Yokota runner meets goal despite COVID-19 obstacles

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryann Holzapfel
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In the United States Air Force it is required to run 1.5 miles in a set amount of time based on your age, gender and current physical state to pass a Physical Training test. Members train several different ways to accomplish their running goal. They’ll perform sprints to increase speed during their run, they’ll start running a couple months prior to their PT test and some just always run. Maj. Craig Gulledge, 374th Airlift Wing Safety Office flight safety officer out of Yokota Air Base, Japan, always runs.

Recently, Gulledge ran 100K, or 62.2 miles, around the Yokota Par Three Golf Course. In the past seven years he has run 14 official marathons. At the time of this interview, he was on the 843rd day of his running streak. He doesn’t let holidays, PCS moves, weather or pandemics stop him.

“It’s about getting out and relieving stress,” said Gulledge. “It’s relieving both mentally and spiritually to get out and do something and just get out the door every day and train. People need to get out and get physical activity regardless of restrictions going on now.”

Earlier this year, Major Gulledge signed up to participate in a 100K ultra-marathon at the Fuji Five Lakes near Mt. Fuji, Japan and so he began training - training that can be time intensive while also being physically and mentally challenging. When COVID-19 caused the cancellation of the marathon, he decided he would run his own ultra-marathon, but not before running into a few complications.

“I had already started my training and got a lot of good runs in so I definitely wasn’t going to let it being cancelled stop me,” Gulledge said, “because I had set up this goal, I knew I had to keep going.”

Shortly after the official ultra-marathon was cancelled, Gulledge planned to run the official route at the Five Fuji Lakes to meet his running goal. However shortly after making his decision to run the route anyway, the base enacted further travel restrictions to a five mile radius outside of Yokota. These restrictions ruled out being able to run his originally planned route.

Gulledge then decided he would run the local area in the surrounding cities of the base, but soon after that further travel restrictions came into place limiting the local area to Yokota Air Base only. Again, Gulledge was faced with choosing to pursue his original goal or delay it another time. Determined to finish the goal he started, he decided to plan his run on the base.

“It wasn’t about any sort of winning or prizes, it was just about the perseverance to push through what I had started,” Gulledge said.

Gulledge knew he needed a controlled area that had limited traffic flow and somewhere he could have a station for water and supplies ready to grab-and-go for his run. He decided on the Yokota Par Three Golf Course. The golf course has a designated running course set up around its perimeter and Gulledge measured the distance to be about .94 miles for one lap around, making it 67 laps he would need to accomplish to meet the 62.2 mile distance of a 100K ultra-marathon.

The morning of Sunday April 19, 2020, the same day he would have stepped out onto the Fuji Five Lakes running course, Gulledge drove to the Yokota golf course and parked on the side of the running path near some old picnic tables. He opened his hatchback and set up his grab and go supply station, warmed up with some dynamic stretching and then began the goal he set out to meet months ago.

While he ran by the same trees lap after lap, he listened to podcasts and music to stay engaged on the monotonous golf course running route. He also had friends from a base running group come and run with him while staying physically distant to help keep him motivated.

“It helped to be able to have them run with me,” he said, “It definitely got hard a couple times where I didn’t want to push on anymore, but the motivation really helped.”

One change of shoes and ten hours, 19 minutes and 67 laps - or 15 PT tests – later, friends and family cheered as Gulledge ran through a make-shift finish line made of toilet paper.

“I couldn’t have done any of that without my wife, Rebecca, and her help and support during all of it. We have two kids, a three-month old and three-year old so she takes the helm for taking care of the kids when I would do my six hour training runs on weekends.”

During these trying times of quarantine or physical distancing people may struggle to continue to work toward their physical goals. Gulledge said he finds the motivation he needs by setting goals and accomplishing them and the hardest part of staying physically fit during stressful times like these is just getting your shoes on to get ready to go out the door.