Ryan Smith crossed the finish line of the Hartford Marathon last month with a grin on his face.
The Goshen College graduate had not only won the race, but qualified for the Olympic trials as well, becoming the first male Maple Leaf to do so.
The race, which took place in Hartford, Connecticut, on Oct. 12, was Smith’s third attempt to qualify in the 26.2-mile distance. His first attempt was at the Hartford Marathon last year where he finished in second and missed the 2-hour-19-minute cutoff by 3 minutes and 36 seconds.
This year, Smith returned to change the books. His time of 2:18:35 secured first place and earned a ticket to the Olympic trials, which will take place in Atlanta on Feb. 29.
Smith’s running career began when he was an eighth-grader at Central Noble Community School in Albion, Indiana.
“The PE teacher saw me go 6:05 in the PE mile with no training,” he said. “[She] told me I should do track, so I did.”
Smith first dreamed of making the Olympic trials when he was a sophomore in high school. “I was still new to the sport,” he said. “I had no clue just how much training it would take, but I learned as I went and made it a lifestyle.”
At Goshen College, Smith was a runner to pay attention to. Between cross country and track, he qualified for nationals 10 times, was an all-American twice and set eight school records, including the 8k in cross country, the 3k and 5k in indoor track and the 10k in outdoor.
Smith intended to win the national title in the marathon his senior year at Goshen College.
Rustin Nyce, who became the head coach for cross country and track in the middle of Smith’s career, said: “We had a three-year projected plan and the marathon national title was his senior year, his last meet.”
As befitted Smith’s style, he set his own pace from the start of the race.
By the third mile, Smith was two minutes ahead of the next runner and by the halfway mark, he was leading by seven minutes. Unfortunately, the Alabama climate took its toll at mile 20. “I collapsed from heat exhaustion,” Smith recalls.
Smith didn’t let the disappointing first attempt end his marathon career. Instead, he set his eyes on the Olympic trials.
After graduation, Smith moved to Maine with his wife, Abby. He is currently the manager of purchasing, accounting and licensing at Bates College. On the side, he coaches the Maine Rogue Runners, a small team of post-collegiate athletes.
Smith’s training leading up to the Hartford Marathon consisted of running 120 miles per week (an average of 17 miles per day). This year he added a weekly long run on hills to his regimen to prepare for the Hartford course.
Once the marathon came, Smith wanted to be as prepared as he possibly could.
Smith led the race from start to finish. He made his break from the lead pack at mile 15, knowing he would have to pick up the pace if he wanted to get under 2:19.
“I knew at mile 15 it started a really gradual hill to 17,” Smith told the Sun Journal. “So I made my move up the hill. No one felt confident enough to go with me. It’s not that they couldn’t, but I made such a hard move up that hill that people kind of backed off and said, ‘Whoa, we still have a lot of race left to go.’”
Smith broke the tape a minute and 10 seconds ahead of the next runner.
“I was in absolute shock; not only because I made it, but because I won a competitive marathon,” he said.
Smith’s time of 2:18:35 puts him into a group of 141 runners who earned entry into the Olympic trials by making the B standard (under 2:19). To hit the A standard and win an all-expenses-paid trip to the trials, a time of 2:15 or lower is required.
Only the top three runners from the trials will proceed on to the Olympics, and Smith knows that’s out of the question.
But Smith still has high goals for the race. “With such a talented field, literally the best of the best in the United States,” he said, “I’m looking to finish in the top half of the field, which would be right around 90th place.”
His current time projects 152nd place.
Just participating in the Olympic trials makes Smith one of two Maple Leafs to compete at this level.
Laura Harnish (2009 grad) made GC history in 2016 when she qualified for the women’s division of this race.
“Currently, I am back to about 90 to 100 miles per week and training for some cross country races,” Smith said.
“I am now sponsored by Tracksmith, which is a New England-based apparel company, and we have a team of elite runners looking to score well at the USA Club Cross Country National race,” he said. “I’m really focused on that, which is mid-December, then I’ll look to bump my mileage back up and focus on the marathon.”