By Staff Sgt. James Lieth and Staff Sgt. Mary Thatch, 155th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published May 29, 2014
Lincoln, Neb -- Sweat, competition, and the desire to compete filled the crisp spring air as more than 10,000 runners filled the streets of downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, preparing to complete the 37th Annual Lincoln National Guard Marathon, May 4.
Within a marathon there are several competitions. Runners not only compete against one another, but against themselves, as they endure the grueling 26.2 miles. Thirty-nine states and two territories were represented by 174 Army and Air National Guardsmen, to include five members of the Nebraska National Guard team. These National Guard members were a part of their own competition.
"This marathon represents the qualifier for the National Guard marathon program, for the runners to be named to the All-Guard marathon team," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hagen, National Guard Bureau marathon coordinator. "At the finish line there will be a race. People will come in exhausted, blank stare in their face, and their first question is, 'what number was I?' It's the thrill of making the team and that is what they are here for, to bring that title, All-Guard marathon, back to their state."
Members who qualify for the All-Guard marathon team have the privilege of representing the National Guard, throughout the year, in several races across the country. The competition is not only an individual competition to make the All-Guard team, but also a team competition between National Guard state teams.
"A state can have as many runners as they bring but only the top three will count. They take an average of those times," said Hagen. "The lowest average is the winner."
Four Soldiers and one Airman represented the 2014 Nebraska Army and Air National Guard marathon team. They finished with a team average time of 3 hours, 10 minutes and 21 seconds, giving them a top-ten ranking, finishing in sixth place. This is a strong improvement from 2013, where they finished in 12th place.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Bill Norris, state marathon coordinator for the Nebraska National Guard team and the team captain said, the Nebraska team is growing and gaining strength each year.
"We are headed in the right direction, we are getting there," said Norris. "It is hard. We are a small state and it is hard to get runners, but I think we are doing a good job marketing ourselves. We are getting stronger each year. I am happy about that and the runners are too. We are looking forward to next year already."
As a team, they have accomplished a lot with this race. Remarkably, four out of the five Nebraska team members qualified for the All-Guard marathon team. They ranked 6th out of the 25 National Guard teams racing. Team member, Robb Campbell, age 40, placed 6th out of the 111 runners in his age group. With all these accomplishments, the Nebraska team is already planning for next year. Norris and the team have several goals.
"My goal is for every Airmen and every Soldier in the state to know about this program," said Norris. "I would like to have 15 to 20 people on our team. My goal is to finish number one. It's going to be hard, it's going to take some time but we do have some great runners in this state."
Currently, the Nebraska team has 10 runners. In order to qualify for the team, men under the age of 40 must have completed a marathon within the last year at a time of four hours or less. A man age 40 and older must complete it in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Women of any age may qualify for the team after completing it in 4 hours and 30 minutes. Although the standards for qualifying are demanding, training for a marathon can present its own challenges such as weather and injuries.
"It has been very hard for these runners to get out there and train," said Norris. "It was a very cold winter, very brutal, very windy, very dry... and for them to be able to commit like that and train-up is pretty amazing. It is hard work and it takes a toll on the body."
Not all of the Nebraska National Guard team was able to participate. Their team suffered three injuries, one temporary duty assignment, and one member was returning from the Boston Marathon just two weeks earlier. The Nebraska team battled cold weather and multiple injuries throughout the year, but they fought through the challenges and were rewarded for their commitment.
"It is awesome. It is neat to hear everyone on the side yelling 'go guard,' giving you a thumbs up and cheering you on," said Air Force Maj. Karl Duerk, an instructor pilot for the 170th Group, Offutt Air Force Base, and a member of the Nebraska National Guard marathon team. "It is a privilege to be able to wear the uniform out here with the other men and women. I hope it gets people more interested and asking questions about what we do and how we get to come out here and wear the guard uniform."
Regardless if you are a marathon runner for the National Guard team or racing as an individual, there is always one thing to remember.
"It is mind over matter. It is one foot in front of the other, dig down, grit your teeth, just do it, and I'll see you at the finish line," said Hagen.
If you or if you know of anyone in the guard who is interested in running for the Nebraska National Guard marathon team, please contact the team captain, Army Sgt. 1st Class Bill Norris via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or cell: (402) 310-7866.