By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Morgan Smith has never backed down from a challenge.
Early in 2019 Smith, a 2005 graduate of Woodruff High School, decided to push himself to the extreme. Always a talented athlete during his high school days, Smith decided to undertake the arduous task of completing a 100-mile journey, on foot, to support Camp Spearhead, a youth camp in Travelers Rest.
The genesis of wanting to undertake such a challenge lay in Morgan’s desire to push himself further that he ever had before. Smith said he wanted to break out of his normal routine and do something truly extraordinary.
“I work out every day at 5 a.m., doing Cross Fit with a group of my best friends and consider myself to be in pretty good shape,” said Smith. “However, I began to have the desire to really challenge myself and train for something specific. Something with an end goal. One day in January of last year I stumbled across a video on YouTube about a guy who was doing a 100-mile race. It really intrigued me and the thought of doing something that seemed on the outer limits of possibility lit a fire in me. This was important to me because I wanted to see how far I could push my mind and body. Many people, myself included, get stuck in the rut of monotony, doing the same thing every day on autopilot. I wanted to break out of this and push my mind and body to its limits.”
Morgan signed up to participate in a race called the Knock on Wood 100 Festival through running company Upstate Ultra. The event was to be held at Camp Spearhead in April, with proceeds from the run going to support the camp. Smith trained almost daily for over a year in order to prepare for the event.
“I trained for this for a little over a year, beginning in February 2019,” he said. “I have played sports and been athletic most of my life, but I have never been a pure runner. So, I got a training plan from a coach online that included signing up for races, increasing in distance over the year. In training I ran two 10k’s (6.2 miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles), a 50k (31 miles), a 100k (62 miles), and many training miles. It totaled over 830 miles for the year.”
As the date of Morgan’s run approached, everything changed. In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with stay at home orders in place and with most public meeting places closed and gatherings prohibited, the Knock On Wood run was cancelled.
Not wanting his year of training and hard work to be for naught, Smith looked for other ways to fulfill his commitment. Then, an opportunity presented itself.
“Race director Matthew Hammersmith said that we could do the race virtually, which just means that we could do it anywhere we wanted as long as we could prove that we completed the total 100 miles within a 36-hour timeframe. When he told us this, it was a no brainer that I would do it in Woodruff.”
Smith now needed a route around his hometown that would cover the 100 miles needed to complete the race. He quickly constructed one.
“I mapped a 16-mile loop that started at my friends, Jay and Miranda Phillips’ house, on Highway 101, turned around at my house by Woodruff Primary School, and ended back at the Phillips’. It was very convenient to have stopping points and refueling stations at my house and the Phillips’ and having the support of the Woodruff Community.”
Smith chose April 24 as the date to complete his virtual race. As the date drew near, he says, the significance of his endeavor began to evolve as well. Running in his hometown gave Smith added inspiration and a means to reach out to others in the community through his deep faith.
“When it was announced that I could do the race in Woodruff, it shifted the meaning of the race for me,” Smith said. “I rely heavily on my faith in Jesus Christ in my everyday life, but especially on these long races. I continuously pray for strength, determination, and perseverance, but, knowing that this race would take me over 30 hours and was in my hometown, I thought it was a great time to ask people for things specific to them, that I could pray for as well as asking people to come out and walk with me.”
Smith added, “I also asked people, that if they saw me, to pray for our community leaders, state leaders, US leaders, and people who are struggling in our community, especially Mrs. Brenda Harrison who is a close family friend and going through cancer treatments. The response I got was overwhelming.”
Smith started his journey early on a Friday morning, following his pre-planned route. By now, word of Smith’s run had reached people in the community and beyond. Along the way, friends, family, and strangers joined Smith as he traveled the course, running along side of him and offering encouragement and support as well as sustenance to help keep him going as the miles passed by.
“Out of 100 miles, there were only four miles that I didn’t have people running or walking with me,” said Smith. “People were constantly pulling over to wish me luck, pray for me, give me drinks and snacks, honk the horn, come out of businesses on Main Street to encourage me, and give hugs.”
The Friday of Smith’s run, temperatures were unseasonable warm for late April. Smith said that at times it became difficult to keep moving. He added that he began to hit a wall at the 50-mile mark, and despite needing to eat and drink regularly to maintain his strength, even that became difficult. He credits his support crew in helping him continue to push forward.
Smith recounted the struggle to keep moving.
“I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t eat or drink anything without feeling nauseous and my body was beginning to cramp really bad,” he said. “My crew sat me down and made me eat a ton of food and drink a lot of water and I was able to bounce back. Another tough point was that this entire race was on asphalt, which is very tough on your joints. My feet and legs began to hurt a lot earlier than normal. With this race, you push straight through to the end, with no sleep. So, around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, when I had been moving for almost 24 hours, I became extremely exhausted and began to fall asleep while I was walking. Thankfully my crew was with me and brought a thermos of coffee and I drank two big cups. The sun came up about two hours later and I was wide awake again.”
Through his sheer will, perseverance, and faith, Smith continued his journey, finally completing his race just after 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 25 in a time of 31 hours and 33 minutes. He had started running at 7 a.m. the previous day.
Smith made it a point to say that without the support of his family, friends, and the Woodruff community, such a feat would have been impossible for him to accomplish. In all, said Smith, it was an incredibly rewarding experience.
“The most rewarding part to me was twofold,” Smith said. “First, was accomplishing my goal of completing 100 miles. Crossing the finish line with all my friends and family there to support me made all of the lonely training runs over the past year and pushing through when I didn’t want to worth it. Secondly, seeing the Woodruff community come together to support and pray for not only me, but each other and our leadership meant the world to me. It showed me that even though we can have our differences, the Woodruff community can come together like no other.”
Smith continued, “I also just want to recognize that I could not have undertaken this race without the unconditional support of my beautiful wife and family, Jay and Miranda Phillips, Nathan Craig, and Rocky and Staci Howard. They were with me every step of the way and were the best crew I could have ever imagined.”
As he ran, competing against himself and the physical odds, Smith said that he constantly recalled a lesson taught to him by his father, longtime Woodruff High football public address announcer Milton Smith.
“When things get tough, my father has always told me to ‘Bow my back’,” he said. “That has always stuck in my mind when things get tough. Push through, bow your back, and complete the task. I had this put on the back of the shirts we wore during the race. Through the grace of God, everyone supporting me, and being mentally tough, I was able to complete my goal.”
Feature Image Photo Credit: Like Mother, Like Daughter Photography