My name is Brian Smith, and I am the superintendent of the Galena School District, and this is my running story. In the summer of 2002, I noticed that one side of my abdomen was protruding. I set up an appointment with a doctor, and a CT scan revealed a football-sized tumor. After further testing, they determined that I had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I underwent chemotherapy for the next two years until my cancer went in to remission and during those two years, I decided to make a bucket list.
One of the items on that list was to run a marathon. The week I was told my cancer was in remission, I started a running program. It was July, and I decided I was going to run the Lewis and Clark Half Marathon in St. Charles, Missouri in the fall. At the time, I could not run one mile without stopping. My body had been beaten down by the chemotherapy and years of neglect from lack of exercise, stress, and poor eating habits. I found a training plan on the internet, and with the help of a good friend, I got myself in shape and I was able to complete the half marathon. I continued running and ran more and more races, but still had not run a marathon. In 2010, I decided I was ready. I had fallen in love with running, but I really did not have great training techniques. I did not do tempo runs or speed work. I just went out and ran. My first marathon was the Williams Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa. The conditions were terrible that day and my training was suspect, but I finished. It is hard to explain the emotions that I experienced. It was like a weight had been lifted off of me, and I felt free.
Once the first marathon was under my belt, I started reading everything I could find about running, and I stumbled onto two books, Fifty Marathons in Fifty Days by Dean Karnazes and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I was hooked! Marathons were no longer far enough. I wanted to see how far I could push my limits, so I signed up for a 100K at the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd. At that time, there was not much information about ultras, so I tried to figure out a plan on my own. I trained the best I could, and I showed up on race day in a pair of Nike Free running shoes and it never occurred to me to carry a water bottle during the race. I had no knowledge of crews or pacers either. Fortunately, my wife, Marcia, provided me with the critical support that was necessary to finish the race.
It was in the high 80’s on the day of the race. The aid stations were every five miles, so carrying no water bottle, I ran from aid station to aid station drinking as much liquid as I could but had no water in between. After the first 31 miles, Marcia had a Subway sandwich and some Gatorade waiting for me. That was the last food I was able to eat until the race was over. I became so dehydrated that I was getting nauseous, and was unable to eat over the next 31 miles. Somehow, I finished the race and since then, I have run more marathons and ultras than I can count. My running has improved through the help of two good friends, Nathan Sicher and Jenna Henry Mutz. Along with my wife, they have supported me through many races. Nathan and Jenna have also made my training both more efficient and effective.
My experience with the Joplin Memorial Marathon began in 2011, the year of the tornado. At that time, the race was called the Boomtown Half Marathon, unfortunately the Joplin tornado hit a few weeks before the race leaving the community in shock and mass destruction. The race was obviously canceled, but it was decided that the runners would meet at Memorial Hall, not to run, but spend the day in service to the community, cleaning up a neighborhood near Joplin High School that was destroyed by the tornado. Audie Dennis handed out our medals at the end of the day. Even though I did not run the race I had trained for, helping with the cleanup effort was a feeling very similar to crossing the finish line and it was a day I will always remember. I have run or paced every Memorial race since then and, although the Joplin tornado was a horrible tragedy, it has brought many people together. The Joplin Memorial Run is more than a race, it is a way to honor all of the people affected that day and those who rushed to their aid. It also demonstrates the resilience of the Joplin community. The memory of those lost or affected by the tornado will continue to be commemorated through the efforts of the participants of the Joplin Memorial Marathon.