Have you ever heard of the Marathon Maniacs?
It’s a national organization that recognizes off-the-wall marathon accomplishments, including the number of 26.2-mile races a person has completed in a certain period of time.
Their website also says that qualified individuals “must finish the race and have fun along the way. Finish times aren’t an issue and training runs don’t count.”
Truman Smith may not be a member of this elite group, but he should be.
The 68-year-old University of Alabama graduate has come a long way since he finished his first marathon at Chickamauga in 1987.
About 10 years ago, he got on this kick about running a marathon in all 50 states. He completed that task in 2009. Then he started entertaining the idea of running a marathon in all seven continents. That one was checked off the list last year.
But for a guy who said that he’d retire from marathoning after completing his 100th, he’ll be heading to Huntsville on Friday where he’ll line up on Saturday morning for the Rocket City Marathon, which will be his 13th this year and 124th overall.
He runs marathons like most folks do a five-mile training run. The amazing thing is his body allows him to get away with stuff like that because marathons are not a fun run and most runners aren’t physically able to run so many so often.
There have been many times when he would drive hundreds of miles for a marathon, run it on Saturday morning, drive home that night and still be in church on Sunday morning.
This writer had such an experience with him for the 2006 Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene, Kansas. We ran that one on Saturday – the only time he ever beat me – before driving 847 miles back to Chattanooga.
Truman is a busy guy.
He and Cheryl, his lovely wife of 42 years, are the parents of three children – Matthew, David and Anna – and have eight grandchildren.
Smith worked most of his life at TVA where he served as an electrical engineer for two stints, the first for 27 years and the last for another 11. He’s currently a private contractor working at Sequoyah after working at Watts Bar all summer.
In addition to work and family, Truman is deeply involved in church activities, but most of his extracurricular activities center around running and mainly those grueling 26.2-mile races known as marathons.
Truman, who is quite a jokester at heart, started running in 1984. He was working at Sequoyah at the time and co-worker Ted Gatewood Sr.
talked him into entering the Dash At Dawn 5K, a popular 3.1-mile race sponsored by the Leader and held at Northgate Mall.
“The Dash at Dawn was my first race and I think my time was around 26:27, which is under a nine-minute mile,” Smith recalled while eating dinner at the New York Pizza Department earlier this week.
“My real goal for that race was to run the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. I would go just about anywhere to run a race, but it was all about collecting T-shirts,” he said.
Barbara Price, another co-worker at Sequoyah, talked him into entering his first marathon.
“I had been running with Ron Thurman and we had done the Happy Valley Half-Marathon, but he got hurt and couldn’t run Chickamauga with me. He did ride his bike on the second half.
“They had two stepladders holding up the finish-line banner at Gordon Lee High School. That’s how much times have changed. I had a good run that day and ran a little slower than I could have. Bill Bohannon was at the finish line and I said I’d never do another one.
“By Sunday, I was already thinking that I could do better, so I signed up for Huntsville,” he said.
That first finish netted a time of 3:55 while his first attempt at Huntsville was an improvement at 3:51.
As one might imagine, Smith is a ring leader at organizing marathon road trips. The most he ever ran in one year was 17 in 2008 as he pushed to complete those 50 states.
The race in Hartford in the fall of 2009 was the final state and it turned into quite a celebration as more than 30 fellow marathoners from Chattanooga and surrounding cities gathered there to celebrate his signicant accomplishment.
“My son-in-law had made T-shirts with my name on the back and he had made arrangements for me to get bib number 51 for that race. The first 100 are saved for elite runners and it was interesting to see just how those folks get treated before a race,” stated Smith.
While that race in Connecticut was certainly a positive experience, another in Indianapolis about a month later was not.
“I had a heart attack exactly one month after finishing my 50th state. They kept me in the hospital for several days and they finally let me go home. I was registered for Chickamauga two weeks later, but I didn’t run it. However, I was also registered for Huntsville and did it without any problem a month later,” he stated.
That 50-state accomplishment got tricky at times, trying to plan them all in a timely manner. Because of timing and logistics, there were three times where he ran two marathons on the same weekend.
The first time was New Hampshire and Maine while the second included two in North Carolina. The third added Mississippi and Alabama.
“You have to have your mindset just right to do something like that. For the first six miles or so on the second day, you aren’t sure you can do it, but you eventually get in a groove.
“You have to run with extreme caution because of the uncertainty, but I was able to do that on three occasions,” he nodded.
Of all these marathons, only one time did he not finish.
“I think it was either 1988 or 89, but it was at Chickamauga. I was having a good run that day, but stopped to walk a little about three and a half miles from the finish. A guy came along in his car and asked if I wanted a ride. Without a second thought and without remorse, I took it.
“Then the next day I was asking myself what I was thinking. Still to this day, I don’t know why I dropped out that day,” he nodded.
Truman’s personal best of 3:35 also came about the same time in Huntsville.
“I was on an eight-minute pace through 22 miles as I was just clicking them off, but the miles got longer and the clock started ticking faster in the last four,” he laughed.
He could entertain you for hours on end with his marathon experiences. Some are more positive than others, but all are interesting.
Just ask him about his experience running the Great Wall Marathon in China or going to Antarctica. Those are great stories all to themselves.
Another one was the Loonies Marathon in Livingston earlier this year.
“I was working 12-hour shifts at Watts Bar all summer and still trying to run. I ran that marathon on 15-mile weeks. It was an awful experience, but I beat Betty Holder that day,” he said with a laugh
“That marathon began at midnight and we knew we had to finish before the sun rose. We barely made it as it was coming up right after we showered and went to get something to eat.”
“I’ve had some great experiences on marathon road trips. I’ve done a lot by myself, but there much more fun with a group. It’s allowed me to meet a great group of folks that I would have never met otherwise,” he said with a serious tone.
Truman has also gotten into ultras and he’s completed several such distances, including several 50Ks and a couple of 50-milers. He’s also dabbled a little bit in triathlons and even completed a Half-Ironman at Augusta in 2010.
“If I could just conquer the swim, I might consider an Ironman, but I always get a cramp in my calf after about three-quarters of a mile.
“It’s hard to be me. There used to be three of us who produced power for TVA, but we’re down to two, so I’m in high demand. And I also invented the 95 percent rule, which says that I tell the truth 95 percent of the time. Another one of my favorites is that a lie isn’t a lie if it’s obviously a lie,” he joked.
Another lesser-known fact about this guy is that he used to be a power lifter. At one time, he could bench press 340 pounds while squatting 395 and dead lifting 455.
Running is all about weight control for me as I’ve weighed more than 200 pounds for every marathon I’ve run,” he said.
Truman Smith has thoroughly enjoyed his running experiences in the past 30 years and he really loves the marathon.
So if you’re wanting to take a marathon road trip and don’t want to go alone, give him a call. Chances are good he’ll go with you.
(This is the 42nd in a series of weekly features on runners in the Chattanooga area. If you know someone who might make an interesting story, email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)