Focus on fitness: Informal base running group challenges, encourages

Participants in a running group make their way around the outdoor track during a workout Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Participants in a running group make their way around the outdoor track during a workout Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Participants in a running group make their way around the outdoor track during a workout Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Participants in a running group make their way around the outdoor track during a workout Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Participants congratulate each other after a workout on the outdoor track Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Participants congratulate each other after a workout on the outdoor track Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Col. Jay Aanrud, 354th Fighter Wing vice commander, briefly chats with participants about running fitness after a workout on the outdoor track Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

Col. Jay Aanrud, 354th Fighter Wing vice commander, briefly chats with participants about running fitness after a workout on the outdoor track Oct. 25, 2013, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Perras)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Some people are just born to run. They make running look swift, effortless and easy as they glide along a track or road. They can complete a 1.5-mile run in outstanding time and barely break a sweat. They run 5Ks and half marathons - and they love it. These people can be regarded by some as natural athletes and by others as the object of their disdain.

Others may aim to simply survive a run without wheezing or cramping. They would just like to pass the physical fitness test run portion without feeling as if they might pass out before the last lap. For them, the idea of running a half marathon is incredibly ridiculous and utterly painful. Just the thought of shin splints and side stitches sends them to the clinic. There's no such thing as running for "fun."

For one eclectic Eielson group of athletic and not-so-athletic trail-blazers, however, running is all about fitness and camaraderie.

"I heard about the group from someone who was already participating in the weekly runs and I wanted to learn more about track running, so I came out," said Jana Gumley, 354th Fighter Wing chapel Catholic programs coordinator. "I've been at Eielson for two years and been running with the group for three months now. I probably wouldn't run that fast and hard running alone so it gives me a lot of motivation."

The group meets every Friday, generally about noon, for one hour on the outdoor running track. For some, like Capt. Jeana Quintana, 354th FW executive officer, it's an opportunity to get outside during the day, build friendships and burn some calories.

"Every week the workout is something different - they vary from long distances to short distance speed work. I enjoy getting out of my office and I definitely run faster and run harder in a group setting like this," she said. "My favorite workouts are the sprints, so it really helps to have someone cheering you on and pushing you when all you want to do is slow down."

According to fitness experts, running and running training can be a very healthy activity especially for those living in a place like Alaska where it can be very cold and dark during the winter. Running can raise levels of good cholesterol, while also increasing lung function and use. It can also burn calories to encourage weight loss, boost confidence, relieve stress and improve mood.

"I was trying to get better at running when I decided to come out and run with the group," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Massengill, 354th FW protocol specialist. "I normally try to split up my workouts and runs on Fridays with the group is a good way to do that. I enjoy the camaraderie and the idea that other people are running in front and behind and sometimes passing me, so I have to keep pushing."

Temperatures are beginning to fall and the days are becoming shorter in Interior Alaska. Staying fit by doing something enjoyable and shared by a group is very important, says Col. Jay Aanrud, 354th FW vice wing commander.

"During the winters here, I saw a whole lot of people doing a lot of track workouts on our beautiful indoor 200-meter track in the Baker Field House and I'd see the same folks all the time," Aanrud said. "We are always challenged to do better on our physical training tests and stay active in the winter. I thought to myself that there are a few people like me who are just crazy enough and like to run around in circles for time and like to push themselves to run fast, run far and run often. So I gathered some of those people that I saw at various races and some I saw on the indoor track in the winter until we got a group together that wanted to improve their running by running together."

The group of weekly runners began to grow after Aanrud sent an e-mail out every week containing the workout. Word-of-mouth also became a vehicle to make the opportunity known to more people each week.

"Word spread and people who wanted to stay fit caught on and those who wanted to be more fit started to come out," Quintana said. "Anyone can join us. What's great about it is the trickle effect - one person will tell someone and they will tell someone and then before you know it there are 12 people out here on the track, all trying to make the most of running. When I started there were only three or four people, so having more people around you to encourage you if you're struggling or to give you a pat on the back when you improve a lap time is rewarding."

With the cold settling in, the group will soon move indoors - to the Baker Field House - to continue running throughout the winter months, encouraging each other to improve their fitness.

"Outdoor track season is about done because of the cold, so we may transition to a Wednesday night outdoor run and see who wants to try that on for sport in Alaska," said Aanrud. "We'll probably do some workouts indoors, maybe do a lot less speed work in the winter, but start it up again on the outdoor track in the spring."

The colonel challenges all Airmen and their family members to find an exercise or a sport they enjoy and stay active this winter with activities right here on Eielson.

"If you played football in high school you can play flag football, if you played basketball, you can play intramural basketball. The Air Force introduces a lot of people to different sports all the time," he said. "Continue on with your passion for a sport. It's as easy as asking a couple friends to join you and they ask a few friends and then you have a group of crazy people who like to do it all together. It's just that much better for your fitness, for your mind and for your body."

So how cold does it have to be outside before Aanrud will run indoors?

"It has to be 20 below zero before it's too cold for me," he said with a grin. "It's all indoors for me after that!"

The running group is open to anyone and typically meets at noon on Fridays. For additional information on running or other fitness activities, visit the fitness center or call the Health and Wellness Center at 377-9355.