Ryan Smith of Auburn celebrates as he finishes in first place at the Eversource Hartford Marathon on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Hartford, Connecticut. Smith’s time of 2:18:35 qualifies him for the U.S. Olympic trials. Kassi Jackson/Hartford Courant

Ryan Smith suffered a thigh injury less than a month before his race at the Eversource Hartford Marathon.

But when a U.S. Olympic trials berth was on the line, all the pain went away. 

Smith, an Indiana native who lives in Auburn, ran the Hartford Marathon in Hartford, Connecticut, last Saturday and was in front from start to finish, winning in a time of 2 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds, which is 25 seconds faster than the Olympic B standard. (The A standard is required to compete in the Olympics).

“I really wasn’t worried about the injury,” Smith said. “At that point, it wasn’t really about the training I had done the past couple months, it is really about the training I’ve done the past 11 years.”

Heading into the race, Smith was confident he had properly managed the injury.

“I had to take some lower-mileage days and days off, and so I was thinking of that,” Smith said. “I thought I maintained my fitness well, and I knew there were a lot of good guys in the field.”

From about the fifth mile to the eighth, Smith felt the injury in his right adductor, but it dispersed and he was able to settle in. 

At Mile 10, Smith realized he was behind the pace. At Mile 15, he left the lead group of about six other runners to make his move. Winning the marathon was great, but achieving the Olympic standard time was Smith’s main goal

“There’s a turnaround at Mile 17, and I knew at Mile 15 it started a really gradual hill to 17, so I knew when you took the U-turn it is a gradual downhill for two miles, so I made my move up the hill,” Smith said. “No one felt confident enough to go with me. It’s not that they couldn’t, but I made such a hard move up that hill that people kind of backed off and said, ‘Whoa, we still have a lot of race left to go.’”

When he reached the halfway point of the marathon, Smith was averaging 5:19 per mile instead of the 5:18 needed to qualify. So, he simply picked up the pace.

“Once I hit a couple of 5:10 miles, I knew I was getting there,” Smith said. “Then I realized at Mile 20 I was 15 seconds ahead of pace. At around Mile 20, that’s usually when I start to fade, but I had been doing such a good job in training that I felt really good. Typically I would slow down to 5:30-5:40, but Mile 20 to 25 I averaged 5:14.”

Smith didn’t hide his excitement as he crossed the finish line as the winner and an Olympic trials qualifier.

“I really just thought about all the people who wanted me to get it, and also all the people who I know are rooting against me,” Smith said. “I was really thinking I proved every single one of them wrong; but my support group, I proved every one of them right. There was so much emotion. It was awesome.”

Ryan Smith crosses the finish line to win the Hartford Marathon in Hartford, Connecticut, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. Smith’s time of 2:18:35 qualifies him for the U.S. Olympic trials. Lori Riley/Hartford Courant

Smith will compete in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29. While he knows he will be seeded in the bottom half of the runners, Smith is confident and determined.

“If I have a really good day, then my goal is top-50,“ Smith said. “I think it’s realistic because the course I used to qualify is rolling, but a lot of the guys that qualify use a course in California called the California International Marathon. It’s like a downhill marathon. Over half of the qualifiers use that course. I think just knowing that — I ran 2:18, but if I ran that course it might have been a 2:16. If I’m seeding myself, then top-50 isn’t unrealistic.”

The top three finishers of each gender at the trials will be nominated to compete for the 2020 U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo.

“I’m certainly excited to see the full-time professionals, as always,” Smith said. “In terms of nerves, I think the pressure of trying to qualify is much more nerve-wracking than actually competing there.

“At the trials, the only way to really win is to get top three, which means you make the Olympic team. I’m not going to finish that high. Not a prayer. So no pressure. I’m just going to try and beat as many people as possible. That sounds more fun than nerve-wracking, especially because it’s a hilly course and I’m really good on hills.”


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