My Town Monday: Flying High, Running (or Walking) Fast

Every year around this time, 15,000 people converge in Dayton to get going–in the US Air Force Marathon, that is.

The Marathon is actually four separate events: the Marathon, half-marathon, and 10k, which are all held on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; and the 5k run/walk, which is held down the street at Wright State University the night before. All events include a wheelchair class as well.

Runners and walkers fill the course!

My husband, daughter and I were among the 1800 who signed up for the 5k this year. It was my husband’s first time; my daughter and I did the 10k a couple years ago. I also walked the 10k the year before that, and the 5k in 2006.

I’m sooooo not a runner–we’re talking the last kid picked for anything in gym class–but many people walk the shorter races, which draw everything from major fitness enthusiasts to casual walkers, of all ages. Some parents push kids in strollers in the 5k. Everyone has fun, and it’s a great way to support our troops.

The first USAF Marathon was held in 1997, in commemoration of the Air Force’s 50th anniversary. This year was the 16th, and enrollment gets bigger each year. The 2008 event had half the participants this year’s races did, and even though they raise the enrollment limits each year, the events sell out earlier every time. This year, everything was sold out by mid-May.

The B-2 Bomber was the race’s official aircraft this year

One of the cool things about the AF Marathon that’s probably different than other similar events is the aircraft. There is an official aircraft each year–this year’s was the B-2 Stealth Bomber. The aircraft do fly-bys over the course, and it’s awe-inspiring to see them so close, even though I see them fly over all the time. 🙂  In 2006, the official aircraft was the A-10 Warthog, which is designed to fly low and slow to counter ground offense. I still get chills remembering getting buzzed by that  as I jogged up to the finish line in my first 5k! The flyover aircraft isn’t always the official one–this year, we got buzzed by C-17 cargo jets, one of my favorite of the USAF fleet.

The volunteers are something else that make the marathon events really special. They stand at various points along the course to hand out water, play live music or DJ, or just cheer the runners and walkers on. That bit of extra encouragement does make a difference, even in a short 5k.

At the finish line, everyone gets a medal, handed out by men and women in uniform. This always makes me smile, and not just from crossing Finish. 😀 Finally, we get to go into the Finish Line tent, where more volunteers hand out water, Gatorade, bananas, and fresh pizza.

My time wasn’t anything to get excited about–it never is. It could have been better, but my daughter’s been having knee trouble, and we wanted to walk together. But just like the big races, the time isn’t as important as simply finishing–and being there to honor the men and women who’ve signed up to risk their lives for our country if needed. It was also a fun, healthy activity for the whole family!

What about you–have you ever participated in an event like this? Do you go to win, or just to complete the event? What do you enjoy most about this sort of event, whether you participate, volunteer, or just watch?