Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Air Force Marathon & MAJCOM Challenge 2016

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team, 124 Fighter Wing

"Running for the MAJCOM, 
running for the MAJCOM,
running for the MAJCOM, 
I chanted that phrase over and over in my head every four steps as I slogged along the muggy and rolling course of the Air Force Marathon this past weekend. First four steps, "Running for the MAJCOM..." four more steps... "Running for the MAJCOM," four more steps, "Running for the MAJCOM..." and finally, "HOOAH! HOOAH!" What felt like an eternity was really just a little over three hours--and what seemed like my worst race ever really wasn't that bad after all. In fact, for 35th place overall out of 2045 runners, 2nd overall military female and 4th overall female with a time of 3:22:26... shoot, I'll take it! Update // We found out that our team WON first place out of 12 MAJCOM Challenge teams with a time of 21:44:35, beating out the second place team by 2 hours, 41 minutes, 26 seconds. Congratulations Team ANG!

As you may have already concluded, this post is my "race day recap" of the 2016 Air Force Marathon. I competed in the Air Force Half Marathon last year, and I was thrilled to be invited back for another go at the course... but this time the full marathon. Last year, I ran several half marathons and two back-to-back full marathons so I was eager to again test out my legs on another race to see what they could do. Unlike last year (the year of the races with 9 races total), this was only my second race this year. I wasn't able to sign up and train for as many races due to being gone at Officer Training School, so I feel like I've literally been training for this race all year long (I followed this plan + strength training 5x/week). Needless to say, I was ready for it (read: ready for it to be over!).

I've mentioned this over and over, but I'd like to state again that it is such an honor for me to represent the 124th Fighter Wing - Idaho Air National Guard, the Air National Guard, and the State of Idaho when I do these races. I can't reiterate enough how much I truly love running for a cause that's greater than myself. It makes all of the endless hours and miles of training worth it. Anyway, I just wanted that to be super clear... I love what I do and that I get to do it on behalf of an amazing organization!

So let's kick off this recap, shall we? 

I flew out to Dayton, Ohio on Thursday. Last year, I flew in on Friday and it all felt pretty rushed with everything we had to do, so this time around I was hoping that coming in late Thursday would at least give me an entire day to chill--mentally and physically--prior to the race. It was a good choice! I ended up taking my very first Uber ride ever to the hotel and got a night of super-restful sleep.

I woke up Friday morning and went for a light jog around the hotel, stopping to pick up a couple groceries before heading back and lifting arms for a little bit. I didn't want to do anything heavy... just wanted to get the blood flowing. I met up with the team at the Expo later that afternoon, and we all exchanged introductions and picked up our bibs. I was really excited about our team. Half of us were returning participants from last year's team and the other half was filled with fresh faces. Everyone seemed very competitive--I knew it was going to be a good team!

We all gathered for the pasta dinner that evening, loading up on our pre-race carbs, enjoying one-too-many desserts, and enjoying a guest presentation from 3-time Olympian Meb Keflezighi (say that three times fast!). My favorite part of the pasta dinner was meeting long-time online pen pal and fellow blogger, Erin from Aim High Erin. See more about our long-overdue meeting below!

After the pasta dinner, I returned to my room to ready my things for the next day. I had some pre-race jitters but did my best to stay calm and tried to tuck in early. I was up the next morning at 4:00 am, making my standard oatmeal breakfast before the buses picked us up to head to the event.

The buses--by the way--were about an hour and a half late picking us up, so much so that the race start time was pushed back by 30 minutes. Talk about a hasty start! We had enough time once we arrived at the race to drop our bags, tie our shoes, go to the bathroom (and fast!), take a quick team photo and run to the start line before the race began. It was no joke! The good news is that I didn't have much time to sit around and get nervous! Before I knew it, I was off and running and there was no turning back.

My strategy for the race was to not go out too quickly. I often go out faster than my race pace and tend to get burned out toward the end... so I did not want to do that this time! I imagined that I wanted to finish around 3:15:00, so I knew that my first several miles needed to be 7:27 or slower. I ended up managing an average of 7:17 for the first 11 or so and felt really good... until that moment when I didn't feel so really good. If you've done a marathon, you know that point in time. From miles 11-20, my time just slowly started inching slower by about 5-seconds per mile, until I was at the point where I was unable to maintain a sub-7-minute mile. I felt particularly challenged when the 3:15 pacer ran past me around mile 21 and seemed like he was just on a roll... I knew there was no way I could stick with him. And that darned mile 24... it gets me every time! It was on that dreaded mile 24 when the girl who won 1st place military female passed me. I cheered her as she passed and told myself, "Just finish the race... the place doesn't matter. JUST FINISH!"

And just finish I did. It took all my strength to muster out those last couple miles, but the cheering crowd and anticipation of the finish that I remembered from the year before was helping me eke it out and finish strong. I came across the finish at 3:22:26, 7-minutes slower than my goal time--but a strong finish nevertheless. I high-fived our public affairs guy and gave the Chief who organizes our team the biggest, sweatiest hug. I was the last runner from our team to finish (the half marathoners finished about an hour before the full runners), and it was like our entire team sighed the biggest, "Aaahhhhhhhhhhhh," of relief--we had done it.

In case you're wondering, the course is a challenging one. It's filled with rolling hills--the ones that take you by surprise--and the humidity in Ohio can sometimes just be unbearable. By the end of the race, it was about 85 degrees, 75% humidity, and as though we had been rained on or I had jumped in a pool... my uniform was flinging sweat with every stride, it was suctioned to my body--absolutely soaked--and my shoes were sloshing with every step. Boy, was I glad to be done!

After the race and awards (which two of our team members won--see below!), some of us gathered for some delicious post-race grub (I'm talking the creamiest, fattiest, post-race-no-guilt-felt-what-so-ever kind of grub), followed by "buckets of froyo" with my blog-buddy Erin. It was the end to a truly wonderful weekend.

See photos of the Air Force Marathon weekend below... captions under each tell the story!
Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Our 2016 Air National Guard MAJCOM Challenge Team at the pre-race pasta dinner. Four of us ran the full marathon (me, the guy in the red shirt, and the two in the back upper left) and the rest ran the half. The only people not pictured are our fearless leader, Chief, and this year's honorary runner, a half marathon alternate.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Enjoying the amazing pasta dinner.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
It was absolutely surreal and so incredible to finally hug and meet Erin Carpenter from Aim High Erin in person for the first time. Three years ago, when considering joining the Air National Guard, I googled and found Erin's blog. I reached out to her and we have been friends ever since. She helped me virtually pack for Basic Training, she wrote me a letter while I was at BMT, I have watched her little baby grow into a three-year-old, we each encouraged each other as we both commissioned and became officers, we have since both mentored new and prospective Airmen through both of our blogs and social media outlets, we literally have followed parallel career paths in the Air Force (me Air Guard, her Reserves), and--at the Air Force Marathon Pasta Dinner--we met. FINALLY. Saturday, we both pinned on our bibs and ran the full 26.2 miles of the Air Force Marathon, me with the Air Guard team and her with her dad for her very first full marathon. 

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Race day! Checking out the finisher medal hardware.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
The team was suited up and ready to go. Our blue uniforms and black shorts were sharp. (Neon is a must, next year, Chief!).

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Left: our guys getting ready for the half marathon (which started 30 minutes after the full). Right: praying before the full marathon. I always pray before and during my race... it fuels me and keeps me going more than any Gu gel pack or Gatorade!

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
And they're off... the men and women of the Air Force Half Marathon were on their way. I had been running for about 40-minutes by this time.

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Coming in to the finish at the end of the full marathon. My time was officially clocked at a 3:22:26. I finished as the 2nd place overall female and 4th place overall female. Oddly enough, I was also I was bib #35 and came in 35th place overall out of 2042 marathon runners. Imagine that! I may not have won a trophy this time, but finishing my race and feeling strong at the end was better than any award. The trip in itself is the reward!

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
Giving our Chief, the master coordinator for the whole Air Guard team, a giant, sweaty hug at the end. He ran the half and had an excellent time and was waiting for me as I crossed the finish. We did it!

Air Force Marathon, MAJCOM Challenge, Air National Guard Marathon Team,
The final team picture after the race. Do you see the two trophies my teammates are boasting? One of our female half marathoners, Emily, won 1st place overall female in the half, and one of our male racers won 1st place military male in the half marathon. All four of our full marathoners came in the top 20 of our race, and five of our six half marathoners finished in the top 25 in their race. Congratulations to everyone and the great races that were run by all!

Overall, wow... what a race. What a course! Everyone says it's hard, but until you're out there in the sweltering heat, the thick and humid air, and climbing the rolling hills that aren't-really-hills-but-when-you're-on-mile-21-and-it-sure-feels-like-a-hill kind of hill... that's when you find out what you're made of.

Running with the Air National Guard team for the MAJCOM Challenge makes me push myself that much more. It's not just ME who I'm running for... it's my team of 10 service members from across the nation, the Chief who tirelessly organizes us, the race coordinator who takes such good care of our team, my base supporting me back in my home state of Idaho, my amazing husband and family who have to put up with endless hours of training, and every single other person who has given me a high five or word of encouragement along the way. I'd like to call it grit. And marathons... they give you that grit. They make you strong. Fierce. A warrior. And they also make you very, very sore. So here's to the 20th annual Air Force Marathon. I may not have had my best race, but I had a race nonetheless and an experience of a lifetime. In fact, I also may not have won any awards or trophies this time around, but this race wasn't about that. It was about the team, the honor to represent my state and Air Guard unit, and just making it across the finish. And I did it. HOOAH!

Update // Congrats to Team ANG for winning First Place MAJCOM Challenge team! It was an honor to run with such a fantastic, supportive, incredible team of super-human air guardsmen!

PS> Air Force Public Affairs published our team's story in an article... read it here! I'll also update this blog post when the MAJCOM Challenge results are officially posted. Cross your fingers... we just may have won it... you never know!

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