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Face of Defense: Soldier’s Running Habit is a Marathon Event

By Army Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division

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FORT HOOD, Texas, March 2, 2016 — Around 1 a.m., the door to the company headquarters opens. The soldiers at the duty desk turn their heads in curiosity.

In walks a slender soldier wearing a shirt with the word “Hurt” emblazoned across the front and water bottles strapped around his waist.

He drops his bags and heads back out the door. He’ll be back -- after he finishes his 30-mile run.

“Then I do PT; it’s like my cooldown time,” said Army Sgt. Douglas Long, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, native. “I’ve been known to show up to a PT test after having run 20 miles before.”

To say he’s an avid runner would be a vast understatement; he is an ultramarathon runner, and he uses the patience, perseverance and resilience needed to go the distance to motivate and set the example for soldiers around him.

After starting his day with a routine marathon, Long begins his work here as a radio and communications security repairer for Forward Support Company J, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.

For Long, it all began in an unlikely place -- middle school. He was 13 and wanted to try out for cross-country skiing. He excitedly arrived at tryouts, only to discover that he had walked right into cross-country running tryouts.

Long said he remembers the first thing the coach said.

“We’re going to go for a six-mile run,” he recalled. “And I was like, ‘No, I’m not.’”

Bitten by the Running Bug

Even though it was not originally his intention to run, Long found himself putting one foot in front of the other and was immediately bitten by the running bug.

Throughout his running career, he has completed a dozen marathons, two 50-mile races, six 100-mile races, and he is showing no signs of stopping.

“It is so awesome what the human body can do, and it’s really neat just to push it to new levels,” Long said. As he began to put some serious mileage behind him, his aspirations began to reach higher and higher.

While he was stationed in Hawaii, he took a yearlong break during a deployment in 2010 and returned with a burning desire to put some miles on his sneakers. He hit the ground running and ran for 12 hours straight.

But that still didn’t scratch the itch. Long ventured into competitive running, and didn’t set his sights on a 5K, a half or even a full marathon. He set his sights on the Hurt 100, Hawaiian Ultra Team’s Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run.

Hanna Roberts, a Seattle native, Navy seaman and longtime friend and running partner of Long’s, said she knew he was overjoyed to hit the trails in Hawaii again. Long and Roberts trained with a community of runners, learning and training as much as possible before attempting the race.

“You start out with these great ambitions and you trust your training,” Long said. “Even with the hundreds of hours and thousands of miles you put into it, at the starting line there is still that question mark.”

Fighting Runner’s Fatigue

While Long makes it look easy, even he has his struggles while he’s running. He battles that little voice in his head telling him to just stop.

“I really don’t want to do this, but I really don’t want to quit,” he said. “I’ve never viewed myself as a quitter.”

He said he often tells himself, “If you struggle just a little bit longer, you’ll break through that wall and it’ll get easier.”

Long said he couldn’t have completed the run without the help of his running mates.

“Getting involved with that community was the most [important] part,” he said. “I would not be an ultrarunner if it wasn’t for that community.”

Running with people who had been going the distance for a while put Long in a position to observe them and pick up little tips here and there, he said.

Long described his running group as inviting and friendly and a source of support and understanding.

“You have people that are so excited for you, because they have experienced it before and they know what is going on in your head when you finish,” Long said. “It’s a unique community inside a unique sport.”

He learned from his mentors and did his own research online to help him further his understanding of how to be more efficient.

With a few more 100-milers and a 135-mile race under his belt, Long felt primed to attempt his biggest challenge yet: a multi-day, 200-mile race in Colorado called the Colorado 200.

This race pushed him to his limit and beyond, he said.  It was mind over matter, digging deep and finding a way to push past any perceived physical limitations.

“Not all pain is significant,” he said. “There’s something about pushing yourself past that breaking point or stopping point in yourself and saying you can always take one more step.”

He had come up with a strategy to tackle the distance and the difficulty.

“I had a plan to rest 20 minutes no matter what, at every aid station,” Long said. “At night it would get below zero degrees and you’re always fighting the altitude.”

Even with his strategy in place, Long waged war with his physical fatigue, muscle soreness, the elements, and they all seemed determined to beat him down and win the battle.

“There were a lot of tears shed on the third night,” Long said. “It was like there were two versions of me -- one wanted to quit, and the other didn’t. They were clashing.”

Toughness Won Out

But his physical and mental toughness won out. Long crossed the finish line.

“Doug is exceptional for lots of reasons and not the least of which he can wake up that early and runs like he does and go to work and be a good human being all around,” Roberts said.

Long attributes a great deal of his character to his distance running. “It’s changed me fundamentally as a person,” he said. “There’s a huge ego loss. I’m a lot more patient and open to people.” The intensity of the experience of running vast distances has put life into perspective, he added.

“He has this grace and positivity regardless of the situation he is in,” Roberts said. “He is very stoic. He might be going through pain or a low spell, but he remains positive.”

Like eating, breathing and sleeping -- Long needs to run.

“We are so caught up in our daily lives with modern technology, everything goes so fast,” Long said. “There’s this need to go out there for a weekend and leave it all behind, so you’re there all by yourself and confront a piece of yourself you normally wouldn’t confront under normal circumstances.”