My Journey to Catching the Running Bug

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

By: Zachary Smith, CCR College Ambassador

My name is Zachary Smith and I am a Charm City Run College Ambassador for the B3 series. This is the story of how my health and fitness journey led to running. As with many college aged guys, my fitness journey began in the gym, weightlifting, where I avoided anything related to cardio. Over the years I became comfortable and complacent with weights and the monotony of lifting. However, as my undergraduate years came to a finish, I realized I didn’t want to be complacent, but rather challenge myself to strive for progress. It was in this that I learned that the only way to grow as a person was to push harder in the areas I was lacking. This took two forms in my life, returning to higher education to pursue my PhD in Biology and the challenge of pushing myself into fitness feats I had dreamed of but was always too scared to try. 

Admittedly, these challenges are not best suited to take place at the same time however I want you to know that it can be done. My journey began in the fall of 2020 where I realized my goal of becoming an Ironman. In the past I had heard of this crazy feat of endurance, but always felt it was insurmountable. Instead of initially pursuing this Ironman dream, I began by making a more conservative goal of accomplishing a half marathon with a few months of training.

With no background in running, this was tough but with discipline and sticking to the training plan, I crossed that finish line just three months later at the Maine Half Marathon. After accomplishing this goal, I realized that bigger goals may be possible. I then continued training for something that again seemed impossible, to complete a marathon. With the continued training I was able to finish strong at the Houston Marathon just a couple months later. At this point, I had proven to myself that with the consistency and discipline to wake up every morning and complete the workouts had paid off. After the marathon, I was hooked. Even after the full marathon, an Ironman still seemed out of reach. However, just as I had done with the half and full marathon, I knew that if I put in the work, I could do it.

Over the course of the next month, I took a leap of faith, and I signed up for Eagleman 70.3 that same Spring and Ironman Maryland 140.6 the same Fall. The training began extremely rough. Trying to learn three sports simultaneously while pursuing a PhD is not recommended. I was able to adapt my schedule to fit the high volume of training by waking up at 4:30am every morning and finishing the first workout of the day by 6:30am and starting work around 7:00am. I would work a full day and return home around 5:00pm where I would have the second sport of the day followed by dinner and immediate bed by 8:30pm. Over the course of the 9 months of training, I didn’t skip any workouts. It was this discipline that allowed me to not only finish both the 70.3 and the 140.6 but to finish strong, upright, and with a smile on my face. 

After accomplishing my goal of becoming an Ironman, I began focusing more towards running. After all of the training, I realized how much I enjoyed pushing myself on runs. I continued on my running journey by completing my first Mid-Maryland 50K just four months after the Ironman and a James River Ultras 50 mile race two months after that. I also wanted to push myself to the absolute limit in Believe in the Run’s
Summer GRIT where I ran over 500 miles in the month of July placing 5th overall. In addition to the great accomplishments I have been able to achieve physically, I have also made great strides in my research where I have co-authored multiple publications and presented at an international conference. This year my focus has shifted to shorter distance races as my running bug continues and I push my limits in the Charm City Run B3 Series.

I could continue writing about the accomplishments I have and what a challenge they were, but this is where I want to encourage you to make your own story. I want you to catch the running bug as well. Learn from my accomplishments that you can achieve your goals. The reality is that if you want something bad enough, you must make the sacrifices to achieve it. When it comes down to it, be disciplined in how you live your life. Set goals that are higher than you ever thought possible and make them happen. Let the fear of not finishing push you through those long workouts. Be consistent even
when life gets tough. In the end, when you cross the finish line of life, you don’t want to still have some energy left in the tank. It might seem crazy but I can guarantee you will catch the running bug too.

I want to finish by saying that these goals would have never been possible without the help and support of many people. The first being my, now Fiancé, Alexandra Austin, who not only trained for all these races with me but crossed the finish line of each race holding my hand. I am forever grateful for this amazing life that we are building together. This also wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my dad,
Peter Smith, and my mom, Nancy Smith, who always stood on the sidelines with signs to cheer us on. Also, I would still not know how to swim without the love and support of my “Triathlon Mom”, Rhonda Workman, who has served as a mentor and will be our lifelong adoptive mom. Finally, the support of my PhD mentor Fernando Vonhoff and fellow PhD Candidate Claudia Gualtieri have made this work life balance possible, they both also came and gave us a boost as we were finishing Ironman Maryland. Thank you to all the other friends and family not mentioned for all the sacrifice you have made for
us to achieve our goals.  These may be individual sports, but they take a team of support to finish.


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

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