Q&A with Ultra Runner Kathy Smith

Kathy Smith
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New Balance and RootsRated have teamed up to profile runners making a difference in their communities. We asked each of our runners a series of questions to learn a little more about what running means to them, where they like to run and what are some of their running goals.

Kathy Smith is a Knoxville resident who has been running all her life, although she is a relatively recent convert to the world of ultramarathons and trail running.

Why trail running?
For me it just really clears my head. With trail running, you still have to concentrate on your footing—more so than with road running—so it keeps you focused, but not so focused that you can’t take in the scenery. I guess for me it’s just a challenge, it’s out there, and I like challenges, so it’s a passion that I’ve had for a long time. Even when it’s painful I enjoy it. When you like something that much, why not do it for hours and hours?

How would you describe the running culture in East Tennessee?
I think it’s fun, friendly, and very laid back—more so than the road running atmosphere.

A lot of people might think 100-mile runs and the people that run them would be pretty intimidating.
Oh no, we’re very approachable! All you have to do is ask, and listen. When I first started thinking about it, I couldn’t wrap my mind around running one hundred miles. That just sounded crazy. And we know that people think we’re crazy, but that’s okay, because we know we’re crazy. It’s different when you don’t know you’re crazy (laughs).

What is unique about the off-road running routes in East Tennessee?
Well, we have the Smokies, for one thing, and there’s so much to cover. You can have virgin trail forever and ever, almost. I love to go on trails I’ve never been on before, if I can. And you never know what’s around the corner. This area may be technical and that area may be open grasslands. You might get into a water crossing you didn’t know about, and you may end up up to your waist. But you might come across something really beautiful that you didn’t expect, like a rock formation or a waterfall that you just didn’t know was there.

Do you prefer running alone or in a group?
I like running by myself, especially when I just feel like I need time to think and work things through. Small group runs are fun, too. Any bigger than two or three people, though, and you end up spending a lot more time out there than you really planned to.

What’s the first thing you’d say to someone who told you they wanted to get into trail running?
Not to try to do too much too soon. Look for a trail that maybe doesn’t have a lot of elevation. Maybe that has a few little hills. I think with trail running—and just running in general—people try to take on too much too soon, it hurts, they don’t like it, and then they stop. So just do a little bit at a time.

What’s been your most memorable run?
One really memorable run was when a group of us tried to go on a “manway,” which is an old trail that’s not marked anymore, and we got horribly lost. It was in the Smokies at Porter’s Creek, and we thought we were going to have to spend the night out there, which was not a fun thought. But we just kept bushwhacking across until we popped out on the Appalachian Trail near Charlies Bunion. I’ve never been so happy to see a trail in my life! We ended up running out to Newfound Gap and hitchhiking back to our car (laughs).

What do your family and friends think about your adventures?
My husband thinks I’m crazy! He used to run, when we were dating, but once he caught me he stopped running. He doesn’t understand the extremeness. And it’s okay. It’s hard to explain it. My two kids are supportive, and my son has actually run a half marathon with me, which was one of my favorite races, because he was there. But, you know, while they’ll come to races and support me, they don’t get it, really. They don’t know why mom runs that far.

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