HOUSTON — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Chevron Houston Marathon is virtual, but that's not stopping thousands from taking part this weekend, including an 85-year-old Houston man who's run the event for 40 years straight.
At an age when most are winding down, Phil Smith is lacing up and picking up the pace. Saturday marks his 40th consecutive year running the Houston Marathon.
"I’ve done 27 marathons. This will be my 13th half," Smith said.
This year's Houston Marathon mantra is “together from anywhere,” meaning runners can participate from wherever they'd like.
"So I just figured I’d just run in the neighborhood, my regular race, my regular route," Smith said.
Smith's goal is to run 13.1 miles in under 3.5 hours, a difficult task for most, let alone an 85-year-old.
"I don't think about how hard it is. I don't think about that. I try to think about what's around me," he said.
It's solid advice from a longtime runner. But what makes Smith’s story truly unique isn't the impressive medals he's collected over the last four decades but that he was a late bloomer in the running game.
Inspired by a run-in with a world-class runner at a park, Phil officially got his running start in his mid-40s.
"He started when most men are wanting to quit doing whatever they've been doing," said Karla Swann, his youngest daughter.
And rain or shine, he's hit the ground running ever since.
"The devastating heat, incredible cold, freezing rain, and every year he's out there and he's happy to be there, and he's happy to do it again the next year," his daughter said.
As you would imagine, the retired engineer and U.S. Army veteran has seen a lot and been through a lot over the course of his life. But if you ask him why he runs, his answer is quite simple.
"It's just trying to be mentally and physically active, that's all," Smith said.
As for when he plans to stop running in the marathons, let's just say with his family cheering him on, Smith's in it for the long run.
"Chasing 90 if I can," he said.