People across the nation laced up their sneakers and hit the pavement Saturday to support military men and women both home and abroad.
While some cities, like Harrisburg, Pa. have held Armed Forces Day races for several years in conjunction with nearby military installations, more routes are cropping up yearly.
Williamsburg, Va. hosted an eight-kilometer USA Masters National Championship for the first time on Saturday, benefitting injured service members and An Achievable Dream- a nonprofit, year-round public school focusing on breaking socioeconomic boundaries and supported by soldiers from Fort Eustis, Va.
Though Virginians made up the majority of participants, the professional course, historic setting and direction by Boston Marathon Director Dave McGillivray drew runners from several states away, resulting in a total of 1512 participants. Another 2050 crowded the colonial town for a half marathon on Sunday.
Run for the Dream, while one of many races, highlights the growing trend of holiday-based runs; events that continuously prove the longevity and popularity of the sport.
Three national records were set by the 40-year-old and up crowd, which included runners well into their seventies and eighties. Eighty-seven-year-old Louis Lodovico from Ellwood City, Pa. booked a time of 49 minutes and 8 seconds, averaging less than a 10-minute mile. Representing one of several runners ten years of age and younger, Andrew Stiefel cruised through the finish line in less than 40 minutes.
Paul Johnson, a resident of Boise, Idaho and USA Track and Field runner, was in Virginia for business when he heard about Run for the Dream. According to Johnson, who ran about a six and a half minute mile Saturday, running is a lifestyle that has infiltrated many aspects of his life. Love of the sport has led him to become an active supporter of the YMCA’s Strong Kids Campaign, encouraging kids and families to make healthy choices.
“It keeps a person healthy, it helps with my energy level it relieves stress at work and there’s a great level of camaraderie,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s list of running benefits closely mirror those found in scientific studies. Reduced stress, improved mood, increased energy and when practiced on a prolonged basis, reduced feelings of depression are all psychological benefits of running and other exercise.
It is no surprise then, that many communities incorporate races, runs and walks into holiday weekends. First-time runners are always welcome, regardless of age or physical prowess.
According to Medal of Honor winner Col. Wesley Fox, in the six months he spent at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland after suffering injuries in Vietnam, a doctor and bed were his main sources of relief.
“I never got the chance to run,” Fox said.
Health studies and technology are ushering in change for those who want that chance.
In recent years the psychological as well as physical benefits of running have made the sport an approved exercise for everyone from pregnant women to those suffering chronic pain. Race officials counted 28 injured service men and women among the Williamsburg runners Saturday, bearing both visible and invisible wounds.
Runners of all ages, backgrounds and levels of fitness will embark on organized courses again this weekend for Memorial Day, as the race docket continues to grow.