Saturday, October 10, 2009

2009 United States Air Force Half Marathon

On September 19, 2009, I ran the United States Air Force Half Marathon in Dayton, Ohio at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It was my fifth half marathon and first since the spring of 2008. This race could not have gone better!

I am training for the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in Washington, D.C., which will be held on October 25, 2009. This marathon will be my fourth, but my first since 2005. The USAF Half was a fitting warm-up and a great way to salute our dedicated men and women serving in our armed services.

This race also struck accord with me since I began my career 23 years ago working for McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing). We supplied F-15 fighter aircraft to the USAF at WPAFB. I continued my career in the industry and founded an aerospace and defense company 12 years ago. Aircraft and the USAF are in my blood.

When I discovered this race, I knew I had to run it. Not only would it be a great training run for the MCM, but it would also be a patriotic way to dedicate some miles to our fantastic USAF! Adding to all this with my background in aviation, I was amped to be a part of this race!

The Setting
Little did the Wright brothers know what would become of their ingenuity in that Dayton bicycle shop over 100 years ago. Designing and building the first “flying machine”, they dared to do what was previously thought impossible. A heavier-than-air craft indeed flew through the air and safely landed, the result of which shook the world to marvel in some measures awe and in other measures disbelief.

Although the first flight took place in North Carolina at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers flew their powered aircraft, the Flyer II and the Flyer III, at a small cow pasture named Huffman Prairie which is adjacent to what is now WPAFB. It was at this field that the Wright brothers continued their development of independent flight controls for each of the three axes of flight (pitch, roll, and yaw). The Huffman Prairie Flying Field today is much like it was in the yesteryear and will remain protected as part of Dayton’s Aviation Heritage National Historic Park ( Nearby, the Wright brothers are honored with the Wright Brothers Memorial Monument. These sites and other classic areas are highlights along the race course for both the marathon and half marathon races.

The race begins and ends at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force ( This museum is absolutely first rate. Featuring historic as well as modern aircraft, the museum celebrates our nation’s pioneering and brave achievements in aviation. It is just not possible to walk among these classic aircraft without feeling such an immense sense of admiration for all the talented work that was devoted to the design, production and flight test activities over all the years. What amazing feats!

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base ( was a perfect setting. Home of the 88th Air Base Wing, the base is the nerve center for our Air Force’s operations in advanced aircraft technology. The base is home for the Air Force Material Command, the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force Institute of Technology, and many other vital units of the U.S. Air Force.

I was in awe running in such a hallowed area. What a great setting Wright-Patt made for this race!

Permissive TDY allowed many men and women to fly in to race at Wright-Patt. For other deployed personnel who could not make the trip, they had the opportunity to run at the following locations: Al-Udeid, Qatar; Bagram, AB, Afghanistan; Joint Base Balad, Iraq; and Sather AB, Iraq. These locations together with Wright-Patt completed the field and widened the scope for the 2009 USAF Marathon.

The Expo
Wright State University ( hosted the race expo on Friday night. The expo was located in the Nutter Center, home of the WSU Raiders.

I had left work early in suburban Detroit three hours earlier and made the drive easily to the Nutter Center. As I parked the car, two F-16 fighters flew overhead to mark the start of the 5K race. How great that the USAF arranged a flyover for each race this weekend!

I picked up my bib, timing chip (a disposable one with the USAF logo, very cool!), and technical commemorative race shirt. The logo for this race changes each year to feature a different aircraft in the USAF arsenal. The emblem this year is based on an unmanned aerial vehicle called the RQ-4 Global Hawk ( The logo was created by Roland H. Stinnette, USAF AFMC 88 MSG/SVK. The logo was displayed on the shirt, patch, towel, and medal.

I strolled through the different booths in the Expo and saw lots of the usual running exhibits. I stocked up on some Clif Shot Bloks, New Balance running socks (I can always put them to use!), and then I looked at the Armpocket. I met the founder, Jytte Nielsen, and was impressed with her and her products. I’ve wanted to get an arm pouch for some time so I can carry my cell phone and iPod. Her product was just right, so I bought the Sport 20 and was happy to support a small and growing business.

While at the New Balance booth, a man saw me looking at the different socks on display and commented that he sweats too much when he runs and wanted to know which type of sock to purchase. He was new to running and was clearly a little intimidated about his race. He also complained that he sweats through his shirt and shorts and asked if the runners will be bringing a change of clothes to switch into sometime midrace. I’m not sure why he picked me to share these concerns and thoughts, but he did, so I tried to encourage him that all will be fine. He nervously smiled and seemed somewhat relieved and then he strolled away. You never know who you’ll encounter!

I then strolled over to the Boeing booth. I had to chat with whoever was there to get the latest from my old company. As a side note, Northrop Grumman was also there as a sponsor. NG is one of my current customers. This made the race even more personal.

Sure enough, I met a nice guy from Boeing who works in new business development. As we talked further, it turns out we had worked together on several programs some 23 years ago! Although we did not remember each other, the programs we had worked on were the same (there were many people working these big aircraft programs and it has been a long time!). It was fun catching up with this very nice man and it was also fun to recall my early days and fond memories of McDonnell Douglas (the Boeing acquisition is still hard to swallow!).

As I left the Expo and headed to my hotel, I saw the setting sun casting a calm orange glow over Wright-Patt. I smiled and thought about the morning to come. I was ready.

The Race
Despite getting up and out early on race morning, the line of cars trying to get on base was stretched for a couple of miles. It took over an hour and a half to get into Wright-Patt. Security was observing each car and randomly checking people for identification.

As I waited in line, I saw a pair of F-16s flyover for the start of the marathon, which was an hour before the half marathon start time. I was getting excited, but felt cooped up in the car, stuck in traffic.

Once through security, I parked the car and caught a bus to the museum. This is a very large base and the organizers made sure all was in order. Each bus was packed with runners eager to get to the start line.

The weather was perfect. It was about 50ºF with a sunny and scattered cloud-filled sky.

Of course I had had to get to the bathroom before the race began. It was getting urgent. However, the lines at the museum and the portable outside toilets were long. Nonetheless, I gutted it out and finished my business in time to hear the announcer readying the half marathoners.

I jogged to the start line as a pair of F-16 flew over for my race. I knew now this was it! My heart was pumping fast. The historic planes on display on the tarmac at the finish line also got me fired up.

I had toured the National Museum of the Air Force with my family about six years ago. Little did I know then that I would be running here now!

I had so many thoughts and emotions running through me that I really had no time to collect them all. I did not have time. Once I reached the runners gathered at the start line, the gun fired and we were off!

I crossed the start line, said a prayer, and smiled one of my biggest grins. I was back! This was it! Let’s roll!

My tradition with endurance races is that I don’t count the miles up or down. Instead, I dedicate each mile to someone special and pray for them along the way. This has always helped me through the miles and it made my steps more memorable.

For this race, I sorted out the people I wanted to dedicate miles to and made sure I included a mile for all those serving in the U.S. Air Force.

We headed down a runway and then down a narrow road leading into the National Historical Park commemorating the early days of aviation. The pace was quick and the field of runners were bunched together to get into stride, finding their place in the pack.

The small road was tree-lined and provided some shade to the rising sun. I tried to get into my own pace, trying not to get too caught up with everything and going out too fast.

I should mention that I had set no time goals for this race. My only goal was to safely finish. From a training perspective, this race was a long run in my preparations for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. The USAF race was not a race to leave it all out on the course.

I heard a gal trying to move further ahead into the pack. She said to her friend running alongside that she felt like a bowling ball making her way through all of us other runners. I asked her if she was calling me a pinhead and she laughed. Everyone was in a good mood.

As we entered the Huffman Prairie area it struck me that this was the world’s first airport. There was even a sign to that effect. I tried to imagine the Wright brothers attempting to perfect their flying machine. Sure enough, I looked up and saw a replica of the Flyer III flying overhead. This was really a first-class race!

Throughout the race, several aircraft flew overhead for our inspiration. We had our own mini air show!

Beyond the air fields we entered into two other areas of Wright-Patt. One was an historic portion of the base with late 1800-era buildings while the other area was more of a 1950s-era section. It was fun admiring the different types of architecture of all the buildings.

We also passed the operational airport at Wright-Patt. There are runways everywhere, but most are no longer in use.

There were many recreational areas also for base personnel. There was a rod and gun club, golf courses, and a tennis club. We were running around the perimeter of the golf course for some time. The golfers gave us a few gazing looks.

There was some decent crowd support along the way. For the service personnel guiding us at each turn, we received lots of encouragement. The base residents were all out along the streets cheering us on. At the base outskirts, local fans gave us a hand too.

The runners got a lot of support from the aid station volunteers. Each station was well equipped and made for an easy exchange of water, Gatorade, orange wedges, and gels.

Two aid stations were themed. One was a rowdy beach complete with Margaritaville blasting and several volunteers wearing coconut bras and straw skirts (some men and some women!). The other was a Gilligan’s Island theme. I don’t know how those volunteers listened to that theme song over and over again!

My run throughout the race was amazing. Let me first say that I am not fast and I did not even pay attention to my time. I just tried to keep an even pace.

I had no problems with any of my body parts. My left knee, which had caused so many problems earlier this year, was not causing me any pain now. My breathing was fine. I had no stomach problems. I tried to use only water and I did not take water at every aid station. I just tried to replace what I was sweating out. I ate only when hungry. I really tried to listen to my body.

If I had to complain about something, my feet were a little sore near the end. I think this is due to me still getting used to my cushioning shoes. I had always run in stability shoes but I noticed I was supinating too much. The wear on my shoes showed this as well using a foot load sensor in a local running store. Since running in my cushioning shoes, I have felt much better.

This race, more so than any others, was the least problematic. I think this is due to really sticking to my plan and running my own race. I did not force a thing. I really enjoyed this race. I just soaked it all up!

The largest hill was a highway overpass we ran. It was no big deal though and offered a nice change of pace from what was a very flat course.

The runners were great. Everyone helped each other with shout outs of encouragement and good race etiquette. I really liked seeing the young men and women of the Air Force. We should all be so thankful for their service.

The Finish
As we neared the finish line, we could hear the announcer urging us on. The route to the finish is along a long runway which never seemed to end. These runways are much longer than they look! We ran toward the museum, and then turned to run down the tarmac between the historic aircraft and shouting fans who were cheering loudly.

I saw the finish line banner and my heart jumped. I felt the crowd. I thought of the entire race in a flash, my training, and it just all swelled up at once. I felt like I was flying!

I crossed the finish line and said a quick prayer of thanks. The base commander shook my hand. I thanked him and then received my medal. What a great feeling!

I didn’t know until later, but I had finished in 2:32:52 or an 11:40 pace. My last half marathon was some five minutes longer. I was just happy to have finished and with such a great experience along the way.

The Recovery
I proceeded to the aid tent and grabbed some food and drink. They had plenty for everyone. The race organizers really did a great job.

I took the souvenir towel they gave us and dried off a bit and then laid down on the aluminum wrap blanket to stretch out and relax.

As I recapped the race, I noticed above in the clouds a formation that perfectly resembled a dove! I saw the wings, head, and tail. It was like a picture! I smiled and thought what a fitting end to a great race.

I watched runners cross the finish line and then saw the presentation of the awards. General Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, was present. I thought it showed a lot of dedication for him to invest significant time to this event.

I then stretched my legs by walking back to the museum. I strolled through the museum for 45 minutes along with many other runners. I checked out all the historic aircraft, including several I had worked on over the years. This is a large museum spread out through three very large hangars. I admired our aviation heritage as I got the blood pumping in my legs again. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to get back home.

I was tired, but overall, I was feeling great. I went to the bathroom and a little boy asked me if I was OK. I guess I looked pretty tired. I said, “Son, I’m feeling great.” He then asked me why I called him son when clearly he was not my son. Too funny!

I caught a bus ride back to my car and changed my shirt for the race shirt. I have this tradition of not wearing any race shirt until I finish the race. This day was no different, so when I put the new Air Force shirt on, it felt great. I was satisfied and proud.

I called my family and let them know I was feeling great. They were happy too. I then grabbed a Starbucks (yes, I got a hot one – it’s a habit). The place was filled with runners. We all shared congrats.

I then started my drive back home.

Mission Accomplished
As I drove away, I saw a final view of WPAFB. I gave my final salute and with a smile I knew I’d be back again.

I really enjoyed this race. Everything could not have been better. I am so grateful.

Thank you family, friends, and fellow runners. Thank you Wright-Patt. Thank you United States Air Force. God Bless!

Next up is the World Wide Festival of Races Half Marathon on October 11th. I’ll run it at Kensington Metropark in Milford, Michigan.

I’ll then head to Washington, DC to run the Marine Corps Marathon on October 25th.

Till then, run strong my friends.

All the best,



  1. Nice job! Looks like you're teeing up MCM nicely!

  2. Thanks Stuart! I'm really looking forward to MCM!

  3. Must confess I don't normally read your blog but I just wanted to let you know I really loved listening to your race report on The Extra Mile podcast. It was great to hear how you truly enjoyed the race.

    Hope the MCM today went well!

  4. Sweeter,

    Thx so much for the nice words. TEM Podcast is a great means to share our stories. I enjoy hearing about everyone's training and races. You feel like you really get to know them. It's a great way to put a new spring in your step!

    MCM was fantastic! I'll put a blog post in soon to recount the adbventures.

    Thanks for tuning in!