Military Times: Meet Marine Capt. Mosi Smith, then follow his journey to the Badwater Ultra finish line

March 1st, 2012
Mosi Smith 1 in 10 campaign running Blue Crab Bolt 2011

Mosi Smith "1 in 10 campaign" running Blue Crab Bolt

By Sara Davidson | Military Times PT 365 | MilitaryTimes.com | March 1, 2012

I’ve known of Marine Capt. Mosi Smith for almost a year now and met the man in the flesh in January. A logistics officer by MOS and currently the 19th Company Officer at the Naval Academy, Mosi has a reputation in ultrarunning circles for being one of the nicest, most-welcoming and all-around-good-people type of runner. And though he’ll deny it, he’s also very fast.

I’d been trying to find a way to get Smith, 30, into OFFduty or PT365 since the day I heard about him, but so far things hadn’t fallen into place.

And then last week I got this text message:
"Sara-hope this finds you well and hopefully not burning the midnight oil. just wanted to share with ya that I got into Badwater this year!"

Done and done.

The Badwater Ultramarathon is — to me — the scariest race ever. It’s 135 miles, on pavement, through Death Vally, Calif., in July. The race starts July 16 in Death Valley (282 feet below sea level) and ends 48 hours later on Mount Whitney (8,360 feet above sea level).

“Globally recognized as the toughest race of its kind, the Badwater Ultramarathon is a pure athletic challenge of athlete, shoes, and support crew versus a brutal 135-mile stretch of highway, a hellish environment of up to 130 degrees, and a forty-eight hour time limit,” the race website says.

The registration process is unlike most other races. You don’t just enter Badwater — you apply. It’s probably easier to get into top universities than it is to get into this race.

Each applicant must meet at least one of three very tough qualifying standards to submit an application. On that application, runners must include past race credentials to show organizers they’re capable, to the best of their knowledge, of completing the race. Mosi’s credentials, included in his 2012 application:

Race: Cajun Coyote 100-miler (Ville Platte, La.)

Date: Dec. 3, 2011

Place: 2nd overall (14 finishers/32 registrants)

Time: 18 hours, 49 minutes, 0 seconds

Race: Rocky Raccoon 100-miler (Huntsville, Texas)

Date: Feb. 5, 2011

Place: 20th overall (190 finishers/316 starters)

Time: 19 hours, 24 minutes, 43 seconds

That morning after Mosi sent me the midnight message, I fired off a reply asking him to write a series of guest posts for PT365. As an avid runNerd — this is a technical term — I was bursting with questions about how he’ll train, what he’ll pack and who he’ll take along as crew.

But most of all, I wanted to know why anyone with a fully functioning brain would want to run a race that is so long and so hot that you hear stories of runners’ shoes melting.

This seems best answered with a portion of his 2011 application. That year, applicants were asked to include personal facts about themselves. Here’s what Mosi sent:

Running has always been a vehicle of progression in my life. Across the years, my aspirations to complete the Badwater Ultra has developed into a strong motivator. I took up the sport at the age of thirteen as a way to seek an outlet of physical activity, combat childhood asthma and find my niche in the high school community. Growing up in Atlanta, I was never a big player on the 8th grade football team, but in comparison, I could run far. In high school, I was the only black runner on the cross country team. However, I never felt singled out because running was a normalizer. There were no colors, only runners pursuing one purpose: to achieve excellence in running. If it were not for coach pushing us as a team, I would not have progressed to be the individual that I am today.

Moving from high school forward, I never considered myself a stellar athlete; I have always seen myself as a young man with lofty dreams and a bit of resolve to push through adversity. Endurance sports are a component of my identity and provide balance in my life. However, it was not until my freshman year at the Naval Academy that I discovered a group of like-minded athletes and began to run marathons. I have toed the line over the past ten years completing twenty-four marathons, fourteen ultras, eleven triathlons, numerous shorter distance races, and was provided an opportunity to compete at Ultraman Canada. I run in order to push myself and revel in the challenges of moving through nature: running over mountains, swimming down rivers, and accelerating through track laps. The need to push myself led me to pursue a different path upon finishing school. Upon graduating from the Naval Academy in 2005, I was fortunate to receive a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps. For the next couple of years I took a hiatus from races. Becoming the best Marine officer I could be and leading Marines to success in combat and in garrison were my only priorities. I continued to run which provided a great outlet for stress. Upon returning from my second deployment to Iraq, I embraced racing at full throttle. I delved into triathlons, in addition to road racing, as another way to “stretch” myself. But I did not feel truly tested; my first test came at the Javelina Jundred 100-miler (JJ100) in 2008. In retrospect, I knew very little in the ways of pacing, nutrition, and appropriate gear. To be blunt, JJ100 put me on my face. Although time has passed, the lesson is still fresh with me each time I am preparing for a long run.

Anwar Sadat, former Egyptian president, offered the idea that there were only two places in the world where a man could not escape himself — a battlefield and the prison cell. I have never been to prison, but I agree wholeheartedly with his account after reflecting on experiences in Iraq. On that cool evening in November running the JJ100, I came face to face with a previously unexplored depth of my soul. I felt stripped away and as open as the sky above the Sonoran Desert. I was recalling every insecurity that I ever harbored about myself as I struggled down the dusty, Pemberton trail. I retrieved every memory of being told that I could not rise above mediocrity. Amidst the hallucinations, I found out that I was NOT a quitter that day. Since that moment, the world took on a different hue. I have felt more capable to deal with life’s struggles. I continue to push myself through ultrarunning to become a stronger, more focused individual. I am proud to say that I have never DNF’d. Given the lessons learned over the years, I do not plan to DNF in the foreseeable future. The Badwater Ultra is a demanding task. I have never been more ready, willing and able to charge ahead. Each relentless footfall I take will not only represent a step towards the completion of Badwater, but the betterment of the living conditions for our wounded warriors.

Only 90 runners will be invited to toe the scorching-hot line that Monday in July. And Mosi will be one of them.

Check back here to read more about Mosi’s journey to the starting line (and on to the finish line) of the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon. If you’ve got your own runNerd questions for him, feel free to send them to pt365@militarytimes.com and we’ll do our best to get them answered. After all, the man is busy. He’s got a little bit of training to do.

Update: Mosi and fellow Marine Corps Capt. Robert Hillery are in the middle of a long-term fundraising campaign to raise money and awareness for the Semper Fi Fund. So far they’re just under $17,000 raised. Here’s what the boys have to say on their donation page:

Our goal is $1 million! Very ambitious we know, but through the power of networking and mass communication we hope to achieve our goal for our Wounded Warriors through the Semper Fi Fund. The Fund (www.semperfifund.org) is a non profit organization that helps America’s true heroes recovering from catastrophic injury. 100% of the donations go to help injured Marines.

To learn more, of if you’re like to donate, please visit the 1 in 10 campaign page.

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