I have always enjoyed running. In elementary school, I won countless field-day blue ribbons for fastest runner. In high school I ran track and cross country. Cross country quickly became my favorite. I was extremely excited when the U.S. Air Force did away with the bike test and started the 1.5 mile run to measure your aerobic fitness. I had mastered the 1.5-mile run and was queen of the 5k.
My passion for running was matched when I was assigned to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. My supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Abigail Esparza, also enjoyed running. She introduced me to several local competitive running events. She encouraged me to try a 10-mile trail run, but I was hesitant at first because she was pushing me out of my 3 to 5 mile comfort zone. Training began three months prior to the race, and we set a goal to increase by one mile each week. We completed the trail run, and it was an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I was hooked. We went on to run that same 10-mile trail run for three years straight.
Next, we progressed to the 13.1-mile run (half marathon). Esparza and I tackled the new challenge just as we did those 10-mile runs. We set a goal, trained and stayed committed until race day — but I wanted more. I had been running all my life, but I did not feel like a true runner. I wanted to experience running a full marathon (26.2 miles). I shared my idea with Esparza to which she replied, “When we ran the half marathon I knew after that race I didn’t have another half marathon left in me. But, if you have the desire you already know what to do to accomplish it.” I immediately thought I must be in over my head. If my running mentor was unable to go to the next level, then how could I? So, I put that idea aside.
Within my first year at Luke Air Force Base, I signed up for another half marathon, mainly to see if I could complete a race on my own. All sorts of thoughts went through my head. Who was going to push me? Could I be accountable to myself? What if I became lazy and got behind on my training? In the past, I had Esparza there by my side and most days I stayed committed because I gave her my word. Then, I decided to make an agreement with myself. I used the tools Esparza gave me and set out to run a marathon. With that goal in sight, last fall I ran my third half marathon, but completing that race was just the beginning to my marathon goal. My plan was to build up from the 13.1 miles to 20 miles. The weekend following my half marathon I ran 14 miles, then 15 miles, then 17 miles. I topped out at 20 miles just before race week.
On race day, as I waited in my corral, I texted now Master Sgt. Esparza because I knew she would understand how big this was for me. I wanted her to know I used the same principles she had given me six years ago. I was grateful that her guidance put me within minutes of starting the race and tackling one of my lifelong goals. She texted back, “You rock!” and on Jan. 20 I finished my first marathon and became a true runner.
While training for a marathon, I found the meaning of being self-motivated. I was a good runner, and Esparza mentored me to be a better runner, but she could only take me so far. I learned that some mentors can only get you to a certain stage. In order to make it to the next level I would have to go it alone. I knew that I could not become complacent if I wanted to improve. Having a goal, a plan and being committed can be applied to every aspect of life — not just running. I challenge anyone who has thought about venturing out on a new goal to find their inner strength and stay committed to achieving those goals!