12 runners journey across 200 miles

  • Published
  • By Dave Nickell
  • 477th Fighter Group

Runners on Reserve!  That’s the name given to our team of 12 runnerswho competed in the inaugural Alaska Relay, a 200-mile race that started at Mirror Lake in Chugiak and finished at the High School in Seward. Each runner was required to run three legs of distances ranging from three to 10 miles. By the third leg, and after running all day and throughout the night, runners were doing as our team name implied -- reaching into their physical reserves to find the strength and endurance to complete their last legs. 

Our quest to compete in this event began when I saw an advertisement for it and mentioned it to Technical Sgt. Rachel Schwarz from the 477th Fighter Group munitions shop. She immediately said, “let’s do it!” I then assumed the role of team captain and began to recruit runners. Maj. Carla Gleason, who by the way was the first to sign up, made an appeal during the February UTA Commander’s Call. Who would have thought it would be so difficult finding 12 runners to participate in such a fun and challenging event? Several that had originally signed up had to withdraw for various reasons and each withdrawal meant recruiting another runner. Our last two runners were recruited two days before the run. 

“Two days before the race, Schwarz, asked me if I wanted to be part of a relay team to Seward. My first thought was ‘It takes 2 hours just to drive there and you want to run!?’ said Technical Sgt. Virginia Jackson, one of the last minute recruits. “I knew since I hadn’t practiced or prepared in any way whatsoever that it was going to be difficult but I figured ‘Why not?’ We still needed one more person to fulfill the 12 person team, so nobody was running longer than they had to, so I got with another coworker from my shop, Senior Airman Genessy Felarca. She had been running every day for a while so I knew she’d definitely be in shape and up to the challenge. I gave her a call and she said ‘Yes!’ So there we were, all 12.”

Staff Sgt. Kyle Cahill was one of the runners that had to withdraw due to a training injury. He had logged hundreds of training miles and was doing everything he could up until the last minute to recover from his injury. Not to be deterred from being a part of the team and participating in the fun, he volunteered to drive one of the team vans and to pace runners on his bike through bear country.

I ran the first leg which began at 12:00 noon on 7 July and went from Mirror Lake to Fred Meyers in Eagle River. The following 35 legs wound through the parks of Anchorage and out onto the Seward Highway. Although there were several bear and moose sightings, thankfully there were no encounters.   

Several of the runners expressed concern about their abilities to complete the legs assigned to them either due to the distance or the difficulty level (hills). I assured each of them that they would do fine and just knowing that they had the whole team behind them would give them the motivation to complete their leg.  

“The next couple of days goes by and I’m just thinking how crazy I was to do this whole thing but I told myself I would be fine and it was going to be fun,” said Jackson. “I had the fun part down but not the fine. My first leg was 4.7 Miles (which was already WAY longer than anything I had ran before) so I was pretty nervous. I didn’t do too bad (finished in 47 min.) but I can’t say the same for my next two runs. I went from a 10 minute pace to start with and finished with a 12 min pace. I was feeling the pain! All together I ran a total of 12.4 miles which I was very proud of.”  

Technical Sg.t Schwarz, joined by the entire team, finished the last leg 28 hours later, at approximately 4:00 p.m., July 8.  Out of 16 teams, our team finished in sixth place, an accomplishment that we can all be proud of. Although bodies were pushed to the limit, the team comradery while spending 28 hours in a van with six other sweaty runners was second to none. Each runner expressed how glad they were to have been a part of this event and most are making plans to compete again next year. 

“All together I ran a total of 12.4 miles which I was very proud of,” said Jackson. “At the end of the day I was very happy I chose to join the team. Everyone did an AMAZING job and the comradery was great. I am definitely planning on doing it again next year, with proper training beforehand of course.”

Runners on Reserve team members were: Mr. David Nickell, Lt. Col. Jennifer Page, Maj. Carla Gleason, Capt. Abby Debonis, Master Sgt. Justin Klein, Technical Sgt. Virginia Jackson, Technical Sgt. Rachel Schwarz, Staff Sgt. Marisa Puller, Staff Sgt. Kristin Lookabaugh, Staff Sgt. Dominic Ancona, Senior Airman Genessy Felarca, and Mr. Dan Perpich.

Special thanks to the JBER YMCA and Eagle River CORE Realty for donating the vans; to Technical Sgt. Michael Campbell for working the Ship Creek relay exchange zone; and to Master Sgt. Justin Klein for being my co-captain, designing the team t-shirts, and driving one of the vans.