BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- As participants of the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, run in the annual race, runners at deployed locations half-a-world away have already completed the race.
Despite being deployed in a hostile environment, where enemy attacks are always possible, Airmen at Bagram Airfield competed in an arduous 26.2 or 13.1 mile run.
For Master Sgt. Gerardo Esquivel, deployed out of Aviano Air Base, Italy, this race was his sixth in nine years.
“The first marathon I ran in was in 2008,” Esquivel said. “One of the marathons I participated in was in Iraq while the rest have been at Wright-Patterson AFB.”
Esquivel is a member of the 455th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron manpower office, which manages manpower resources for current and future rotations. He attributes his love for running to a friendly competition he had with a mentor.
“In 2007, I was inspired by a colonel after he challenged me to a 6-mile race,” Esquivel said. “At that time I only raced up to 5-kilometer distances. He completely schooled me on the run even though he had 23 years on me. Afterwards, he took me under his wing and coached me for long distance running. In 2008, he took a team of runners from Goodfellow AFB, (Texas), to include me, and we drove to Wright-Patterson (AFB) where I ran my first half-marathon. I've been hooked ever since.”
Every year, Esquivel makes every effort to participate in the Air Force Marathon.
“I always had a passion for running since I was a kid,” Esquivel said. “Since 2008, I have completed multiple half-marathons, five full marathons and one ultra-marathon.”
Esquivel’s race experience has opened a door to many opportunities, to include representing the U.S. Air Forces in Europe at last year’s Air Force Marathon, and the Air Force in the NATO AIRCOM cross-country running championships in Poland. He is also the founder of the Aviano Running Club, which contains more than 250 members.
This race will be 1st Lt. Allison Rayome’s second time competing in the annual event, and first time participating in it while deployed. Rayome is deployed out of the 375th Air Mobility Wing, Scott AFB, Illinois. She is the chief of protocol for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, facilitating base visits from high-ranking officials and highlighting the Airmen and mission.
While she is relatively new to the race scene, the Air Force Marathon holds a special place in her heart since she is a native of Cincinnati.
“The Air Force Marathon connects me to my home since I am from Ohio,” Rayome said. “When I moved away and went to my first base, the marathon was a way for me to go back home and be close to my family. Support and family are the things that get you through the 26 miles.”
The race is also a tradition for Rayome’s fiancé, who is competing in his fourth Air Force Marathon, and his family.
“Running is something my fiancé and I have always done together,” Rayome said. “Before training for my first marathon and coming over here, I did not like running. Over here, it has helped alleviate stress, and it connects you more with others, who have similar stressors, like being away from home. Running has enabled me to bond with even more people and get close to them.”
Preparing for a long distance run is no easy task. It takes time, dedication and a little luck since injuries can derail a training program.
“Some runners just want to cross the finish line while others want to run under a certain time or set a new personal best,” Esquivel said. “Your goal for the marathon will determine your training regimen. Most of the time I am chasing a personal best, so my training usually consists of 18 weeks of run training, eating healthy and ensuring I rest well between workouts.”
Technology has also enabled runners to better prepare and keep track of their progress.
“I use a smart-watch during my training,” Rayome said. “I am able to download training plans which helps me control my heartrate, so I don’t burnout too quickly.”
Fit to Fight
While Airmen train to deploy, training does not stop while deployed. Staying in shape is essential in ensuring mission success.
“You have to take care of yourself, so doing whatever you need to do to stay in shape is a way to stay healthy, both physically and mentally,” Rayome said. “Training for an event like a marathon not only enhances your own fitness levels, but inspires others to do the same. Seeing my fiancé run it inspired me to run in the marathon. Once you start, it is hard to stop, especially after seeing all of the benefits.”
Esquivel shares the same sentiments, believing that working out enhances one’s physical and mental pillars, especially in a high-stress area like Afghanistan.
“We all have stressors and while I run I think about those stressors and solutions on how to deal with them,” Esquivel said. “It's like my mind can find a solution to anything while I'm running. Having a way to deal with stress helps me tremendously on how I go about my day at work and at home.”
Only one percent of the U.S. population has ever completed a marathon, making Rayome, Esquivel and the rest of the Air Force Marathon participants at Bagram Airfield a part of an elite group.