WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force Marathon is expanding.
In addition to September’s annual event, the History and Heritage race series, which began in January, is an opportunity to blend United States Air Force history with perennial marathon participants’ love of running.
The idea was inspired in part by a letter, according to Air Force Marathon Director Brandon Hough. A participant wrote the organization, asking if one of the featured aircraft in the marathon could be the F-111 Aardvark.
The Air Force Marathon always features active aircraft, usually just one every year. For 2021, due to the 25th anniversary of the marathon, there are four featured aircraft: the B-2 Spirit, F-35 Lightning, A-10 Thunderbolt, and C-17 Globemaster.
The Aardvark, however, cannot be a featured aircraft in the September race. The plane was retired in 1998. The History and Heritage series, though, is a little different.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Air Force Marathon had offered a virtual option, allowing participants to run at their own time and place, and upload their results to an online leaderboard. The idea was successful enough that the format is making a return for 2021, but it also opened up an opportunity to try some new ideas.
“Last year, we looked at a lot of our industry peers. The industry is being crushed because there’s no events available,” Hough said. “So we asked, ‘what does pivoting look like for us at the Air Force Marathon?’
“We got that letter, and it hit us like a truck,” he continued. “We have an audience who loves the U.S. Air Force and U.S. aircraft, we have 360 of them sitting in the Air Force Museum, and it just seemed like a natural fit. It made sense for the brand and what we do, which is tell the story of the Air Force.”
The History & Heritage Race Series, which is conducted entirely virtually, will feature retired aircraft in order to highlight all of the planes that have shaped the U.S. Air Force throughout history. It follows the same format as last year’s virtual race, and all participants will receive a commemorative patch, finisher’s medal, and information card about the month’s featured plane.
Of course, the first featured plane, which was announced for January and February, was the F-111 Aardvark.
“We normally only feature one [aircraft],” Hough said. “With this, we can feature six every year. If we kept doing one per year, it would take six decades to cover them all.”
The Aardvark was followed by the P-26A Peashooter, featured in March and April. The P-26A Peashooter was first all-metal plane and also the last to have an open-air cockpit. Thursday, the Air Force Marathon announced that the F-117 Nighthawk will be the featured plane for May and June. More planes will be announced as the series continues throughout the year.
The model of sponsoring several races throughout the year brings the Air Force Marathon in line with other race organizations throughout the country, including the Marine Corps Marathon Organization.
“We didn’t want to be this one week event, and then disappear for the next 51 weeks,” Hough said. “This is a perfect embodiment of how we want to grow: we can stay engaged with our runners, they stay engaged with us, and it’s meaningful to the community. Its meaningful to the Air Force, and it’s meaningful to us.”