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Mighty Eighth prepares to flex muscles at Air Force Marathon

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brian Stives
  • 8th Air Force Public Affairs
The air is hot and humid at the base of the Sci-Port: Louisiana's Science Center building in downtown Shreveport, La. The trail has more people on it than I've ever seen. I keep my eyes focused on the ground as the trail winds back and forth between trees, the Red River, the Clyde Fant Parkway and the East-Side Reservation. I try to keep the pace. For the uphill sections, I do what I'm able. On the downhills, however, I feel like I'm flying. Rocks and roots tangle themselves into the dust - dust that puffs up from each footfall and cakes my sweat-slicked skin.

As the run continues, my calves dominate my thoughts. Already, I feel the compressed heat rising in them. I imagine my calves are going to explode, and I picture over-filled balloons. I think about this while my legs keep moving, my arms keep pumping: My calves - white balloons that might just pop. I laugh out loud. And then, as runners do, I think of something else. Left. Right. Left. Right. I hummed the Rocky theme, the runners around me surely unaware of the unfolding drama in my head.

This same scene is also repeated weekly in places at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., and Minot Air Force Base, N.D., as more than 100 members of the Eighth Air Force train to compete for the 14th annual Air Force Marathon being held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Sept. 18.

"This year marks the first opportunity for Air Force Global Strike Command to run and be represented at the marathon." said Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, commander of 8th Air Force. "The medallion given after the race also has a B-52 Stratofortress on it this year, which I felt was very appropriate."

The idea to field an 8th Air Force group came when 1st Lt. Valerie McDermott and Airman 1st Class Crystal Randolph, both from the 608th Air Communications Squadron, asked General Carpenter to make a pledge for the Marine Corps Marathon during a commander's call in January. General Carpenter then asked them if they would field an Eighth Air Force team for the Air Force Marathon.

"I've always wanted to do the Air Force Marathon," Gen. Carpenter said. "So with the stand up of the new command and the B-52 as part of the medallion, it really seemed like the perfect time to get it done. Most importantly, it's going to be an opportunity for 8th Air Force to do some teambuilding and get fit while we are doing it."

Lieutenant McDermott and Airman Randolph decided they would head up the team and there are currently four teams representing the wings under Eighth Air Force: Headquarters Eighth Air Force; 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale AFB, La.; 5th Bomb Wing, Minot AFB; and 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman AFB. Each team has its own base team leader.

"We usually practice in the morning on Tuesdays and Saturdays," said Lieutenant McDermott, one of three Headquarters Eighth Air Force team coaches. "We usually have anywhere from 40 to 50 people working out with us and change the training daily. One day we will be in Shreveport, the other on the east side of Barksdale AFB and another day may be in the pool."

"Our practices are held on Saturday or Sunday afternoon each week and generally start in Oak Park and goes through downtown Minot," said Capt. Kera Rolsen, 23rd Bomb Squadron and one of the Minot AFB team coaches. "We currently have 38 names on the roster to go to the Air Force Marathon, but we generally have eight to 10 people show up for our weekly practices."

"Whiteman is sponsoring 10 runners to the Air Force Marathon," said 2nd Lt. Benjamin Coffman, 509th Contracting Squadron and Whiteman AFB team coach. "The runners meet two times a month for either a track workout of repeat 800s or a long run on the Katy trail, a limestone trail on a converted railroad track."

But for the members of the team, it's not just about participating in the marathon; it's about learning new techniques and improving one's overall fitness in a group setting.

"We have people that are new to running and everyone has their own pace," said Airman Randolph. "When we finish running, it is great because you will see people that have stayed back to cheer on the ones still running. It really helps bring out the camaraderie."

"We also send out weekly tips," said Capt. Mark Roman, Eighth Air Force executive officer and the third Eighth Air Force marathon coach. "The tips are sent to all of the Eighth Air Force bases, so everyone can benefit from them."

All levels of runners can participate in the Air Force Marathon which also includes wheelchair, half marathon, 10K and 5K races. The main course is 26.2 miles, traversing historical places on Wright-Patterson AFB including the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the Air Force Institute of Technology, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, the Wright-Patterson AFB flight line, Huffman Prairie Flying Field and the Wright Brothers Memorial Monument. This year also features a B-52 flyover during the opening ceremonies.

"This year's marathon is being held on the 63rd anniversary, to the day, of the birth of the Air Force," said Lieutenant McDermott. "I can't think of any better way to celebrate the birth of the Air Force and your time in the Eighth Air Force than to run in the marathon."

Left. Right. Left. Right. The spirit of Sly Stallone bolting through the streets of Philly pushed me forward. I was a puma. Fierce. Determined. Inevitable.