A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Maybe you’ve taken up running lately. A lot of people have! Well then, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to Paul “Hardrock” Simpson of Burlington, who: • Raced against a

Madison County Championship Rodeo

Maybe you’ve taken up running lately. A lot of people have! Well then, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to Paul “Hardrock” Simpson of Burlington, who: • Raced against a

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Maybe you’ve taken up running lately. A lot of people have! Well then, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to Paul “Hardrock” Simpson of Burlington, who: • Raced against a

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Running

Maybe you’ve taken up running lately. A lot of people have! Well then, whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to Paul “Hardrock” Simpson of Burlington, who:

• Raced against a horse. And almost won.
• Ran across the United States, from Los Angeles to New York. Twice.
• Chose to run his 12-mile mail carrier route in Burlington. His boss made him stop because the “other carriers didn’t do the same.”
• Thought he was in good enough shape to join the Marines at age 38 because of, you know, all of the running.
• Ran his age in miles on his birthday, starting when he was 40. He continued until he was 58.

Hardrock Simpson’s life was an endless collection of anecdotes, many embellished, almost all of them colorful. He was born in 1904. As a kid, he ran back and forth to the store, two miles away, because it just took less time than walking. He lied about his age to serve in the Army during World War I — he was only 15. He set running records at Elon College. He grew a handlebar mustache and listed a Florida address to enter the Boston Marathon incognito because he wasn’t actually an amateur and hoped to qualify for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He … OK, have you had enough? I could go on. And on.

Simpson ran an estimated 160,000 miles during his life, and even after he died in 1978, there was no consensus on whether all of that running was actually healthy. “Now, philosophers will argue whether he might have lived longer if he had left running to someone else,” one newspaper noted after his death, “or if he would have died 10 years ago without it.” In fact, of all the interesting things in Simpson’s life, the answer to the biggest question of all is, ironically, the most boring. Why did he run so much? “Well,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1960, “I guess I just like it.”

This story was published on Jul 28, 2020

Jeremy Markovich

Jeremy Markovich

Jeremy Markovich is a digital manager, writer, and podcast host at Our State.