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Active duty captain runs for AF Reserve Command

Air Force Reserve Command Challenge Team

Air Force Reserve Command Challenge Team

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga -- What motivates someone to run a 26.2-mile marathon? To run 12 to 24 miles a couple times a week to train? To sacrifice family time and inflict physical pain that could last for days? For one member of Air Force Reserve Command’s challenge team competing in the 20th running of the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Sept. 17, the answer is simple.

“It’s the challenge,” said Capt. Spencer Johnson, chief of the Network Systems Branch at AFRC headquarters, Robins AFB, Georgia. “Because it’s hard, because it hurts a little, it keeps bringing me back.”

As the only active-duty member among the 10 AFRC challenge team members, and a veteran of 20 races of marathon or greater distance – including two half marathons and three marathons at the Air Force level – Johnson said he is looking forward to another challenge in his running shoes.

As a prior enlisted member, Johnson first started running as a way to lose weight during basic training. It was then that he realized he had a talent for running. “I found that I could run circles around people and I loved the feeling (of beating other runners),” he said.

He started looking for local 5K and 10Ks in his local area and he was hooked.

After those races became too easy, he moved on to half marathons. Then to full marathons. Now, he even participates at the ultramarathon level.

Johnson remembers running his first Air Force Marathon as a solo runner in 2008 and loving the experience. He remembers the flyover before the race and remembers high ranking officers placing medals around the necks of finishers after they crossed the finish line. He also remembers a lot of cramps and pain toward the end of the race. He finished that first marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes, a time he considers “OK.”

As a solo runner at Air Force Marathons, Johnson saw the major command teams and was drawn to the camaraderie of running as part of a major command squad. While stationed in Europe, he found his chance to be part of a challenge team. “There was a call for a team, so I applied and got to (run the marathon as part of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe team),” he recalled.

After years of running, Johnson knows all too well the highs and lows of running. The lows: “Lots of times you’re not going to find another person crazy enough to go out and run 16 to 22 miles with you, so it can be pretty lonely,” he said. The highs: “The thought of a giant hamburger and lots of french fries. I love to eat, especially post-marathon because you know you burned all those calories and you can eat for a while and still be at a calorie deficit.”

With his next Air Force Marathon fast approaching, Johnson is hoping to beat his personal best time of 2:56 minutes. He ran that in a non-Air Force marathon. In his three previous Air Force marathons, he has yet to break the three-hour barrier.

He said training has been going well. In addition to gearing up for the Air Force Marathon, he is also getting ready for his second JFK 50-mile race in November. “I had an 80-mile week a couple weeks ago. Never done that before,” he said.

Before he competes in that race, he will compete in a familiar one with a new team, but his goal will be the same – crossing the finish line as the best in the Air Force.