SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The appetizer: four times around a 25-mile track in September, with 10,000 feet of ascent and 10,000 feet of descent. The main course: a 100-mile point-to-point track with several water crossings and approximately 12,000 to 15,000 feet of elevation gain in November. The dessert: a belt buckle or two. Master Sgt. Robert R. Snyder Jr., an Air Forces Central Force Protection liaison officer, is a life-time runner with goals of completing two ultra-marathons within the next year. Each race promises a signature belt buckle upon completion under the designated time. "My goal is to complete the races in less than 24 hours," Snyder said. "The farthest I have run so far, at one time, is 40 miles."
The 39-year-old, Pana, Ill. native, began running at a young age and has slowly pushed himself further and further throughout the years. "I grew up on a farm," said Snyder, who is deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. "Being on the farm, most of my friends lived a couple of miles away. If my parents wouldn't take my brother and me, we would run."
Over the years, his new-found mode of transportation became something he knew he could take to a higher level. He began to compete in track and field in middle school and high school, with a culmination of making it to state for several events.
After completing a year of college and deciding he needed a change from the early mornings and chore-filled days on the farm, Snyder enlisted into the Air Force October 1994. He continued to keep up the pace by competing in Air Force-wide events, both inside and out of his career field, as well as civilian races. "I have competed in the Defender Challenge, Peacekeeper Challenge and Atlantic challenge," Snyder said. "I also participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March, Austin Marathon, Air Force Marathon, the River to River Relay, a lot of 5Ks, 10Ks, and trail runs." However, the upcoming ultra-marathons take it to a whole new level, which will require intense dedication and self-discipline. "I do circuit training on Tuesdays, Thursdays I do yoga, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I do weight training or Crossfit," Snyder said. "I also run three to four times a week with my long runs falling on the weekend. I average around 40 to 55 miles a week." A lot of Snyder's runs include wearing an elevation training mask. "I run with the elevation mask for a couple reasons. On my short recovery runs, I run with it set to 6,000 to 9,000 feet, that way my lungs get a cardio workout when I am not trying to push my pace," said Snyder. "Also, in Illinois, I am basically at sea level, so with the elevation training mask I can go to races in places like Colorado, where I am thousands of feet above sea level and be prepared." His diet also impacts his goal. "I try to eat every two hours, balancing my carbs and proteins and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, while also taking in a lot of calories," Snyder said. "Back home, I eat mostly organic. My staple meat is venison, which I hunt for myself. Because I am deployed and don't have access to organic, I eat vegetarian a week per month, cleaning toxins out of my system."
Luckily, Snyder has a firm support team backing him, to include his wife and three kids. "My son runs with me sometimes and is getting more into it," Snyder said. "My daughter will not let me get out of the house with my running gear on unless I take her with me. I have a running stroller, she just sits in it and watches shows on her (tablet computer) or sometimes, her and I will talk about things we see. I also run 5ks and 10ks with her in the stroller." When his daughter is not accompanying him on his runs, he takes time to enjoy the peacefulness. "I enjoy the calmness and the quietness, especially if I am trail running, which I prefer over running on the road," Snyder said. "It is nice to be out away from everyone, alone; it is my time to relax." Although he finds running enjoyable, he also recognizes it as a career necessity. "Being physically fit prepares you for the mission," said Snyder, who is currently on a six-month deployment. "You need to know what your body is capable of. If, and when, things hit the fan, you may have to drag someone, run long distances or sprint short distances." He encourages anyone and everyone, in and out of the military, to consider pursuing running.
"Start slow, listen to your body and set realistic goals," Snyder said. "Join a local running club or even try a program like 'Couch-to-5k.' It's a good starting point."