Jeff Woody (’87) Runs Entire Smokies Trail System in Record Time

Category: News

After completing every trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a record 33 days and nine hours, Jeff Woody (’87) reacclimated to life as most of us know it over a period of weeks. He felt phantom pains in his muscles as he sat back down at his computer to work and his mind’s eye shifted from intense physical activity and abundant natural beauty to the often-frustrating complexity of our modern society.

“I was covering on average around 30 miles a day and luckily avoided any major injuries or damage to my body,” Woody said not long after completing his record. “I’m starting to resume physical activity and getting to the point where I’m looking forward to going back into the mountains. I really miss it up there.”
The ultramarathon runner’s favorite trails are along high ridges like the Appalachian Trail. After climbing up to the ridgeline, he enjoys level terrain with scenic views, few people, and the cool air of higher elevations.

“The Smokies have a little bit of everything including rocky trails and ones that are significantly overgrown, but then there are some where you get a little bit of relief,” Woody said. “It’s just really pleasant when you find those places that are not too common in the park.”

Woody documented all of his routes and times not only to set a record but also to join the Great Smoky Mountains 900 Miler Club, which consists of those who have completed every trail in the national park. An avid trail runner for years, Woody has done so nine times over now. It was with the advice of former record holder and 900 Miler Benny Braden that Woody set out to establish a new record.
“Benny set his record of 43 days in 2017, and that intrigued me. I spend so much time in the Smokies completing trails and just knew I was prepared. I know every trail up there like the back of my hand: the general profile and what the hazards are. It’s all just ingrained in my head.”

One reason Woody pursued his goal now is that, due to COVID-19, his travel schedule for work as a nuclear safety consultant is constrained. He started at the US Department of Energy after graduating from UT in 1987 with a civil engineering degree and has since transitioned to consulting.

“I was recruited right out of school through the UT placement office and have been in that career ever since,” Woody said, adding that he was influenced by the late Professor Edwin Burdette and that both his daughters also attended UT.

Against the backdrop of his working life, Woody was always a committed long-distance hiker. He would cover nearly 20 miles daily and overnight in the backcountry. When he experimented with ultralight packing and returning home at the end of each day, he found he could cover up to 30 miles. One day when he was in his 40s, he just started running.

“Running ultramarathons kind of sneaked up on me,” Woody said. “I tried a marathon because I was already covering the required distances, and my first ultramarathon was in 2007. By the end of 2013, I had run an ultramarathon in every state.”

For Woody, the best part of what he accomplished in the Smokies was being on the trail every day. The less enjoyable part was managing the logistics of preparing for each coming day.

“I feel a lot of satisfaction and pride at what I did up there,” Woody said. “I am also humbled by the incredible support and encouragement I got from the community, my friends, and my family.”