EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Two Eglin Air Force Base Airmen from the 96th Communications Squadron went for an early morning jog in the rain May 4 and did not stop until 7 p.m. that night, running more than 50 miles. Airman 1st Class Thomas Church and Senior Airman Chris Gauthier are ultra-marathoners. They were competing in the 2013 Run for Kids Challenge in Birmingham, Ala., in only their second and first competitions respectively in the extreme sport. The Airmen's goal of 60 miles was hampered by unforeseen cold temperatures and a five-hour rain shower that soaked the runners and muddied the course.
"It wasn't what we prepared for at all, but it was definitely a test of our will and we appreciated the adversity," said Church. "Although we did not hit the 60 miles we set out for, I'm very happy with the way the race turned out. It showed us what we're capable of, and struggling to achieve the distance keeps us humble." Church finished with 54.07 miles and Gauthier completed 50.77 miles. "I ran out of adrenaline after 20 miles or so and hit my wall at 40 miles, I really don't think I would have been able to keep running if Church wasn't there pushing me," said Gauthier.
The 23-year-old Church and 26-year-old Gauthier began training for the event together in February. Gauthier discovered ultra-marathoning by talking to Church. Church began long-distance running in November after volunteering to help out at an ultra-marathon event at Blackwater State Forest in Florida.
Only three months later, Church entered his first competition at the Destin-50, a 50-mile run along the beach. "I like to test my limits and push myself as much as possible," said Church, a Watertown, N.Y., native and client support technician. After his first race, he got a running partner in Gauthier. "No matter how good of a runner you are, you'll always reach a mile somewhere during the run where you say, 'I really don't want to run anymore.' That's when you need someone to keep you going," said Gauthier, a Dayton, Ohio, native and network technician. Their weekly workouts include 10-mile runs on the Ranger Camp trails on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a long-distance run on Saturdays. Their first long-distance run together was 31 miles. They began at the All-Wars Memorial on base and ran to the Mid-Bay Bridge and back. The cold, rain and a complex forest course were some of the obstacles the Airmen struggled with during their 50-mile journey.
"Those first couple laps were the toughest," said Church. "We had to adapt quickly so we could continue through for the next 12 hours. After the second lap, around eight miles, I stopped to fill my hydration pack up and my hands were so numb I couldn't open my water bottle to fill it. The last struggle was running through the complete physical exhaustion for the last few laps. It hurt as bad to walk as it did to run, but we slowly kept trekking forward. " Their intensity and abilities have made them the "go to" guys for running help and questions within their work centers. Church helps Airmen taking the physical fitness test by setting a pace they need to meet their run goal. Airman 1st Class Charles Perkinson, of the 96th Communications Squadron, suffered from debilitating shin splints and fractures that severely limited his running. Church and Gauthier made suggestions about his running form, shortened his stride and even ran laps with him to show him the proper techniques. He now runs up to three miles, three times a week with little to no pain. "They inspired me to run at a level I didn't know I was capable of, and they did so selflessly," said Perkinson. "I think what they are doing is extraordinary and they can inspire other Airmen just as they have me." After running more than 50 miles, Church and Gauthier will take a short break before beginning to train again for the next big run. Church plans to attempt a 50-mile run in the mountains of Georgia in September. Gauthier hopes to compete in an Ironman event by this time next year.