FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- It all started when she was stationed in Virginia 12 years ago. That's when Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Beofra Butler saw everyone training for the Marine Corps Marathon and decided to give the 26.2-mile race a try.
As a soldier, running was already a part of her daily life and physical fitness routine. She had run several other shorter races, including the Army 10-Miler and a few half-marathons, so the challenge of a full marathon appealed to her. She wasn't even afraid of the dreaded "wall" that everyone told her she would hit around mile 20, when her body would start shutting down as energy stores ran low and fatigue set in.
"I had never experienced the wall and was feeling pretty great," Butler recalled. "I saw the mile markers for mile 19, then mile 20, then 21. I was feeling good and thinking to myself that maybe I avoided the wall. Then at mile 22, everything from my waist down locked up. It felt like I really did hit a wall. My muscles were in knots, my toes were cramping and, every time I took a step, it just hurt."
A woman tapped her on the shoulder and encouraged her to move off to the side and stretch before resuming the race.
"I wanted to cry," Butler said. "I knew it was just four more miles. I wobbled to the finish along with a bunch of other people doing the exact same thing."
After the race later that night, with ice bags on her legs and a computer on her lap, Butler signed up for her next marathon.
"I just had to do it again for myself so I could figure out how to do it without pain," she said.
Butler ran her second marathon during a deployment, followed by another and another and another. She's preparing to run her 100th marathon in Boston on April 15. The race will be her sixth Boston Marathon, and she says that it is fitting because it's her favorite event.
"There's something special about running in Boston," she said. "It's the only race you have to qualify for to get in and, after working so hard to be a part of it, you really enjoy the moment when you get there. The support of the crowd is amazing and it's just a great place to be."
She got there by figuring out how to avoid that wall of pain.
"For the most part, I don't hit a wall anymore," Butler said. "Now I know what that feels like, and I never want to feel it again."
How does she do it? The way anyone in the Army does anything -- with an abbreviation.
According to Butler, the key to running a successful marathon comes down to the 3 P's: pacing, patience and practice.
She says you need to control your pace throughout the entire marathon and exercise patience as those around you start out fast or crowd the track. To refine your pacing and patience, you need to practice.
"It comes down to having time on your feet," Butler said. "You have to put in the time and stay positive."
Her time comes from running at least five days a week. She averages 10 miles a day, with Saturdays being her long run day when she covers anywhere from 13 to 20 miles. She does speed work on Wednesdays, often bringing others along to help them train to meet their goals.
As the administrative executive officer to the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, her work schedule can often be hectic and conflict with her training time. To mitigate this, Butler is a conscientious meal planner, preparing all her meals, including snacks, on the weekends. She says she often hits the pavement at 3 a.m. just so she can ensure she gets time to run.
"I just love the feeling of running," she said. "It's freedom. I don't listen to music. I listen to my heartbeat. My footsteps. My breathing. It's a meditation, and I'm always trying to get better."
Butler says that running is wonderful because you can do it wherever you are and with no special equipment. For those aspiring to run in races of any distance, she said that it's important to find a training plan.
"Training is a part of learning yourself," she said. "It helps you become more comfortable when you're out there. You need to trust your training and just enjoy the moment."
Despite the fact that Butler says she could probably roll out of bed and run an impromptu marathon, she still finds ways to challenge herself. Five of her marathons were ultra-marathons, ranging from a 50K to a 100-mile race.
Butler's most recent race was her third All-American Marathon at Fort Bragg. She led the 4:15 pace group. Her pacing was right on point, with her crossing the finish line at 4 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds and still placing first in her age group.
Her personal record (PR) is 3 hours and 34 minutes, and she says that she would like to get that down to 3:30.
"After Boston, I'm not racing again until August," she said. "I'm going to be training for my PR, and I'm going to get it."