TOKYO, Japan – With already more than 130 inches of snow this winter, U.S. Naval Air Facility Misawa will never be described as an optimal locale to train for a marathon.
Often described as the “snowiest naval base in the word,” sailors forward deployed to this installation often find themselves persevering through subfreezing temperatures, horizontal snowfall and raging winds. So under these conditions, just arriving safely to the base fitness center can feel like an accomplishment.
But for Lt. Jose Acay arriving at the Misawa fitness center day in and day out was only the beginning. It was the streets of Tokyo 400 miles away that motivated him.
In August, Acay, was one of 36,000 selected runners chosen from all over the world to take part in the 2014 Tokyo Marathon, a grueling 26.2-mile run through the ornate streets of downtown Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 23.
"My motivation to run the Tokyo Marathon was my desire to participate in what is considered to be one of the top ten marathons in the world," said Acay, who currently serves as the NAF Misawa supply officer. "I put my name in to register via the entry lottery as over 70,000 people do each year, and I was very lucky to be one of the runners selected.”
But Acay said the selection was the easy part. Training for a marathon on board a base that spends half the year covered in ice and snow brought about its own challenges.
"My training schedule for the week was to try and average about 50 miles a week. I was able to do that going into November, and actually about two-thirds of my runs were still outside," said Acay. "The month of December was almost all completely run indoors on a treadmill, and only four days outside including a morning Christmas run. The snow was not bad, but running on ice is what prevented me from pursuing more training outside.”
On the day of the marathon, he found himself standing amidst a teeming crowd of anxious runners that had filtered in from around the world. He waited patiently trying to save his energy and adrenaline for the run.
"There was a euphoric atmosphere at the start" said Acay. "As the gun shot, fireworks went off and confetti fell down upon us,” said the San Diego native. “My biggest downfall with running races has always been starting out too fast, but my strategy for this run was to temper my adrenaline from the beginning, and stay within my pace of 10 minutes per mile."
Mile after mile, Acay trotted his way through the Tokyo streets, which provided him a perspective of the city that even residents don’t normally get to see. The marathon route took Acay near many of Tokyo’s most famous buildings and landmarks.
During the run, marathon volunteers set up stations along the route and provided energy snacks and water to the runners. Spectators lined the streets of Tokyo to cheer on the marathon participants as they made their way through the labyrinth-like city streets. Though there was motivation and support all around him, even Acay, with eight marathons under his belt, found a point where he was struggling.
"Near the 20-mile mark I noticed a few muscles starting to tighten up and I felt a wave of fatigue," he said. "I thought of a line from my local Spin Instructor, ‘your mind will quit before your body does' and I picked up my pace to finish strong at four hours and 28 minutes."
While Acay’s accomplishment is notable, it came as no surprise for the people who work with him every day.
“Whether he's performing his duties as the NAF Misawa Supply Officer or training for a marathon, Acay's enthusiasm and work ethic are inspiring," said Capt. Chris Rodeman, NAF Misawa commanding officer. "We're very fortunate to have someone of his stellar caliber on our team here, and his legacy at the command will assuredly be of a sailor who leads by example and motivates through action."
And as NAF Misawa’s Command fitness leader, Acay challenges his fellow sailors to maintain physical readiness and adhere to the U.S. Navy’s culture of fitness.
“I feel I use the same mindset in my Navy career as I do for my marathon training,” said Acay. “The word “quit” is not in my vocabulary. I will never quit on my duties or my fellow sailors, and I try to encourage and motivate others to share that same belief."