WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — September may look like a long way off, but organizers of the Air Force Marathon are already hard at work putting the race back on the itinerary for 2021. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Air Force Marathon, and so far runners will be welcomed back to Wright-Patterson in full force this fall.
Though September is a momentous anniversary for the race, Air Force Marathon Director Brandon Hough said his team is focused on producing the race that they know.
“We’re focused on getting the small things right. We don’t want any one detail to fall through the cracks, so everyone has a positive experience,” he said.
In 2020, the traditional form of the Air Force Marathon was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Runners who had already purchased tickets had multiple options to redeem them, including the option of a virtual run. Participants in virtual races conducted the run on their own and then uploaded their times online to the marathon leaderboard. According to Hough, approximately half of the registered runners took this option, and the second half opted to defer their tickets to a future year.
Switching to a virtual environment meant a steep learning curve for Hough and his team.
“Lessons learned from 2020 boil down to a lot of stuff that runners will never see, but streamline things on the back end,” he said.
These innovations and adaptations include cleaning up how registration looked in order to gather correct data. Additionally, shipping thousands of packages to virtual marathoners with race shirts, medals, and the like, “forced us to innovate and automate the process,” Hough said.
Virtual races are making a return this year, encompassing the full marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K and the Tailwind Trot. These can be done throughout September, in addition to the full race on Sept. 18. So far, the plan is to offer the Air Force Marathon in a way that is as close to normal as possible.
“As we get nearer to the event we can make some tweaks if necessary. By June we’ll get an idea of whether or not need to make changes,” Hough added.
Like many other organizations across the country, the Air Force Marathon team is watching the coronavirus situation closely. Between coronavirus orders from Gov. Mike DeWine, as well as Wright-Patterson leadership, the marathon is collecting data from multiple different perspectives. Additionally, races that have started up again around the country have their own trials and errors to provide, expanding the set of best practices for a post-COVID race.
“We’re looking at those events, they’re the trendsetters here. We expect to get lessons learned from them,” Hough said.
COVID protocols notwithstanding, there are plenty of fun things to look forward to for the 25th anniversary of the marathon. The team is currently working on bringing back the fireworks, the three-person relay race, and a flyover with all four planes featured this year: the B-2 Spirit, the F-35 Lightning, the A-10 Thunderbolt, and the C-17 Globemaster.
“Everybody loves the flyover when we just have one [aircraft],” Hough said. “It’s not very often that we get four unique aircraft from completely different mission sets — that’s very unique.”
Even for those who aren’t inclined to long-distance running, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. In a typical year, the marathon takes up to 2,500 volunteers to pull off, and there are spectator opportunities in downtown Fairborn as well. And for those who aren’t sure if they can run the race themselves, Hough offered some encouragement.
“Just sign up and believe in yourself, there’s something for everybody,” he said. “This is the Miami Valley’s race. We are nothing without the community that supports us.”
Reach London Bishop at 937-502-4532 or follow @LBishopFDH on Twitter.