Before the Army, Spc. Mark Lopez never ran a mile in his life.
Now, Lopez is running 185 miles in rapid succession down the length of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park to raise money for wounded warriors.
Lopez, who is stationed at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, started running Sunday in Cumberland and is expected to come through Frederick County between Wednesday and Friday.
"My biggest challenge is going to be eating enough food, but I think the running itself is going to be easy," Lopez said in a phone interview a few days before the weeklong run kicked off.
Lopez, 27, of Annapolis, is running on behalf of 185 for Heroes. The organization was born out of a friendly sibling rivalry when Clayton Anderson and Ashley Ackenhausen, a brother and sister team originally from California, decided to run the C&O Canal as an endurance challenge as they build toward a future cross-country event. Because both serve with the Navy, the brother-sister team decided they would run the canal while raising money to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project.
The event has turned into an annual run, though Anderson and Ackenhausen did it by bike last year as a support team for two brothers.
Now, it's Lopez's turn.
This year's run will benefit Operation Second Chance, which also serves wounded warriors. The idea to benefit OSC this year came after a day of last year's run was dedicated to retired Marine Sgt. Adam Kisielewski, the organization's vice president. Each day of the weeklong run is also dedicated to a wounded warrior and begins by reading about each soldier, Ackenhausen said.
Kisielewski, who lives in Thurmont, lost his left arm and right leg in an explosion while serving in Iraq in 2005.
Kisielewski said the idea of running the equivalent of a marathon each day is "crazy" but he's excited.
"We're really excited to have a partnership with them," Kisielewski said. He added, "I imagine it's hard to recruit runners in large numbers."
Another runner, a man who serves with the British Army, was also planning to run but may not be able to make it, Ackenhausen said. Ackenausen, who is stationed with the Navy in San Diego, will run portions of the trail this week. So far, 185 for Heroes has raised about $7,000 this year, she said.
Lopez said he agreed to run out of his friendship with Anderson, who is stationed in Washington with the Navy though he is currently deployed overseas. Lopez has deployed twice to Iraq but did not see direct combat. Lopez joined the Army about nine years ago and, in the process, said he had begun running several times a week. His participation in 185 for Heroes takes it to the extreme, though.
Lopez began training in earnest in February, dropping from 195 to about 180 pounds in the process. He has run as much as 120 miles in a week -- including back-to-back marathons on a weekend -- though he's backed off such a strict regimen in order to stay healthy. Lopez has mostly trained near his house; he's visited the C&O once to run a few miles, he said.
For this week's event, Lopez said he planned his pace for 10-minute miles and would take an hour break after completing every nine miles.
The race may be a big challenge, but it doesn't compare with what wounded warriors often must face daily, Lopez said.
"To be honest, that's the only thing that's been keeping me going," Lopez said. "I had to remind myself why I'm doing this."
If all goes according to plan, Lopez will finish Sunday at Georgetown University, where he will meet with wounded warriors at the finish line for a small ceremony. This year, the group will travel with a flag on behalf of each wounded warrior to be presented at the finish line, Ackenhausen said.
Ackenhausen's description of her own run made it sound like a grueling experience. Training turned into a "second job" and an ankle sprain that she suffered during the run wound up turning into five stress fractures because she kept training on it after she finished.
Ackenhausen had a few words to help keep Lopez going strong.
"Enjoy this experience," Ackenhausen said. "Once you cross the finish line, you'll look back on it and be like, 'Wow. Now I can accomplish anything.'"