Tom Hurd remembers a time in his life when success or failure was life or death.
“I lived in a shack with a dirt floor,” Hurd says of his early childhood in El Salvador. “Sometimes we had food — often it was the rotten food that markets would throw away. Sometimes it was nothing.”
The civil war ravaged country made for a tough place to raise a child. Eventually, Tom’s mother had to make a tough choice.
“I can’t imagine what she went through,” Hurd recalls of his mother’s decision to put him up for adoption to parents from the United States. “The emotional strength to do what she did. I know she did it for my best interest.” Hurd was 7 years old when he was adopted by a couple in New Jersey.
Today, he has a lot to be thankful for. As Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army, Tom is responsible for a team of 30 soldiers. He is married with four active children and is the founder and manager of the SPUltrarun, a fast growing run group based in Southern Pines, North Carolina. If that’s not enough, Hurd is also the race director for nine races which sell out each year. Running is the foundation of it all.
“The secret to a long life is a healthy heart. You can get that through running,” Tom says. He emphasizes the importance of running at work as well.
“What I love most about my job in the Army is that I have that influence on these guys. Through physical fitness and tough runs I watch these guys grow,” Hurd says. “To be a soldier it’s about what you can endure. Do you have the endurance to sustain the fight?”
Running wasn’t always the focus of his life. Hurd was a wrestler in high school. A bit undersized, his coach suggested another sport if he wanted to get a varsity letter. Hurd joined the cross country team but it wasn’t love at first step. “It was pretty miserable,” he recalls of those early days of running.
Hurd joined the military out of high school. Even with the motivation of structured exercise he didn’t embrace running. It wasn’t until a deployment to Iraq that Tom embraced running. “A colleague from the Navy asked me to help her run a half marathon that was held in Iraq," he says. Without too much preparation Hurd finished the race. “I wasn’t sore really. I worked a full day the next day. I thought ‘I bet I could run a full marathon.’
Like so many runners, the journey begins with a single step. Hurd went on to complete multiple long distance races, including the New York City Marathon. Then he realized he wanted to qualify for Boston. “I ran Thunder Road in Charlotte. Boston qualifying time for my group was 3:10," says Hurd. Near the end of the race he realized he needed a good finish to hit his time. “I ran a 6:26 last mile.”
Hurd finished the race in 3:11. One minute shy of qualifying for Boston. Instead of being let down, the civil war survivor from El Salvador and U.S. Army First Sergeant simply looked to the next challenge.
“I realized I could do something farther,” Hurd says. “50K was only 5 more miles so I decided to do a 50 miler.” He’s now run eight 50 mile races with a PR of 9 hours and 54 minutes at the JFK 50.
Just as Hurd's love of running evolved, so has the way he defines the sport. “Initially, running was something very personal. You get into that uncomfortable state and see how far you can keep going,” he says. “Now, it’s about community first. Everyone is welcome at our run group. It’s about endurance, what’s going to make me a better soldier. And it’s about adventure, we’re always running through new parks, new towns. That’s the motto of our run group. ‘Community, Endurance, Adventure.”
When it’s time to push through that uncomfortable feeling on the trail, it's Hurd’s family that gets him through. “On the course they give me motivation.” He says. “I think, would I give up on them? I wouldn’t. I’ve thought about that a lot.”
Down the road, Hurd looks forward to running a 100-miler and entering some of the big races out west. No matter how far he runs, he never gets far from his roots. He remains grateful for the opportunities he’s been given and gives back in return not just through his service in the Army, but through his work in the running community. Three of the races he directs – complete with aid stations, medals, and T-shirts, are free, taking donations for local charities instead of race fees. “I keep a positive outlook because I remember having nothing,” Hurd says.