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Runner of the Century!

Featured Photo from Runner of the Century!

Sanford’s Wes Smith pushes his athletic limits 100 miles at a time

Distance running was never particularly interesting to Sanford resident Wes Smith. While growing up in western Maryland, competing in sports just wasn’t part of his family’s routine or tradition.

“I never did anything athletic in school,” Wes recalls. “It was just a different way of being raised. I didn’t grow up in a sports family; we just never did that kind of stuff.”

After living and working in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Wes decided he’d had enough of the cold winters and moved to Florida in 1998. Around that time, he started playing a lot of racquetball and enjoyed taking hikes with wife Sandra, who he began dating in 2008 and married in 2015.

Then one day, in early 2012, Sandra asked Wes if he’d join her in a two-mile walk/run in scenic Winter Park.

“She wanted to do the run,” Wes says, “and I thought it would get me in better shape for racquetball.”

One month later, while playing racquetball at Eastmonte Park in Altamonte Springs, Wes noticed a flyer for a 5K race that offered a pancake breakfast at the finish line.

“I thought, ‘Oh, you get free pancakes,’ so I decided to do the 5K for the pancakes,” Wes laughs, “and one thing led to another.”

Those two harmless little runs would lead to what has become an obsession. Wes is now what’s known as an ultra runner – a person who competes in races that are longer than a marathon (26.2 miles) and often measure 100 miles or more. Since 2015, Wes has attempted 19 100-mile races and has completed 10 of them.

Sandra and Wes have always shared a love for travel and adventure, and they have taken several trips together across the country and to places like Ireland and England, where their itinerary was focused on picturesque long-distance hikes. Because of that love for adventure, Sandra stumbled on some books about people who ran 100-mile races.

“I remember telling him about it and saying, ‘This is insane!’” Sandra says. “Then one day, he just decided, ‘I’m going to do it.’ And I said, ‘OK!’”

Before Wes embarked on his ultra-distance quest, he ran his first traditional marathon in January 2013. He was preparing to leave his job at Walt Disney World and decided to run the Disney marathon.

“This was kind of like my farewell to Disney,” says Wes, who now works in software development as a solution specialist. “I liked the fact that it went through all four parks. I didn’t really have a plan. I just wanted to do it and figured I could do it.”

Wes would do a total of six marathons and two 50K (31-mile) races before he discovered the 100+ mile events. He saw something online called the Route 40 Romp, a 116-mile excursion that starts on Florida’s Gulf Coast in Yankeetown and finishes on the East Coast in Ormond Beach. Like many of his adventures, the coast-to-coast aspect of the Route 40 Romp appealed to Wes.

“It’s that whole fascination of the end-to-end,” he says. “That’s what I really liked. Going all the way across Florida seemed like something I wanted to do, and that’s what started it.”

Overnight Sensation
A typical 100-mile race takes Wes about 30 hours to complete. The run usually begins just before dawn, and he finishes in the early afternoon the next day. Some people incorporate catnaps into their ultra runs, but Wes says he usually trudges through the night without any sleep. His wife, who typically runs a half-marathon when Wes runs his marathons, acts as his support team during the ultra-distance events.

Wes usually runs with a backpack that includes water, snacks, and an extra shirt. He wears a headlight and reflective vest to illuminate him during those middle-of-the-night miles.

His first 100-mile race left Wes exhausted and sunburned, but it didn’t stop him from signing up for the next one and the next. Among his favorite races is one on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur), a 145K (90-mile) trek through the French Alps that Wes has attempted twice, but has yet to finish.

“The misery goes away quickly,” Wes says of a race’s conclusion, whether he completes the whole route or not. “You might be sore, but the moment you stop, even though you’re miserable, you have that sense of accomplishment. It certainly is a great feeling.”

Wes, who turned 60 this past December, says he looks forward to retiring in the near future so he can concentrate on training for future runs. He admits he has good genes (parents Betty and Leon are still active in their 80s) and hopes to continue testing his limits as long as possible.

“I’m not the fastest person, and I never will be,” Wes says, “but I have the ability to just keep running, keep walking. I think it’s stamina – being able to stay awake – and staying focused and avoiding distractions. I don’t think about quitting. I keep pushing through. If anything, it is just determination. That’s the main thing.” 

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