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Face of Defense: Mildenhall Pilot 'Hits Wall,’ Keeps Running

By Karen Abeyasekere
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England, June 9, 2010 – It is common among runners to talk of  "hitting the wall" of exhaustion, whether it's a 10K race, half marathon or full marathon.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Capt. Danny Franz poses for a photo at the end of his completion of the Hadrian's Wall Path running route in England on May 14, 2010. Franz, a pilot with the 67th Special Operations Squadron, ran the 84-mile route in 19 hours and 24 minutes, beating the unofficial record of more than 23 hours. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

But some runners, like U.S. Air Force Capt. Danny Franz, take it to the extreme. Instead of "hitting" the wall, he ran it - all 84 miles of it.

The "wall" in question was Hadrian's Wall, which spans England's peninsula between Wallsend, near Newcastle upon Tyne in the east, and Bowness-on-Solway on the west coast.

Franz, a 29-year-old C-130 pilot with the 67th Special Operations Squadron here, completed the run in 19 hours, 24 minutes. He hails from Sierra Vista, Ariz., and has served seven years in the Air Force, the last four years at RAF Mildenhall.

Built in 122 A.D., Hadrian's Wall, at 73 miles long, is the largest ancient Roman monument in northern Europe. However, its national trail, known as Hadrian's Wall Path, stretches 84 miles.

"A couple of years ago, I started to feel the itch again for long distance running," Franz said. "I'd already done a couple of 100-mile marathons [in Colorado], and heard the wall was really cool to hike. But when someone mentioned that some British guys had run it, I figured, ‘Why not do that?’"

Franz heard someone had run the route in a little more than 23 hours. He decided to try to beat that time.

"When I finished, I was told I'd beaten the unofficial record," he said. "When I saw my time was under 20 hours, I was really happy, though I had originally wanted to do it in under 17 hours."

Franz took the first steps of his trek at 1 a.m. and he finished just before 8:30 p.m. that night.

"I had a backpack with three liters of water, six muffins, some energy shots of caffeine and a guidebook," he said. "I also had another pouch with an extra liter of water, my phone and wallet."

The pilot said he ran most of the time, but would walk for a few minutes every so often, to give himself a break.

"I set a target pace of 12 minutes a mile, and kept checking to make sure I was keeping to it," he said. "In some places I was running a 10-minute mile, so every mile or two I allowed myself to walk for a couple of minutes, to take the load off my legs.

"But I was constantly moving the whole time - if you have a break, you don't tend to keep going afterwards, you kind of just stay there. So it's better, for me at least, to just keep going," he said.

Franz said his legs were sore and started to cramp up around the 50-mile mark, which was made worse by the constant stopping and starting when going through farm gates.

Running such a long distance requires strict advance training. For Franz, that means running almost every day, allowing himself one day off a week.

"If I'm not training, I'll run 3 to 6 miles a day,” he said. “On weekends, I'll go for a 12-mile run. When I'm training, I do sprints and run farther."

Running 84 miles alone gives a person plenty of time to reflect, the captain said.

"There's so much to think about - what's coming up next week or next year, your past, memories or imagining yourself in an event," Franz said, adding that he likes running without headphones most of the time so he can take it all in and enjoy the scenery.

Pushing yourself to run such a distance certainly takes a toll on your mind, as well as body, he explained.

"To do that distance is more of a mental game you have to play,” Franz said. “Physically, as long as I stayed at my 12-minute mile and drank lots of water, I was OK."

The daytime portion of his run featured warm weather, Franz recalled, noting there were no trees along the route. He also was running into the wind most of the way, which he said slowed him down a little.

"I like the feeling you get miles, and hours, into the run. You get such an adrenalin rush, and it's a pretty euphoric feeling," Franz said, adding that he likes doing long runs by himself or with a handful of people, rather than with huge crowds.

"It was a pretty good experience," he continued. "The last five miles I was hurting pretty bad. And with three miles to go I started feeling dizzy and found it tough to keep focused on the road, because I'd run out of water several miles back."

Franz said the feeling of having finished the run was wonderful, though he felt physically drained.

"It was such an awesome feeling of relief and accomplishment; I couldn't really take it all in at first - it hits you more the next day," he said. "I was aching pretty bad in the morning, and found it pretty hard to climb the stairs." Franz also does triathlon training. “My plan is to do an Iron Man competition fast enough to qualify for the one in Hawaii," he said. An Iron Man contest involves a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.


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