“Eighteen,” Ford Smith politely corrects me. I was recounting his win at the 2015 Black Canyon 100k and misstated his age. He’s 24 now, but that Western States 100 Golden Ticket victory is still perhaps Smith’s greatest win to date, and a look back at the results shows he finished in front of Dave Mackey, Ryan Ghelfi, and Catlow Shipek, among others in a standout field.
After that, his UltraSignup shows just one ultramarathon finish in 2016, none in 2017, three in 2018, and one in 2019. “I won the Bandera 50k and Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile in 2018,” he explains his racing highs of that time period. “And I’d been training nearly as much as in 2015. I graduated in four years with a history degree,” Smith offered as a strong explanation. He explained that his full-time education at the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU) was his main priority then.
“It was great being able to run up Green Mountain or Bear Peak before class, that really appealed to me,” he said of CU. “I wanted a large school, a pretty campus, and I wanted to join a fraternity. I got to do all the things I wanted to do there.” Smith didn’t go easy at CU though, and instead pursued a degree in Chinese history.
“I’ll be a student of history the rest of my life, I love reading about history, I like a good story,” he said of his motivations. “Chinese history is the longest recorded history, it’s so fascinating and nuanced. We sampled a lot in upper-division classes, but really focused on modern China, from the start of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 to the present. It’s really nuanced, and tricky, and I like that challenge of it.” He circles back to the accomplishment of it and his voice shines. “I’m most proud that I graduated in four years. I had to drop a class or two, it was sometimes a trying environment, but I’m really proud that I did that.”
Smith studied what he wanted, but hasn’t pursued that interest professionally. Instead, he’s a young professional working in Austin, Texas as a marketing analyst for his family’s business. Through five generations, the family has maintained a sales and distribution business for refined petroleum products. Smith dumbs it down for me; the company sells things like motor oil to the local auto shop. “We have a large sales force and I focus on giving them the tools they need to be successful,” he said of his day to day. “On the corporate side, I work to make sure that our story is uniform.” The day we spoke, Smith rushed down Interstate 35 to New Braunfels for an assignment, part of a typical 50-hour work week with two online classes and 20 of hours of studying on top of it. He anticipates a Master of Business Administration in the future to further his knowledge and skill set.
I ask Smith about going from Boulder back to Texas, and he quickly explains his love of the Longhorn State. “On the one hand, it’s not a mountainous place, there aren’t mountains shooting up 3,000 feet, but being from Texas, there’s West Texas, there’s Big Bend National Park, there’s the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Some of my best mountain adventures have been in the Chisos [Mountains of Big Bend.] We have a family ranch in Marfa, that’s 5,000 feet above sea level, almost the same altitude as in Boulder. I’ve run a lot of 110-mile weeks in Marfa. It’s a huge state with a lot of great places and aspects.”
Of those places, he’s in Austin right now though, a true young professional. “College is a journey in and of itself, but at the end of it, it was about maturing and learning, and the professional world is now an extension of that for me, a time to continue to grow, and Austin’s a lot of fun for young people. It’s ideal for me right now, there are a lot of people I’ve known my whole life here. I went to Austin High School. I’ve seen the city change immensely in my lifetime,” he said. Life’s certainly not all work, or play, for this 24 year old though, and he’s still chasing his running dreams.
“At the beginning of the year, I was running a lot. By March I’d run four 100-mile weeks, I was really going hard toward the Wasatch Front 100 Mile,” Smith shared. A calf strain sidelined him, and the race was canceled, but Smith stayed fit anyway. “I was on the Peloton [spin bike] a lot this summer, sometimes twice a day. I was having a blast on it, it’s so efficient,” he cheered. “It’s different than road cycling, there’s no coasting, no downhill, you’ve got pressure the whole time. It was a surprisingly efficient workout.”
“I want to win a 100-mile race. I’ve had success at 50 kilometers, 50 miles, and 100k, but 100 miles seems almost like a different sport, because of the uncertainty of the distance, in my mind. It would be so cool to win a 100 miler,” Smith beamed.
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