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Jesse Smarr, Running at age 80

Our last issue had an article on running past the age of 70.  We utilized references where research had concluded that regular physical activity decreases risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all other age-related causes of death by 25 percent and increases life expectancy by up to two years.   This issue we follow up with a profile on an amazing local runner, Jesse Smarr.

Jesse Smarr who just turned 80 grew up as many of an older generation did constantly running and playing outdoors sports and games.   Jesse has always been healthy and when he wasn’t running and playing, he worked the tobacco fields as a child, and as he got older had to stay in shape for football.  Jesse states that the young people now spend way too much time on computers and electronic gadgets to know what hard work is and to be in good physical condition”.

Jesse played four-years of varsity football in HS, played football at University of South Carolina, and after college he did 10 years of High School football officiating as a linesman.  Jesse’s final game officiating was in the 1970 NC-SC Shrine Bowl in Charlotte, NC where he had also performed as a player in 1955.  Jesse had to do quite a bit of running as a lineman and often had to stay out in front of the running back on sweep plays. 

Jesse talked about officiating football and Freddie Solomon who Jesse states “was likely the fastest human in SC and played for Sumter HS”.  Jesse recalled officiating one game where Freddie broke out for long runs about five times.   He stated that “you had no choice but to be in great shape when you had to stay ahead of Freddie Solomon on a sweep play.  You better stay ahead of the runner to make the call or you were in big trouble.”   Freddie ended up having an 11-year career in the NFL as a wide receiver and a punt returner. 

Jesse started running races at the age of 50.  His first race was the Shandon Turkey Trot, 2.5 miler, in 1987, and in January of 1988 he participated in the 2-miler at the Snowman Run which was directed by his daughter, Lisa Smarr.  His first Governor’s Cup Road Race was in 1989, and he has been in every Governor’s Cup over the next 29 years except one.  He had to sit the one out due to an injury. 

Jesse has accomplished 10 marathons, over 30 half-marathons, 25ks, and triathlons; and over 300 races of 10k or less distance.  Jesse’s best times includes a 6:36 mile at the Devine St. Mile, a 14:10 2-mile, a 22:58 5k, a 48:06 10k, a 1:57:22 half-marathon at the Governor’s Cup at the age of 60, and a 4:45:40 marathon at the Carolina Marathon at the age of 57.

Jesse’s training schedule has changed a bit as he gets older.  When he worked at State of SC Vocational Rehab he would get up every day before work and run 5-miles.  He would get in long runs and/or races on the weekend.  On weeks he did not race, he did speed work about once a week which normally consisted of- 1-mile repeats with a mile walk in between or track work out consisting of 12 440 yds. intervals at about 1:30 each.

After retiring in 2008, he started varying training and added in spin class 2-3 times a week and swam laps a few days a week.   He ran 3-4 times a week with the long runs on the weekend.   He included some speed work and/or races every week.

Jesse’s current training is a little less rigorous.  He walks 4 or 5 times a week- 3 to 12 miles on walks.  About one day a week, he warms up with a 3 mile walk and then does 6- 1/2 miles repeats at below race pace and will walk 1/2 mile in between for a total of 9 miles.   Not bad for 80 years young, and he adds in some speedwork on bike each week for good measure.

In addition to his running and healthy lifestyle, Jesse has enjoyed life with his wife, Sandy, for 59 years of marriage.   They have had two children, Lisa and Susan, four grandchildren, Kate, Kathleen, Wesley and Lexi, a Grand Dog, Charlie, and two Grand Cats, Sabrina and Lila.

Jesse Smarr has lived a full and healthy life that has encompassed a healthy lifestyle, a rich family life, and nearly 30 years of running competition.  He is already signed up for the 2018 Governor’s Cup half marathon which will be his 29th year of Governor’s Cup competition.  We look forward to seeing Jesse at many more Governor’s Cup races and other local races for years to come.