certainly returning and I now have the hunger back again."

CAPTION(S):

Stacey Smith on her way to breaking the Terry O'Gara Memorial 10k course record. PICTURE: JONATHAN MALEY
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 26, 2017
Words:642
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