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On the Run: New Britain’s Smith completes the World Six Major Marathons challenge


If you’re going to fly halfway around the world to compete in a marathon, there had better be a darn good reason other than just running your basic 26.2-miler.

For New Britain’s Nancy Smith, there most certainly was.

The accomplished athlete recently finished the Tokyo Marathon and, in doing so, completed what some consider the ultimate challenge: The Abbott World Marathon Majors and with it the Six Star Medal.

Smith, 67, finished sixth in her age-group division, just a couple spots behind fourth-place runner Joan Benoit Samuelson, winner of the inaugural 1984 Women’s Olympic Marathon race in Los Angeles.

The other majors on Smith’s resume include New York City, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and London.

Only about 10,000 runners out of millions around the world have managed to achieve this six major marathon goal.

“It’s getting pretty popular,” Smith said in a telephone conversation. “But it’s still something to achieve. It’s hard getting into these marathons. They’re so popular.”

New York City remains the largest at 50,000-plus but others are drawing close.

The Six Star Medal will have a prominent place in Smith’s trophy case.

“It has every major around this medal,” Smith explained. “It’s pretty neat.”

One memory from Tokyo, which is bound to stick, was the chance to run in the same race with Samuelson, whose career exploits are stuff of legend.

“In Chicago, I was also two places behind her,” Smith said. “I didn’t know she was running Tokyo but during the race I spotted her. I was like, ‘Is that Joan?’ I had my eye on her ... there are so many people, you kind of lose people in the mix.

“I kind of weaved in and out and caught her a couple times. The last 10K is always the toughest part and I kind of lost her there. She finished about three minutes ahead of me (Smith ran 3:41).”

It goes without saying how strong a number that is on the age-graded scale.

“I think it’s like 87 percent,” Smith said.

What then is her secret to still running this fast at this age?

With a chuckle, she replied: “God’s gift. All glory goes to him. I do try to follow a good diet, one that fuels and doesn’t deplete me. I try to stay away from sugar and a lot of junk stuff. I ran London last year in April and through that training period I found that consistency was the key to just building strength and endurance.”

Smith is also an accomplished triathlete. She’s brought home at least two “bowls” from top-five finishes at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and currently coaches other young triathletes who are trying to make their way in the sport.

The discipline of training for triathlons crosses over into getting ready for marathons.

She’s a big proponent of building a solid base and stressing consistency. Smith prefers training at a steady pace rather than high-intensity track work. That helps keep her off the injury list.

“I try to stay away from a lot of speedwork,” she said. “I do some pickups, some strides, tempo stuff. But as far as going to the track, I’m not a big fan. I just find that consistency works for me, even if it’s a short run on one day and a long one the next. That works for me. Building those miles, time on my feet.”

A tennis and basketball player in her formative years, Smith didn’t take up running until she was in her early 40s and her children became somewhat self-sufficient.

Her younger son, Zach, 36, ran Tokyo with her and finished in a strong time of 2:52.

Her older son, Matt, also runs marathons but has four children, all aged 13 or younger. One day Matt and Nancy were out running and Matt said his goals in running might change a bit due to family considerations.

“I told him, ‘Matt, slow down. I didn’t start running until you guys were self-sufficient. You were in high school and into your own sports,” Smith said. “And I said, ‘I had time. Right now you’re trying to raise four kids in a foreign country (the Philippines), so slow down.”

She recently competed in the Ironman 70.3 (half-Ironman) World Championship in Finland and finished second in her age group – “by a minute off first!” she exclaimed. “I was really mad.”

Of the six majors, she likes Berlin the best. Fast course, a lot of history.

Next up: The Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championships in Australia this fall. It’s another adventure with a lot of flying time.

“It is a challenge,” she admitted “I’m just worn out right now.

“Next trip, I think we’re going non-stop (from NYC’s JFK Airport). I’m not ready for another long trip but I’m so grateful that I’m able to do these races and be healthy enough at this age.”

Race calendar


– Shamrock Shuffle 5K, 9 a.m., Newtown. Contact


– Shake Your Shamrock 8K, 5K, 9:45 a.m., Lahaska. Contact

– St. Patrick’s 5K, 10 a.m., Warminster. Contact

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