Cory Smith, the Founder & President of Run Your Personal Best, brings invaluable experience to online coaching, thanks to a stellar 25-year running career that includes high school All-American honors, a full athletic scholarship to the legendary Division I track & field program at Villanova University, and personal records including 4:03 in the mile, 8:05 in the 3k and 1:10 in the half-marathon at the age of 37. During his 30’s, Cory felt a calling to help others by sharing his running expertise through coaching. This is the story of his background, as well as the personal connection you can expect as a valued client of Run Your Personal Best:
Q: How would you describe your introduction to running?
A: I grew up in a suburb of Baltimore called Phoenix, MD, where I played every sport under the sun as a kid, including basketball and soccer. Then I went to Calvert Hall College High School, a private Catholic school in Towson, MD. During the fall of my freshman year, I decided to join the cross-country team as a way to get in shape because I wanted to try out for the lacrosse team in the spring. Prior to that, I had never actually run competitively. But I really enjoyed being being part of the cross-country team, and since I turned out to be good at it, that made me like the sport even more. My freshman year, I actually won the statewide JV individual cross-country championship race for private schools in Maryland, which was coordinated by the Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA).
Q: Having done so well in freshman year cross-country, did you go right into indoor track during the winter season?
A: Kind of, but at that time indoor track was actually a club sport in Maryland rather than an official interscholastic sport. So I competed for the Calvert Hall club team.
Q: When the spring season came around, were you torn between going out for track or lacrosse?
A: No, by that point I knew that running would be my sport. Fortunately, outdoor track was an official interscholastic sport in Maryland, and I enjoyed immediate success in that as well. I was probably a little better at cross-country my freshman year, but that would change later. As a freshman at Calvert Hall, I wasn’t allowed to compete on the varsity teams, so I ran JV. But sophomore year I made the jump up to varsity in both cross-country and track.
Q: How did your running career progress as you advanced through high school?
A: As a sophomore in cross-country, I became a scorer for the varsity team. Then my junior and senior years, I ended up winning that same MSA state crown as a freshman, but for varsity rather than JV. The junior year championship came as kind of a surprise. Nobody besides my coach really expected me to beat the senior who was supposed to win. Then my senior year, I was ranked the best runner in the state by the local newspaper. Even though I couldn’t officially compete against public school kids in the state meet, I had raced against most of them in different invitational meets.
Q: At what point during your high school career did you start to think you could earn a full athletic scholarship to college?
A: I started getting some letters from colleges early my junior year, mostly from smaller schools. Then what started bringing me attention from the big national programs was finishing #15th at the Foot Locker regional cross-country meet as a junior. There were four regions nationwide and only the top seven guys from each region made it to nationals. So even though I didn’t qualify for nationals that year, I was the fifth-fastest junior in the regional meet.
After that, I heard from pretty much every big program nationwide. My mom actually saved all the letters. Then senior year, I did qualify for the cross-country national championships. By that time, I had pretty much decided I was going to Villanova and I officially committed in December, right after the national meet.
Q: So in high school cross-country, you were among the best runners in the country. What do you consider to be your greatest high school accomplishments on the track?
A: Probably my biggest track accomplishment was having the sixth-fastest 2-mile time in the nation as a high schooler. That was a 9:20 indoors, which I ran my senior year in 1996. I also set Maryland state records in the 1-mile and 2-mile for both indoor and outdoor track. My best mile time in high school was 4:15.
Q: Out of all the scholarship offers you received, what led you to choose Villanova?
A: Honestly I wouldn’t say that I did a lot of research. Vilanova was the main school I looked at. I liked the campus, coach, tradition, and that it was close to home but not too close. So it was a combination of all those things.
Q: Looking back on your college career, what stand out as the greatest accomplishments?
A: I definitely had a better high school career than college. The transition to Villanova was a little difficult for me. But I was able to compete in the NCAA cross-country Division I national championships in both 1996 and 1999, which were my freshman and senior years. I alternated with my roommate Scott Tantino as the #1 and #2 cross-country runners at Villanova.
But the high school cross-country distance is only 5K, while in college it’s 8K or 10K depending on the race. With that increased distance, I really started to consider myself more of a track guy. When I got to Villanova, the 2-mile was my best track distance and the 1-mile was my second-best. But I was more or less recruited as a miler, and they wanted me to focus primarily on the mile. So while I did well in cross-country for Nova, it wasn’t my main event. I think my natural ability is more suited toward being a middle-distance guy.
On the track, several of my times at Villanova were the best of anybody on the team at that time, and I received all-conference and all-regional honors. In the college outdoor season, the mile isn’t typically a competitive event, but rather the 1500-meter run. My best 1500 time was 3:45, which converts to a 4:03 mile. During the indoor season, they do run the mile, and my best indoor mile was 4:08. I also ran an 8:05 in the indoor 3000-meter, where I missed qualifying for the national championships by one spot.
Q: Having competed at such a high level in college, did you ever consider becoming a professional runner?
A: Unfortunately no, and one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t continue running after I graduated from Villanova in 2001. But following four years of high school where I competed in running all year-round and another five years of the same in college, I was just ready to try doing some other things.