Updated: Feb 6
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.