Russ Smith has left his footprints in every state in this country. He has the medals to prove it.
Smith, who turned 50 in February, reached his goal of running marathons in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia when he crossed the finish line June 5 in Steamboat Springs, Colo. He has now run 52 full marathons.
His quest began when friends encouraged Smith to run the Chicago Marathon with them in the fall of 2001.
“After that first [marathon], you’re either done or you’re hooked, and for me I got hooked,” Smith said. “I didn’t have a painful experience or anything, and I crossed the finish line and already thought, ‘I can do this better.’ ”
Six months later, he ran in the Music City Marathon, and the list grew from there.
Growing up in Donelson, Smith had the competitive nature that drives the strongest athletes. He lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track at Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, before attending the University of Tennessee, where he walked on as a punter for the football team his freshman year.
When the run in Chicago reignited that competitive flame from his high school and college days, suddenly there were no obstacles. Smith joined the 50 States Marathon Club as well as the 50 States and D.C. Marathon Group, and started running 30 to 60 miles a week with the Nashville Galloway Marathon Training Group and the Nashville Striders.
“Russ is a constant motivation,” said Houston Pewett of Franklin, who has run 15 marathons and met Smith while training with the Galloway Group back in 2001. “You look at him and you wouldn’t think this is a guy that can run four or five marathons a year, but he’s just a good, solid inspiration that everyone can just look at him and say, ‘Gee, Russ, if you can get out there and do five marathons a year, we can run at least two miles a week.’ ”
Pewett and Smith do long runs together on Saturdays, pushing each other in new directions. After Pewett completed the JFK 50-mile Ultramarathon in Maryland, Smith suggested they run two back-to-back, knocking two states off Smith’s list in one weekend.
For 10 months, the two ran at least 10 miles each Saturday and then got up the next morning for another 10-plus mile run. As a result, they completed a marathon in New Hampshire on Oct. 2, 2009, drove an hour-and-a-half to Portland, Maine, showered, slept and hit the pavement again that Sunday morning.
Smith said he ended the race in Maine six seconds faster than New Hampshire. That’s when he became a marathon maniac.
He likes to run marathons in bunches, spacing them three to four weeks apart, between work and family. He plans up to a year in advance. Smith said his wife, Teresa, has offered crucial support.
From the beginning, Teresa said she liked the idea, and she’s amazed by what her husband has accomplished.
“It’s helped him become a much more open person,” she said. “He’s made a lot of friends through this.”
Smith has run thousands of miles over the past decade, and luckily he’s never been injured. (See related story below.) He is cautious, and he tracks the amount of miles he runs on his shoes, always having two pairs at the ready, never running them beyond 300 miles.
“I’m one of the few who can probably say they’ve run 50 marathons and have never had a running injury,” he said. “I know the difference between pain and being tired, and I’m able to listen to my body.”
He already has new goals. Smith aims to run 100 marathons before turning 65. His plans include London, Berlin and the original marathon in Athens, Greece. The only stipulation is he will not run a course he’s already completed.
For Smith, there’s no finish line.
Highlights from a marathon career
Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon, August 2008, Nevada
After driving two hours north of Las Vegas to a site near Area 51, runners line up at midnight and race to the nearest town: Rachel, Nev. A full moon lights up the highway, and after completing the race, runners have breakfast at a local inn where they’re met with ice towels.
Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon, January 2010, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
This race is run indoors and is limited to a field of 40. A lap counter is assigned to each runner, who along with their bib number in the front, has their name written on their back, allowing everyone to get to know each other by the end of the 150 laps.
Des Moines Marathon, October 2010, Des Moines, Iowa
This race blew Smith away, and he said he’ll never forget how great the people were. He said it was one of the best-organized races he ran, and would encourage those looking for a good race to pick this one.
Tupelo Marathon, September 2002, Tupelo, Miss.
Conducted in the Mississippi heat over Labor Day weekend, runners receive a medal with a skull and crossbones on fire for finishing this race. Smith said on the way to the race, he passed a sign that read: 4:30 a.m. 90 degrees. When the sun came up, the heat was brutal.
Ocean Drive Marathon, March 2011, Cape May County, N.J.
Smith said there were snow flurries at the start of this race. Runners faced a constant headwind, and temperatures were in the low to mid-30s. He ran in ski mittens and six layers of shirts under his jacket, and was still cold.
Skagit Flats Marathon, Burlington, Wash., 4 hours and 27 minutes
Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon, Area 51, Nevada
Time: Just under 6 hours
— Alexa Jenner