Late last year, Charlottesville native Charlie Hurt realized a dream more than two decades in the making.
At the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Hurt dipped under the Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time standard of two hours and 19 minutes.
As a result, he will compete among the best distance runners in America in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on Feb. 29 in Atlanta. The fastest three male and female runners will be selected to represent the United States at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
For Hurt, toeing the line will culminate a journey rife with triumph, disappointment, resilience, and dedication.
Hurt began running, if reluctantly, during his freshman year at Western Albemarle High School. He quickly became passionate about a sport that rewards the mental toughness Hurt credits his father with instilling in him long before he set foot on a track. Longtime Western Albemarle track and cross country coach Lindy Bain had already established a high-performing program, and Hurt ingratiated himself quickly.
After narrowly missing out on a team state cross country title his sophomore year, Hurt helped the Warriors win state championships in both his junior and senior years. In spite of his early accolades, however, Hurt most distinguished himself with his positivity and enthusiasm. Hurt joined Bain’s coaching staff in 2005 and nowadays, Bain sees Hurt’s enthusiasm translated in the athletes they coach together.
“A lot of kids come out for the first day of practice a little unsure if running is something they want to commit to,” Bain said. “After just one interaction or conversation with Charlie, though, they’re sold. His passion is infectious.”
After graduating from Western Albemarle, Hurt continued competing at The College of William & Mary, where he was able to appreciate Coach Andrew Gerard’s emphasis on the details of training, thanks to the foundation of principles laid by his parents and Bain. Despite beginning his collegiate career as one of the Tribe’s least credentialed recruited runners, Hurt worked his way into the seven-man varsity cross-country squad by his sophomore year, which culminated with the team’s 14th-place finish in the NCAA Division I championships.
Despite being an all-region performer each of the following two years, Hurt came to appreciate the elusiveness of sustained success through a variety of intermittent trials. Hurt now chuckles at the unenviable record of worst all-time team score that he and his compatriots set at the national cross-country meet during his junior year. His senior cross-country season, Hurt was not selected to travel with the team, and watched another disappointing performance at nationals from afar.
Upon graduating from William & Mary, Hurt moved back to Charlottesville to work with his grandfather, with abstract goals to continue running competitively. In 2008, Hurt became a founding member of the Ragged Mountain Racing Team, a Charlottesville-based post-collegiate running group, which offered him the structure and community he’d been missing.
Mark Lorenzoni, who first cut his teeth in marathon coaching when his wife, Cynthia, competed professionally in the early 1980s, has been coaching Hurt since he joined RMR. Their pairing proved serendipitous in many ways. Lorenzoni’s emphasis on recovery and injury-prevention moderates Hurt’s ability to ignore biofeedback — a skill that’s proven invaluable in marathoning but also puts him at risk for injury and burnout.
“He has the mindset for the training and the body for the rigors of it. He rarely gets hurt and, most importantly, he has the mentality to execute,” Lorenzoni said. “Charlie races beyond what his workouts suggest he’s capable of. He’s a tenacious trainer but he takes it to a different level on race days.”
But in a sport which often attracts gluttons for pain, Hurt’s truest legacy may be his unique commitment to the success of his teammates.
“Charlie works so hard to hit his own workouts and puts an equal amount of effort into encouraging his teammates, too,” said Matt Barresi, a longtime friend and teammate of Hurt’s. “Whether it’s just the two of us running together or a whole group out there, he keeps us all connected, pushing ourselves and fostering both individual and team success.”
“Charlie has thrived in a team setting in the same way that he thrives in the larger community,” Lorenzoni said. “He has never allowed himself to be defined solely by his accolades. He is Charlie the leader, organizer, cheerleader, pacer, and friend. When he’s not training to peak for his own marquee races, Charlie’s eager to jump in and help his teammates with their workouts in any way he can.”
Lots of patience
Over the course of more than a decade under Lorenzoni’s tutelage, Hurt has reduced 10 minutes off his debut marathon time, which was run in Chicago in 2009.
“With three miles to go [in Chicago], I was really hurting, and some guy yelled ‘Only three miles to go!’ and I thought ‘That’s the problem!,’” Hurt said with a laugh.
Hurt carried lessons from that day and many others since with him to the starting line in Sacramento this past December, where he remained confident and composed for each step of his 26.2-mile outing.
“Patience, patience and patience are the keys to marathoning,” Hurt said. “People ‘hit the wall’ at 20 miles, not because they’re physically exhausted, but because they’re mentally fried. You have to try to stay mentally relaxed for as long as possible.”
In California, Hurt did so to the tune of a 2½-minute personal record, an astounding feat for someone already competing at such a high level.
At 36 years old, Hurt is happy to have traded his relative youth for the marathoning savvy that can only come with experience.
“I’ve learned that I’m not as invincible as I thought I was,” Hurt said. “Just because you write something down or you say you’re going to run a certain number of miles doesn’t mean you shouldn’t implement discretion. Listen to your body.”
Doing it all
Though upwards of 250 runners are expected in Atlanta this month, Hurt may be unique among them in how he has maintained personal and professional commitments outside of running while often logging more than 100 miles a week.
Hurt has worked full time since graduating from William & Mary and spends 10-20 hours per week coaching Western Albemarle High School’s cross country and track and field teams. In addition, Hurt is the consummate go-to guy for a small village of friends and family.
At any given point of any day, Hurt will drop what he is doing, running included, for someone in need without batting an eye. Despite competing at a level which could justify running at the exclusion of others, Hurt’s has consistently avoided isolating himself for the sake of his competitive pursuits.
The most remarkable and endearing aspects of Hurt’s journey to Atlanta are found in his everyday routine.
After waking up between 4:30 and 5 a.m. to feed and walk his dogs, Hurt usually logs between seven and 12 “morning miles” before heading to work around 7. Before rolling out of bed each morning, Hurt dismisses a litany of potential excuses — rain, snow, extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, etc. — any one of which would keep most people in bed.
“I look back on the days I went out early and cold and I know that I’ll be glad I got out there when race time rolls around,” Hurt said. “I get a lot of my confidence from preparation. When the alarm goes off, I tell myself ‘I need this in the bank, because I’m going to try and cash it later.’ It’s not easy. The first step is the hardest.”
He leaves by 3:45 p.m. in order to drive across town for the start of high school cross country practice. Typically, Hurt begins his second run of the day with the high-schoolers and then adds on his own additional distance for a daily mileage total between 15 and 20 miles while reserving the weekend for at least one longer effort in excess of 20 miles at once.
“What Charlie preaches is what he does,” said Bain, who bears witness daily to the positivity that his accomplished former runner is passing on to a new generation of zealous athletes. “Charlie tells and then shows [the Western Albemarle athletes] that all the little things matter. And then our kids see him doing those same things day in and day out, month in and month out.”
The recent, historic success of the Western Albemarle cross country program, which placed fifth in the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon, one day before Hurt qualified for the Olympic Trials, underscores the connection between the Hurt’s own success and that of his athletes.
In the few days remaining until the Trials, Hurt’s allegiance to routine will be as steadfast as ever.
When asked how he plans to celebrate, however, he reveals plans which run the gamut.
“I’m looking forward to a break from running,” Hurt said. “It’s been a long grind since June.”
The community cheering him on from Charlottesville and, doubtless, many other locales where Hurt has made fans out of competitors and spectators, alike, may be glad to hear he has a couple of other more exotic plans, too.
“I am excited to visit the Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta afterwards,” Hurt said, “and next month, my girlfriend, Jen, and I are going on an African safari.”
Though Central Virginia will be a little dimmer in his absence, those who know Hurt will gladly endure for someone so generous to experience such a richly deserved reward.