Runners can be known as a competitive bunch – even if they’re only competing against themselves looking for a new personal record or searching for new and exciting trials. For challenge-hungry military runners participating in the U.S. Air Force Marathon, the Major Command Challenge might just be what the adrenaline doctor ordered.
The MAJCOM Challenge pits teams made up of 10 runners each from major commands – the highest level of command immediately below Headquarters, U.S. Air Force – for bragging rights and a sweet trophy based on the team’s combined times. Teams compete in the full and half marathon and most are provided with free uniforms and portions of their travel, registration and lodging being reimbursed – all except the reigning champs.
“The Air National Guard MAJCOM team is the only team in the challenge that doesn’t receive funding to participate. We are not in an official duty status that weekend and we pay for our own uniforms, airfare and hotel rooms,” said Tech. Sgt. Emily Shertzer, a five-time runner with the 193rd Special Operations Wing out of Pennsylvania. “I think it’s great that we have such dedicated runners and Airmen in the National Guard who are willing to do this.”
The ANG team is composed of a mix of traditional Guardsmen, active guard reserves and Air Reserve technicians from many different states, according to Shertzer. The team has won the MAJCOM Challenge in 2016 and 2017 with hopes to repeat that feat this year. While the team shares in the glory, the competition affects them each individually as well.
“Sometimes the greatest challenge leading up to any event is finding the time, energy and motivation to train for it,” Shertzer said. “I find that being on a team and participating in something like the MAJCOM challenge helps me with the motivation aspect. I know that other members of my team are out there working hard, and I want to do the same for them.”
With teams geographically separated most of the time, training “together” can be difficult.
“I’m the only runner on the Pacific Air Forces team currently stationed at Osan Air Base, so I pretty much do all my runs by myself,” said Staff Sgt. Mitchelblack Sly, a PACAF team member from the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron. “On easy days, if I see someone running and it looks like they’re running a decent pace, I’ll turn around and run with them for a little bit just to have someone to talk to for a couple of miles.”
But, regardless of the challenges, all the effort put in over the past year comes to a crescendo this fall.
“There’s a lot of people in my work section, squadron, and around the base that see the work I put in on a daily basis,” Sly said. “Being able to showcase that on September 15 is what these last couple of months have been all about. I consider it an honor to be able to compete in the MAJCOM challenge and represent my MAJCOM, base, squadron, work section, family and myself.”
Air Force Marathon Race Director Brandon Hough says the MAJCOM Challenge echoes the call to service that Airmen feel every day.
“Being an Airman is all about being a part of something bigger than yourself; the MAJCOM challenge embodies that ethos,” Hough said. “While one or two runners from a command may have a great showing on race day, we are strongest together and thus it takes all 10 runners to shine on race day to bring home such a beautiful trophy!”
The teams are already set for this year’s marathon but will open again for applications beginning in February 2019. More information on the MAJCOM Challenge, as well as the Expo, 5K, 10K, half and full marathons and other Air Force Marathon events scheduled for Sept. 13-15, is available on the Marathon’s website at www.usafmarathon.com.