Capt. Stephanie Harley was passing through the Warrior Health and Fitness Center some time ago when an Air Force Marathon sign requesting applicants to represent their major command center caught her eye. After gaining her commander's approval and submitting previous race and marathon times, the 75th Aerospace Medicine Squadron member was excited to learn she had been selected to represent the Air Force Materiel Command on its team of runners.
The captain, having dashed off with the best time in the women's advanced division in a recent Hill Air Force Base fitness triathlon, just took up the serious sport of endurance running in 2002, and has run an impressive six times in the Boston Marathon.
"I got cut from the Air Force Academy Cross Country Team and I really loved to run, so I joined the Air Force Academy Marathon Club," Harley said. "Turns out we were all a bunch of cross country rejects."
What began all this interest in running, besides her healthy belief in eating right?
Her mom and her family believes in a healthy lifestyle, and her husband accompanies her by riding his bicycle on long distance training runs, providing her with water, Gatorade and other snacks. Also an Air Force member, he likes to run as well.
"I think you learn a lot about discipline, structure, commitment and just gutting it out," she said, counting off the qualities endurance running provides. Those qualities are some that anybody in the Air Force might want, she added.
"Running in this race is a symbol of that," she said.
Two men and two women, in each major command center, represent their center in the marathon, and their individual times will be combined in a competition between the Air Force major commands.
Harley is the only one from Hill Air Force Base to make the team, although there are 16 people signed up from Utah to participate at the individual level.
Right now, her personal best is 3:27, achieved in the Mount Rushmore Marathon in South Dakota, a course she describes as "hilly." But Harley is more impressed by her fellow athletes who are first-timers who show up and complete a competition.
"The coolest part of the (recent triathlon) was seeing all the first-time athletes finish and just the people who came out on their mountain bikes and wearing their sneakers and (that) they showed up and finished. It's not about your time — it's the fact that you showed up and competed at all. Even after running for this many years, I still find a lot of satisfaction in that."
When asked about any of her pre-race rituals, she confesses to a need for sushi and Ben and Jerry's ice cream. "It's the opposite (of what you would think of as healthy) but it works really, really well for me," she said.
Her own secret for getting great finish times? "I'm stubborn. My main motivator is I think, 'If I slow down I'll be out here longer,' so I just run as fast as I can, so I can finish," Harley said.
For those interested in dipping a big toe into the world of racing, water stands and finish lines, she recommends consistency, making it out the door several times a week to train, and building up confidence and a solid foundation before finally signing up for that first long distance race.
There are definite benefits, she said. "I think if I can run 50 miles, I can stand for a few seconds in the gas chamber (during a hazardous materials exercise) or low crawl with a weapon. It seems a lot easier than running along for ten hours," she continued as she recalls the one race she extended her competition to the ultra-marathon level.
"There's a boost of confidence in knowing that you've done something harder than what you're currently doing."
The Air Force Marathon is Saturday, Sept. 19 at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. There will also be two men and two women representing the Air Force Materiel Command in the half marathon as well.