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All Points West: The causes, effects of running
April 18, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
This past weekend, I ran in a 5K in Cheyenne, Wyo., part of drill. Itís something we weekend warriors may not like but we do it because physical fitness is a big part of our military genome. The race had a cause attached to it. In case you didnít know, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The race, officially called the 5K SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response), was organized by our Air National Guard brethren, who established the race last year with about a third of the 1,500 folks who showed up on Saturday. Since the race was sort of hidden away last year on a nearby Air Force installation, they thought to bring it out to Lionís Park just down the road from the main readiness center in Cheyenne, in full view of the public. Participants had the option of either running or walking, typical among many of Americaís road races, which have multiplied like flies in August.

Like many runs or races associated with the military, we also include a category of hard chargers, those who like to tote a 50-plus pound rucksacks over the 3.1-mile course. Or, in my case, I wore something called an improved outer tactical vest or IOTV; mine weighed 33.6 pounds. I donít know if wearing the extra garb made any more of a statement than most of the rest of the pack of runners and walkers who donned bright teal race T-shirts, which by the way came in handy at some of the road crossings. On top of donations, if one or more people noticed, we did our job. I also donít know if we were less of a nuisance to drivers than demonstrators blocking roads for a boat-load of other causes. Aside from holding picket signs, weíre all the same. Weíre trying to make a difference too.

(Thereís more about the good intentions of athletes mixing it up with 2-ton vehicles, but more on that in a moment.)

Around 2003, my younger brother Jason and I reconnected for the holidays in Las Vegas. A few months before, I had moved there for a fresh start after a divorce. Running Ė and sports overall Ė were a way to vent frustrations. Some people hit punching bags. Other people hit the bottle. I felt my method was a happy medium. Besides, the other two methods carried minor risks. At our Christmas gathering, Jason mentioned having run in the Honolulu Marathon, and made it sound like the best thing since sliced bread. It started when earlier in the year, he joined a group of runners in California who had started training for marathons, or in this case, the trip to Honolulu. Who wouldnít go to Hawaii, even if it meant experiencing some pain? The running club members all had reasons for doing something crazy like running the 26.2 miles, something personal, and some, like the 5K in Cheyenne, to raise money, awareness, and overall, our consciousness.

My brother Jason decided to run for AIDS awareness, and dedicated the race to my father, a long-time sufferer of the illness until his premature death at 62 in April 2004. Though Jason raised almost $1,500, he spoke about how my dad was trying to not only weather the virus, he was trying to weather the stigma of being gay. Judging from the news across the country these days, we have made little progress with regard to tolerance and respect. I donít know how much the money helped toward finding a cure for AIDS, but in some ways, it helped my brother come to terms with my dadís suffering and subsequent death.

Jason convinced me to run the L.A. Marathon with him in the spring. I had two months to prepare, which meant frequent runs in sometimes 100-degree weather, and to change up scenery, because one can only take so much of a desert landscape and watching jackrabbits disappear into the waves of heat rising up along the pavement.

I made several appearances on the Strip, almost by design, it was a good way to practice dodging people, which happens quite a bit in a race with more than 20,000 sweaty runners and walkers clogging the streets of downtown Los Angeles. My motivation? The cause, if you will? A single word Ė therapy. Thereís something about a healthy body in synch with a healthy mind. I dedicated my first disastrous marathon to my daughter, and presented the medal to her as a message of how to get past lifeís difficulties. If you run a marathon, which only a small segment of the world population has, then youíre apt to try just about anything. Runners canít ignore the ancillary benefits Ė you feel more confident, and you bond with complete strangers, who at times feel compelled to tell you their life stories. Consequently, you find they are similar to yours.

The run in Cheyenne revived a few memories of civilian and military competitions over the years, born of good intentions Ė the idea of raising spirits and finding meaning to your life. In one race during the first tour of my active duty career in the late Ď80s was the brainchild of my commanding general in Panama.

His idea of Soldiers feeling better about themselves equated to four-minute allotted times to complete as many sit-ups and push-ups as one could muster on an early Saturday morning, followed by a 5-mile run wearing jungle boots with hands folded around a 10-pound dummy rifle. I competed twice, once under orders and the second time to see if I could improve upon my first effort. I earned certificates both times, being one of a handful of Soldiers to cross the finish line in under 35 minutes.

Feeling inspired, or just tired?

If so, I must add this word of caution as you go out to buy running shorts and shoes to pursue the new you. Be safe and be respectful. The country roads outside of Gering and Scottsbluff are filled with farms. You might find yourself face to face with the large tractors or combines and fast moving pickup trucks that travel up and down our county roads, sometimes around blind turns. Also keep in mind, some of the roads cut through private property, and itís always wise and courteous to ask permission for access. If youíre unsure, there are plenty of running trails around Gering and Scottsbluff, constructed expressly for the purpose of accommodating runners, walkers and cyclists Ė places where you can exercise your legs and thoughts with peace of mind.

Ready, set? Go find your cause.
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