Each year, the Chattanooga Track Club honors its most remarkable athletes, from the fastest to the most eccentric. Among the many accolades bestowed on CTC members, only two runners have completed the seven-continent challenge, awarded to those who have run a marathon on every continent — yes, including Antarctica. Here are their stories.
Smith’s Longest Races
Tennessee’s Pistol Ultra 100-miler: 27 hours, 42 minutes and 42 seconds
New Jersery’s Trail Series 50-miler: 11 hours and 37 minutes
Tennessee’s 12-hour Camp Jordan 50-miler: 11 hours, 14 minutes and 27 seconds
Alabama’s Delano Park 50-miler: 10 hours and 37 minutes
Tennessee’s Nashville’s 50-mile ultra: 10 hours and 9 minutes
Truman Smith had come to Tanzania to run the Kilimanjaro Marathon — and he was going to finish it. Never mind the heat and that advice not to drink the water. "You've flown a long way. You've invested a lot of money. You say, I have to finish this bad boy. If I don't drink the water, I'm not gonna. So I'll take the consequences tomorrow,"Smith said to himself.
With that thought, at mile 8, Smith grabbed a fly-rimmed cup of water and downed it at the one of the race's aid stations.
"The next day I thought I was gonna die. I got sick. Bad sick," Smith says.
But he did finish that marathon, which, at age 64, marked his 83rd one — especially impressive considering Smith did not start running until middle age. Prior to that, he had been a weightlifter.
"As you approach 40, then 45, then 50, it is prudent to give your heart a break from pumping through all that mass," Smith says.
So in 1983, at the age of 36, he set a goal: To run a 5k road race. He began to train on the old Hixson High School track where five laps equaled 1 mile and "one mile felt like forever," Smith remembers. But he persevered, ultimately finishing that race in under 27 minutes, a decent time for a beginner.
That sense of accomplishment, Smith says, propelled him forward. Soon, he was running 5ks all across the region. Next, he took on 10ks. Then, in 1986, he ran his first half marathon. When he crossed the finish line, he told one of his running buddies, "No marathon. Not ever. This was a near-death experience."
But lo and behold, in 1987, Smith ran his first marathon, the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon.
"Here I was, could barely run a mile and now I just ran marathon in under four hours. I thought I was king of the world," Smith says.
He began to sign up for every marathon he could — which, at first, wasn't many. It was a pre-internet age, "so the only marathons I knew about were from posters in the shoe shop," he remembers.
But over the next 20 years, Smith managed to run 49 marathons. By 2009, he had completed one in every state.
"Just something to cross off the list," says Smith, whose goal in running has never been to increase his speed or win races.
"Track clubs are usually about the fastest girls and guys in town. But then there's this whole other group of runners — like me," the Chattanooga Track Club member says.
The CTC offers an alternative avenue of achievement for runners like Smith through a division called "long runners." Rather than being recognized for their race times, these athletes are recognized when they complete one of five challenges: a marathon in each of the 50 states; a marathon on each of the seven continents; 100 marathons; a 50-mile ultra-marathon; and a 100-mile ultra-marathon.
Naturally, after Smith had run a marathon in each state, he moved on to conquer the continents.
Smith's first international race was the Great Wall Marathon in Beijing, China. It proved to be one of his most challenging.
"The course was rough! There were so many ways you could fall. I told my wife, 'If I get out of here without a dental bill'" Smith says.
He did not injure himself during that race, but he did learn to reconcile similar risks. When running abroad, the consequence of injury becomes much more critical. Take Antarctica, for instance, where Smith ran a marathon in 2013 and where the nearest hospital is a four-hour drive away.
On a map, the continent of Antarctica is located in the southernmost region, known as the 60th parallel south.
"The sailors used to have a saying, 'Below the 40th parallel there is no law. Below the 50th parallel there is no god,'" Smith says.
To get to Antarctica, Smith boarded a Russian research vessel where he spent two days crossing the Drake Passage, a turbulent sea that connects South America and Antarctica and is considered one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world.
The course was not much better. It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit with 40 mph winds, Smith remembers. It took him six hours and 20 minutes to finish.
But not all of Smith's continental races are distinguished by harrowing details. The Rio Marathon in South America, Smith says, was the most spectacular landscape: 26 miles along white sand beaches and the Serra do Mar Mountains. Smith says that coastline was rivaled only by the Gold Coast in Australia, where he completed a marathon in 2012.
Yet these trips were never about sightseeing. First and foremost, they were about running, Smith says.
"I tell everybody, this is a virus and there is no cure. I think I will die when [running] ends for me," says Smith, now 70 years old.
Following the Antarctica Marathon, Smith received the CTC's Lifetime Award for completing the seven-continent challenge. By then, he had also already completed the 100-marathon challenge as well as the 50-mile ultra-marathon challenge. He completed his first 50-miler in New Jersey — immediately following his return from Tanzania.
"I didn't even have time to turn around," Smith says.
When he crossed that finish line, he told one of his buddies, "No 100-milers. Never. Fifty miles liked to have killed me."
Then, in 2016, at age 69, Smith ran his first 100-mile marathon — thus making him the first CTC member to achieve all five long-runner challenges and winning him the club's coveted Grand Slam Award. To date, Smith has now run 143 marathons. So what's his next goal?
"To run 144," he says.
Rhode’s Notable Races
Most Difficult: Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland
Most Dangerous: Port-au-Prince Marathon in Haiti
Most Exotic: Bagan Temple Marathon in Myanmar
Most Remote: Easter Island Marathon
Most Romantic: Venice marathon in Italy
Cyrus Rhode, though not yet a Grand Slam Award winner, has a list of accomplishments as vast as his travels. It includes more than 160 marathons spanning all 50 states, 30 different countries and all seven continents. He has completed the six most renowned marathons in the world, known as the World Marathon Majors, which occur in Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.But his biggest achievement is taking command of his health.
Rhode, now 73, was born with a genetic condition making him prone to lung disease. Throughout his childhood, he regularly battled bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia. When Rhode was in his 40s, his mother died from pneumonia complications. That's when Rhode looked in the mirror.
"I didn't look great. I was overweight. I wanted my health back," he says.
In honor of his mother, Rhode decided to sign up for a half marathon. As he began to train, he learned that, for him, running was as much about physical stamina as it was about breathing technique. Though he did not know it at the time, the technique he adapted to optimize his lung capacity — two short inhalations, one long exhalation — had a name: mountain breathing, used by climbers to combat high-altitude sickness.Thus, Rhode had an advantage when he began traveling the world to run marathons. Particularly during races such as the Inca Trail Marathon across the Andes Mountains in South America.
The course was treacherous, involving the summit of four different peaks, the tallest of which boasted 13,800 feet in elevation — six times the size of Chattanooga's Lookout Mountain.
"I could barely walk over it!" Rhode remembers.
In fact, that marathon was so challenging, only 16 runners competed. It took Rhode 12 hours and 53 minutes to cross the finish line, located just beyond the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, considered one of the seven world wonders.
"I looked down and there was the Amazon rainforest. I looked up and there were snow-packed mountains. I'm not much for words, but I really do believe in God," says Rhode, who knows he is lucky to be alive — and who has no plans to slow his pace now.
This summer, Rhode will compete in the Madagascar Marathon off the coast of Africa.