By Scott Prater
Airman First Class Alan Acosta started out just trying to pass his PT test. Then in August, he noticed an e-mail sent from Fitness Center director Seth Cannello, informing running club members and sports representatives at Schriever about the upcoming Air Force Marathon.
“I saw the e-mail, noticed how it was open to everyone and that it would be a permissive TDY,” Airman Acosta said. “I knew the Air Force was coming up on its anniversary, but had no idea the Air Force Marathon even existed.”
Airman Acosta, Customer Service Technician, 50th Comptroller Squadron, had never run a marathon. The most experience he had with distance running came in high school, when he competed in the middle distances for East Mecklinburg High in Charlotte, N.C.
“I signed up for it thinking it was never going to happen,” he said. “But it provided good motivation for training and I ended up earning 100 percent on my PT test. When our trip ended up being approved, I was astonished. I thought, ‘this Air Force Marathon thing is really cool.’“
His introduction to distance running hit him like a tidal wave. The more he spoke with other runners, the more an entire culture began to reveal itself.
“I always knew that football was big in this country, but running is big too,” he said. “A lot of people are getting into it. There are tons of running magazines and people everywhere share training tips and techniques.”
He met another Schriever runner, Tech Sgt. Matthew Mancuso, 392nd Training Squadron, while working an event at the Air Force Academy and picked up a bevy of helpful training tips and pointers.
The next time he saw Sergeant Mancuso was at the Peterson Air Force Base terminal, as they both prepared to depart for the Air Force Marathon on Sept. 17.
Airman Acosta was one of 10 Schriever personnel who competed at this year’s event. All told, including fellow competitors from Peterson, the Air Force Academy, Buckley Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, 29 Airmen boarded that C-130 headed for Ohio’s Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
Even the ride to the event presented excitement. Airman Acosta had never flown on C-130 before.
“They gave us ear plugs to fight the noise and our seats were made of mesh,” he said. “I was uncomfortable at first. It was cold here in the Springs. But as we flew east we could tell the weather was warmer. Once we landed it was beautiful, perfect weather.”
Just then, the reality of an adventurous experience set in. Even the bus ride from the base terminal to a local hotel surprised him.
“Wright Patterson is huge,” he said. “I think you could combine the Air Force Academy and Fort Carson together and they might equal the size of that base.”
Race day surprised him as well. For someone who had never competed in a running event longer than 800 meters, the sheer number of competitors proved overwhelming.
Competitors chose one of four events to participate in: the full marathon, the half marathon, the 10 kilometer run and the 5 kilometer run. Airman Acosta chose the half marathon and picked out a pace group to run with.
Race organizers really thought this event through. They utilized pace runners, experienced marathon runners, who help competitors reach the finish line at an assigned pace.
“I chose to run with the 1-hour-and-50-minute pace group since this was my first half marathon and I wanted to take it easy,” Airman Acosta said. “Plus, we had no idea what the route was like.
Surrounded by thousands of runners, Airman Acosta soaked in the regalia of the event. Event organizers pulled out all the stops in providing a military-rich feel. A full color guard ceremony was followed by inspiring speeches from Air Force Generals. Then a voice over a loudspeaker told runners to prepare for the start.
With the pop of the starting gun, groups began running in waves.
“I just tried to keep up with my teammates, but after the starting gun blew I was running shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else,” Airman Acosta said. “I was trying not to step on the person in front of me and trying not to get stepped on from behind. It felt like I was part of a school of fish.”
As the wave stretched out from the starting line, runners gained more breathing room, but Airman Acosta was so busy soaking in the experience that his sense of time and distance warped into a blur.
“I remember running on a trail beneath a canapé of tree limbs,” he said. “But I didn’t notice the distance I had run until we hit the four-mile mark. The time went by so fast, which was strange. Normally, when you run on a track you know exactly how far you’ve gone and you start mentally tiring yourself out. When I hit that four-mile mark, it seemed like I had only run a mile.”
Four miles later he noticed the other runners in his pace group were heavy. Feeling strong, he passed a water/gel station and kicked it up a notch.
“I remember thinking that I would be dying by this point, but I guess training at altitude has really helped,” he said. “From that point I began noticing everything going on around me again.”
He passed crowds of amateur photographers, heard a band playing and studied the serious faces of his fellow competitors.
“I was having fun,” he said. “When I began getting close to the finish line I heard the motivating cheers of bystanders and the loudspeaker blaring from the finish line. That’s when I gave it everything I had.”
He finished in 1 hour, 41 minutes, 05 seconds, taking roughly nine minutes of his planned finishing time and finishing 289th out of 3,456 competitors. And as soon he crossed he noticed Sergeant Mancuso, who as it turned out had crossed the line in 1:29.23, good for 74th place.
“It was cool to see and be able to talk to someone you knew,” Airman Acosta said. “And next year, I’ve already decided that I’m running the full marathon.”
Also representing Schriever Air Force Base at the Air Force Marathon: Senior Airman Christopher Gapper, 19th Space Operations Squadron and Tech. Sgt. Scott Hollister, 19 SOPS, ran the full marathon. Airman Gapper finished in 3:52.48, while Sergeant Hollister clocked a time of 4:13.20. 1st Lt. Chris Crump, 19 SOPS, (1:36:30), Airman Allen Orozco, 50 CPTS (1:55.34), Master Sgt. Matthew Woods, 392nd Training Squadron (1:42.54) and Master Sgt. Ana Dominguez, 19 SOPS (2:40.06) finished the half marathon while Master Sgt. Kenneth Walker, 19 SOPS (1:07.04) and Master Sgt. Raymond Soliz, 19 SOPS, (1:09.02) competed in the 10 kilometer race.