La Jolla Athlete of the Week: Runner Payton Smith is ‘in a world of her own’

La Jolla High School junior Payton Smith has made the list of fastest sprinters locally and nationally.
(Jimmy Su Photo)

The La Jolla High School junior has recorded some of the fastest times in the country since breaking in her freshman year.


When Payton Smith started running for La Jolla High School in her freshman year, she had no idea how quickly she would sprint her way into the record books. In her first meet two years ago, she broke into the top 10 of the fastest times La Jolla High had ever recorded for the 100-meter race.

“I don’t think she realized how good she really was until her first meet her freshman year,” said coach Paul Byrne. “It took her awhile to see how special she is.

“She has always been very humble about it, but she is part of an elite group.”

Though this season is in its infancy, Payton, now a junior, already has recorded national top 10 times in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs. Recently she was listed fifth in the country for her time of 24.19 seconds in a 200-meter race, beating her own best of 24.7.

“It catches me off guard when I beat my own best times,” she said. “I’ve been training pretty intensely for the past two years, but posting those times is a pretty big deal and I’m excited about it.”

During the offseason, Payton often trains with weights, building up strength so she can start each race “explosively.” As the season gets closer, she adds stamina training so she can finish just as strongly.

Payton Smith says she trains aggressively during the offseason to run each race with strength and stamina.
(Jimmy Su Photo )

Payton said she sees each race as an event in which her hard work can shine.

“With individual sports, everything relies on you and how you perform,” she said. “I want to show off the work I put into my training. ... And you never know who’s watching, so I always want to perform the best. I take it as ‘Do your best and show what you can do.’”

Though it surprises her when it happens, Payton said she focuses more on besting herself than the runner next to her.

“I know my ability and know I can catch up when I need to. It’s more about having my best performance every time,” she said. “No race is perfect, but I really like that it is a time to clear my mind. It’s peaceful for me. I feel good when I do it.”

“With individual sports, everything relies on you and how you perform. I want to show off the work I put into my training. ... And you never know who’s watching, so I always want to perform the best.”

— Payton Smith

Payton is a longtime athlete who had been playing soccer since sixth grade and started running to stay in shape during the offseason. Now she is bonded with her track team — which includes her sister Olivia — and plans to continue running in the future, she said.

As a teammate, Byrne said, Payton is a great mentor but in a class of her own. So much so that she often trains using the boys’ regimen and has speed goals more comparable to her male counterparts.

“She’s a great motivator that pushes [her teammates] to be the best they can,” Byrne said. “But she’s in a world of her own in terms of her times.”

La Jolla Athlete of the Week features athletes from all sports in high school (La Jolla High, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School) and other local youth sports. We’re looking not only for the stars of competition but also for student-athletes who set an example for teamwork, academic achievement and/or community involvement. Please email your nominations, and a way to reach your nominees, to Editor Rob Vardon at