Team Misawa runners improve fitness one step at a time

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gerard Tilley, the 35th Maintenance Group education and training manager, runs during a marathon at the Nakuidake Trail Festival in Shichinohe, Japan, May 21, 2017. Tilley began his running career in 2008 when he decided to make a healthy change to his life during his time at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. After arriving at Misawa, he joined the Misawa Flyers Running group, who meet weekly. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gerard Tilley, the 35th Maintenance Group education and training manager, runs during a marathon at the Nakuidake Trail Festival in Shichinohe, Japan, May 21, 2017. Tilley began his running career in 2008 when he decided to make a healthy change to his life during his time at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. After arriving at Misawa, he joined the Misawa Flyers Running group, who meet weekly. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gerard Tilley, the 35th Maintenance Group education and training manager, poses for a photo during the 2015 Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 22, 2015. Tilley has received 19 medals and has even completed an ultra-marathon, requiring him to run a 100K. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gerard Tilley, the 35th Maintenance Group education and training manager, poses for a photo during the 2015 Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 22, 2015. Tilley has received 19 medals and has even completed an ultra-marathon, requiring him to run a 100K. (Courtesy Photo)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --

Fitness is an essential aspect for Airmen to maintain a “fight tonight” posture, ensuring they can complete any tasks at hand, whether physical or mental.

“I think your fitness and work standards have a direct correlation,” said Tech. Sgt. Gerard Tilley, the 35th Maintenance Group education and training manager. “If you’re motivated to get up, run and workout, then that same motivation reflects in your daily work ethic and priorities to accomplish the mission.”

Weighing in at 210 pounds in 2008, Tilley realized he needed to develop healthier habits, and picked up a love for running during his time at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

“I was a little bit overweight and decided I needed to change,” Tilley said. “The base did a mandatory 5K every month and I realized I thoroughly enjoyed it. I started running on a daily basis and adding more distance each time.”

Now 168 pounds, Tilley shares his love of running with others and stays active with the Misawa Flyers Runners group.

“Having team members that push you to keep running and hold you accountable, especially in the mornings when you don’t want to get up and run, makes a huge difference,” Tilley said. “Even though people think, ‘no, I could never run that distance,’ it doesn’t matter. The same person that runs a 26-minute mile is the same as a person running a seven-minute mile. It’s just doing it that counts.”

Although it was formed on base, the group goes off base and runs marathons, fostering a bond with the community each step they take.

“There are a lot of Japanese and American runners on base that range from casual joggers to ultra-marathoners,” said Master Sgt. Ryan Manzi, the 35th Civil Engineer Squadron explosives ordnance disposal operations section chief and a Misawa Flyers Runner member. “Anytime we can bring everyone together, whether it's a base run or competing at an off-base event, it improves our relationship with our Japanese partners.”

Manzi added that it’s nice running with a group who keeps you on your toes, and he hopes more people will join the runner’s group, even if they don’t think they can run very far at first.

“I think the hardest part is finding where you stand at when you are new to running, because everybody wants to just go out there and run as hard as humanly possible, but that’s not really the right thing to do,” Tilley said.

Tilley also added, it’s the progression that helps people improve verses tackling full marathons the first time you begin running.

“I was super slow when I first started running,” Tilley said. “My first 5K took 45 minutes to complete, because I was overweight and smoked. It took time, but consistency and healthier habits reduced my time to 18 minutes and seven seconds.”

Tilley said after increasing his distances, his running improved more and more until eventually he progressed to doing some of the longest marathons, called ultra-marathons, where he was able to complete a 50K and 100K.

“I did many other races, including seven full marathons, before I decided to do my first 50K ultra-marathon. After that, there was nothing else left to try except a 100K,” Tilley said. “It’s like Thanksgiving, you can’t just eat everything at once. You take your time and then go back for seconds, thirds, fourths until you get your fill.”

Tilley has successfully completed numerous marathons, but he still tasted defeat in his life.

“I did fail during the Air Force marathon,” Tilley said. “I was part of the Pacific Air Forces team last year and the weather conditions were extremely hot and humid. At mile 17 I couldn’t do it anymore. I went further than what my body could take, and due to my body temperature and blood pressure, the medical personnel didn’t allow me to continue running.”

Although he did not finish, Tilley did not let that stop him from lacing up and pushing himself to be better.

“At that time I was upset, but it actually motivated me more,” Tilley said. “Every time I run I think about when my body failed and now it fuels me to keep going, but to remember to better pace myself so it doesn’t happen again.”

To this day, Tilley does what he can to further improve his running, reaping the rewards as it shapes his character and Air Force career.

“We should be fit to fight,” Tilley said. “You never know what situation you’re going into, and having that ‘fight tonight’ readiness is what should drive us as Airmen.”