Running is standard practice in the military, but one man has taken it to new heights, having raced numerous times in the Air Force Marathon and spending time teaching others to enjoy the skill.
Tech. Sgt. Donnie Gray has spent 18 years in the military, so running is certainly nothing new to him, but each time he races, Gray encounters new challenges and opportunities. Recently Gray was selected as one of four males from Air Force Material Command organizations across the country to run in the Air Force Marathon held in September at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio.
Gray knew his team was counting on him to do well. As he began racing, he was on pace and hoping to finish respectfully. However, when Gray hit mile 13, a leg cramp hit, something that can devastate runners. “It surprised me because I was running so well and everything felt fine,” Gray said. “My energy was there, and I was on pace running a 6:45 mile.”
The cramp started in his lower calf of his right leg and Gray had to regroup. “I had to dig deep in my guts and tell myself, ‘You are going to do this, you can work this.’ I asked my God to give me strength, because I knew I was representing a lot of people who were waiting to see my results. I knew I had to finish respectfully, even with a cramp,” said Gray.
Gray managed to change his mind set and stay positive, even when the cramp traveled up into his right hamstring. “It was tough. I wanted to quit, but I continued to stay positive and worked through it gradually.”
Gray ran the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 18 minutes, placing 80th out of 2,000 plus runners. “I represented well at age 45 and am still able to compete against some great athletes and professionals,” Gray said. He is quick to acknowledge the reason for his talent.
“I am a Christian and I believe in God with all my heart. I want it known that all this ability comes from my beliefs,” said Gray. “I believe God gave me a great motivational ability to stick with this routine all these years.”
Gray trains by running at least an hour most days of the week, traveling six to seven miles during each run. He has run numerous marathons over the years, including seven of the eight years he was in Europe, running for the European Air Force Team.
Participants selected to run in the Air Force Marathon are chosen from their running times, positions they have placed in previous races, and their general athleticism. Gray believes what sets him apart from other runners is his ability to motivate others in the military to turn the drudgery of running into something enjoyable.
When Gray was stationed in Italy, his chief told him that before Gray arrived, he hated running his entire military career. “My chief told me he didn’t understand how people are motivated to run for fun, but when I came onto base, he said I filled the atmosphere with such enthusiasm and poured my heart out to help the troops to love it,” said Gray. “I’d never had anyone tell me that before.”
Gray says running is 60 percent mental. First, runners have to mentally get ready the night before, preparing their mind for how they will be running the next day. “The mind has to be tricked and motivated, especially because many times people dread the task. If the body and mind aren’t working together in unison, it isn’t going to work,” Gray said. “They have to work together in correlation, telling their minds they can do this, even if they think they can’t.”