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Combat rescue pilot 'born to run'

  • Published
  • By Maj. Cathleen Snow
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Capt. Jason Tomas did not start out as a runner. But now, he asserts that not only was he born to run, but we are all born to run.

The 920th Rescue Wing combat-search-and-rescue helicopter pilot said going to war led him to this philosophical belief about running -- and to his biggest running feat to date - the 50-mile Keys100 ultra-marathon from Marathon Key to Higgs Beach near the southernmost point in the continental U.S.

Tomas's experiences as a combat rescue pilot led him down the path to running.

"Often times we are the first ones to get to a guy who just had his legs blown off," he said, explaining that Air Force rescue teams are the 911 of the military. "You see a lot. I've seen young kids who will never get a chance to run."

Put simply by Tomas, he runs because he can, "If you got it, why not use it."

Today Tomas runs for relaxation and to challenge himself. But running wasn't always his thing. He grew up in Daytona Beach, Fla., surrounded by sand and surf. It's also where Tomas's pursuit of service began--first as an ocean rescue lifeguard, then as an EMT, and then as a sworn in beach patrol officer. Finally, in 2006 he was able to intersect his life of service with his lifelong dream of flying and earned his Air Force wings.

Tomas first experienced distance running during an overseas deployment. A fellow crew member/pararescueman invited him on a group 10K run. Tomas recalls after that run, he asked himself -- and has kept asking --"how far can I really push this?"

He ran his first marathon in Khandahar, Afghanistan in 2008 on a squeaky treadmill inside a dusty tent that served as the base gym.

"All 26.2 miles," he said.

The challenge of running soon swelled into an unquenchable thirst. He began reading stories about running and his love of the sport started to redefine his life.

One of Tomas's most inspiring role models is ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes, and author of "Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner." Tomas's favorite quote from the book is: "Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you're not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you're not demanding more from yourself - expanding and learning as you go - you're choosing a numb existence. You're denying yourself an extraordinary trip."

Running an easy pace is what it's all about when you're going for mileage, Tomas advised.

"When you get that runner's high you can take on anything, regardless of what your day throws at you. Running takes the stress away. It naturally makes you feel good. And at some point when you are running, you get so pumped with endorphins that you no longer feel the pain," he said.

Tomas has logged a lot of miles and seen a lot of scenery changes in his years of running. He's run two local Melbourne Music Marathons and a 30-plus-mile run to his favorite watering hole. To prepare for the Keys100 he trained by regularly running back and forth to work at Patrick AFB, just under seven miles one way.

"I tried to time it so I was running in the heat," he says, "especially if I was flying at night." His pace was a comfortable six miles per hour. "Kind a slow," he said, "just to cover the distance."

Tomas said an ultra-marathon is considered anything beyond 26.2 miles, but most ultra-marathoners don't consider it an "ultra" unless it's at least 50 miles. Despite earning this new title, he plans to keep going even farther. He has a goal of running 100 miles.

A lot of people are quick to say they can't do something, especially running. But Tomas contends that "everybody was 'born to run." He advises new runners to try to run the length of their driveway barefoot. This immediately critiques if you are striking mid-foot versus the cause of all feet and knee problems - the dreaded heel strike. Then emulate that foot strike in running shoes when going for distance. Keep at it and you'll improve, just like anything else.

"You're not going to go out there and run 50 miles your first time out," he said. "But if you want something bad enough, set goals now and go and do it. Everyone should challenge themselves to do one thing that scares the Hell out of you, that you don't even know if you're capable of, and never quit until you achieve it."