Virtual USAF marathon runners cross the chalk in Knoxville

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Airmen assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in East Tennessee and their families cheered for each other at the Knoxville Greenway on September 19 during the full, half, 10K, 5K, and 1K race of the Virtual Air Force Marathon.

TEC's Morale Committee sponsored the event as a means to get together outdoors safely during the pandemic and to celebrate the Air Force's birthday.

"The morale committee received a request by an Airman to support the virtual race as a group event, and we thought it was a great idea," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Amy Smyser, committee president. "I am glad that others joined in. The cooler weather arrived just in time."

Sergeant Smyser is assigned to TEC as a professional military education instructor. TEC's instructors and staff operate the Air National Guard's primary campus for total force accredited learning, located on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base just outside Knoxville.

The Air Force typically holds the marathon at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, but the race switched to a virtual event due to COVID-19. Despite that, all distance categories in the event sold out nationally, with more than 11,600 runners registered. The race is typically held on the weekend near the Air Force's birthday, which is September 18, 1947.

About a dozen runners started their runs on the paved Greenway, just outside the University of Tennessee's sports complex. They left in individual heats, beginning at 8 a.m. This management allowed Airmen and families to run together while following federal and local health officials' safety guidelines. Volunteers distributed water and sports drinks as well as provided encouragement along the trail.

"It was a good turnout," said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Shaun Withers, assigned to TEC University, who ran the 5K carrying the American flag and with his dog Benny. Joining him was Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Gragg, assigned to the mission support division, who held the Tennessee state flag.

Other staff and family followed runners from a distance on their bicycles and on roller skates to encourage them. Volunteers also wrote chalk messages of encouragement along the paved path.

Runners logged finish times online, and finishers received event medals and shirts by mail. There was no time awards given for this year's event.