on the run

Everything 75-Year-Old Marathoner Chau Smith Wears On the Run

Photo: Chandler Riley

Welcome to “On the Run,” a Strategist column in which we ask discerning runners to tell us everything they wore and brought on their most recent run, from shoes and socks to headphones and energy gels. Running-gear preferences are very personal and change depending on the season, so instead of declaring one pair of shorts or one sports bra the categorical best, we hope this series captures what works best for one particular runner on one particular run — and that maybe you can find something in it that works for you, too.

For this month’s edition of “On the Run,” I spoke with 75-year-old Chau Smith, who has finished more than 100 marathons, including one in every state. Smith didn’t start running until she was nearly 40, but she doesn’t let her age stop her from taking on big challenges. She celebrated her 70th birthday by running seven marathons on seven continents on seven consecutive days — a feat she repeated the following year, adding an 8th race in New Zealand for fun. She marked her 75th birthday this year by completing the Maui Oceanfront Marathon. Even though she’s running out of space to display all her race medals in her Kansas City condo (born in Vietnam, Smith splits her time between Kansas City and San Francisco), she isn’t slowing down. For her next adventure, she’s considering either hiking the Appalachian Trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine or running the Comrades Marathon, a 55-mile race in South Africa. She’s also nearly 700 days into a daily running streak. “People say I’m crazy,” says Smith, “but I don’t mind being crazy.” Here, she tells us everything she wore for a 10K run on a freezing February day with the Kansas City–based Runner’s Edge training group.

On a cold day, this warm yet lightweight Nike hat is Smith’s go-to for covering her head and ears without adding bulk. She has tried other hats in the past but found they were too thick to be comfortable when she’s running and working up a sweat. She also likes that this hat is reasonably priced — especially when she can find it on sale. Since Smith goes through lots of running gear, she loves finding pieces that are inexpensive but still high quality. In addition to Nike, she’s also a big fan of Icebreaker’s wool hats.

Since it was especially chilly on this run, Smith added a headband underneath her hat. “It kept my head very warm, and I appreciate that,” she says. Lined with fleece, this headband (which this writer owns too) is extra cozy when winds are gusting and temperatures drop below freezing.

For even more warmth, Smith wore this snood to keep her face protected. This is a new one given to Smith by her husband, and she has similar pieces from Smartwool and Icebreaker that she loves for cold-weather training.

As a base layer, Smith chose this New Balance long-sleeved shirt. “It’s very light and not as heavy and bulky as other ones,” she says. She sticks with lightweight underlayers and adds heavier jackets on top (a strategy she also used while running in Antarctica) to regulate her body temperature and protect her from the cold without making her overheat.

Merino-wool gear from Smartwool kept Smith warm during her Antarctica marathons, and she loves the brand’s socks for everyday cold-weather runs like this one. “They keep me dry,” she says. “I never get blisters in them, and they just breathe very well.” She wears Smartwool’s lighter-weight socks in the summer, as the material excels at temperature regulation and wicking away moisture.

Smith bought this Puma sports bra after seeing it on Molly Seidel, a professional runner and bronze medalist in the marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “I really like her gear, so I tried to get some of her stuff,” says Smith. “She really inspired me.” The bra is a year-round favorite that’s not just for the pros: Smith tells us it’s “very comfortable” and the mesh back “breathes very well.” It even helped keep her cool while running the Honolulu Marathon in 80-degree heat.

On a cold day like this one, Smith layers two pairs of gloves to keep her hands toasty. “My hands are always cold, colder than anyone else’s” she says, explaining that she has quite a big collection of gloves, including ones from Nike, Saucony, and the North Face. She’ll sometimes take off the mittens if the temperature climbs but says she kept both pairs on for the duration of this icy run.

Up until two years ago, Hoka was one of Smith’s sponsors, so she still owns plenty of its gear. She ran in shoes from other brands before, including Nike and Saucony, but she found that Hoka styles fit her feet the best. “I kept hurting my toes,” she says. “I lost my toenail once, and that’s when I turned to Hoka.” Since switching to these wider, extra-cushioned running shoes, she hasn’t had any toenail problems. And with a springy carbon plate inside, they just feel great to her. “I feel like I can fly in them,” says Smith. Along with the Carbon X2 shoes, she wore a Hoka midlayer and tights on this run. Smith is short, so she says most tights are too long; she likes that Hoka makes a cropped style that’s actually full length on her. Plus, with four pockets, the tights have lots of room for storing her phone, energy gels, and more.

With a solar-powered boost that helps give this GPS watch an impressive battery life of nine days, the Garmin Fenix is a natural match for Smith’s nonstop lifestyle. “It’s so easy to keep track of my runs, times, and distances and see it all in the app,” she says. As a high-end watch, the Fenix has tons of features, including built-in maps for navigation, elevation-based pace guidance, and advanced metrics for tracking sleep and fitness. As a Garmin-sponsored athlete, Smith is part of the brand’s Women of Adventure campaign, the inspiration behind this limited-edition version of the Fenix.

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Everything 75-Year-Old Chau Smith Wears On the Run