Sanford native Rachel (Schneider) Smith finished fifth at the Beach to Beacon 10K on Aug. 6, 2022. Smith, who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the 10,000 meters ran her first track race since 2021 on March 16, finishing fifth at The Ten in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Rachel Smith’s time away from competition was longer than she originally planned.

But the 32-year-old professional distance runner, Sanford native, and 2021 Olympian is back on track – and the roads – and her recent results indicate a return trip to the Olympics this summer is a very real possibility.

“I haven’t had a track season since that 2021 season so almost everything feels new,” said Smith (formerly Schneider).

On March 16, Smith returned to the outdoor track for the first time since August 2021 at The Ten, a 10,000-meter race in San Juan Capistrano, California, designed for top professionals to meet Olympic and national time standards. Smith finished fifth in 31 minutes, 4.02 seconds. That was fast enough to meet the U.S. Olympic Trials “A” standard of 31:09 but the Olympic standard for this summer’s Games in Paris is 30:40 – 45 seconds faster than it was for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, which ended up being postponed a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Smith said the new standards, as well as a confusing qualifying process that includes world rankings, means she’ll likely have to go for another 10,000-meter race to meet the Olympic standard and, at least, increase her world ranking standings. Simply finishing in the top three at the U.S. Trials (June 21-30 in Eugene, Oregon) won’t be enough.

“I’m going to go after the 5K in about a month and a half, to go after the Olympic standard,” Smith said, adding she’s confident she can hit the 5,000-meter Olympic standard of 14:52. Her PR is 14:52.04. “My hope is to do both the five and the ten in the (U.S.) trials, just like I did in 2021.”


At the 2021 Olympic Trials, Smith qualified for the Olympics with a third-place finish in the 5,000 meters and placed fifth in the 10,000 meters, about 24 seconds behind the third and final U.S. qualifier. At the Olympics, Smith narrowly missed advancing to the 5,000-meter final.

Since the Olympics ended, Smith has experienced events of celebration, heartache and joyfulness in her personal life, each combining to put her competitive running on hold.

In September 2021, Rachel Schneider and Mike Smith were married. The two met when Schneider was competing at Georgetown University, where she was an eight-time All-American. Smith was a coach at Georgetown. After Schneider graduated in 2014 and began her quest to become a professional runner, Smith continued as her coach. It was after the both moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, a mecca for distance running that they became a couple. Mike Smith is the director of cross country and track and field at Northern Arizona University and remains Rachel Smith’s coach.

On Jan. 1, 2022, they learned Rachel was pregnant.

“Then I miscarried at 15 weeks in March of 2022. Just physically and emotionally it took time to recover from that,” she said. “We knew we wanted to start our family and got pregnant again and fortunately that was Nova.”

Nova Smith, born April 19, 2023, spent a good chunk of her first summer visiting her mom’s family and friends in Maine over a six-week stay. At the end of that stretch, Rachel Smith decided she needed to get back in a race and what better race than the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K in Cape Elizabeth.


“I was three and a half months postpartum so I knew I wasn’t super competitive but it was great to be out there. I finished 12th. That was my first race back,” Smith said.

Smith said as she’s returned to active training and competition, she’s tried to avoid setting specific goals. Things have gone well but she is still nursing and sleep, as any young parent can attest, never seems to be enough or uninterrupted.

“I’m very eager and very driven to get back to my best but I also want to do that on a timeline that is healthy and able to prioritize Nova and to keep family first,” Smith said. “I try not to put too much pressure on an outcome and honestly that has helped to free me up.”

Over the past five months, Smith has worked her way back to a high level of competition. In November, she finished second in the USATF 5K national championship road race. She was fourth in the 3,000 and fifth in the 1,500 at the USATF Indoor Championships in mid-February.

On March 2 in Jacksonville, Smith won the USATF 15K road race championship in Jacksonville, Florida, in 48:26, tracking down former American marathon record-holder Keira D’Amato and fellow Mainer Emily Durgin over the final 5K.

Not bad for someone who has rarely raced above the 10K distance and was a high school New England champion in the 800 meters (and 1,600) as a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Dover, New Hampshire.

“It tells me that I’m very strong, that my aerobic capacity is maybe at a better place than it’s ever been,” Smith said. “It felt that the time I ran was extremely elite and that’s a strong foundation and now, heading into the Olympic Trials, I want to keep that base strong and work on speed.”

Comments are not available on this story.