KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Mississippi —
When the word hobby comes to mind, activities like reading, playing video games, knitting, fishing, or baking come to the surface. Relaxing, but often a little productive, activities to counter the stress of everyday life.
The Oxford dictionary defines the word hobby as an activity done regularly in one’s free time for pleasure. Keywords “leisure” and “pleasure”.
Activities that probably don’t immediately come to mind are those where a person exhausts themselves physically and mentally for hours, sometimes days, in the rolling ridges of the Appalachian foothills in all their elemental glory.
As an ultramarathon trail runner, Lt. Col. Carmel Weed, commanding officer of the 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, chooses physical and mental exertion gauntlets over the scarf knit during his free time.
“It’s pretty interesting how I discovered trail running and ultramarathons,” Weed said. “A friend of mine, Caleb, from church was thinking of getting into it. At first he said ‘trail’ but then he said, ‘Well, that’s more like ultra-running’ .
Ultra running? Weed said he was unfamiliar and asked him what it entailed, and he described it as a long-distance race.
“What does it mean?” Weed then asked his friend to waive details of races that were between 30 and 100 miles.
Although Weed had been a bit of an experienced runner having completed a standard marathon in the past – something he said he never wanted to do again – at the age of 49 at the time, he didn’t Wasn’t too sure about the feat this friend came up with. But a serendipitous opportunity on a camping trip in Oak Mountain State Park would sway him.
“Every year my son and I would travel to Hoover, Alabama for the (Southeastern Conference) baseball tournament, and I decided that year that I wanted to take my RV and stay at nearby Oak Mountain. “, did he declare. “I didn’t think about it all week while we were there for the baseball games, but one day while we were driving I saw signs for a 6 and 12 mile Memorial Day run, free military races.”
Comparing the tournament schedule to what he thought was an “easy” 6-mile race that started at 7:00 a.m., Weed figured that since it was free and he had time, why not?
“I didn’t really understand what it was like to run in the mountains until that day,” he said.
Of the more than 100 participants, Weed believes he was one of the last ten to finish, noting that he counted five participants in the 12-mile lap race. From his equipment to his approach to his fitness level, he was totally unprepared.
“I was ashamed and I was angry and the competitive part of me got me,” he said. “I came home and told my buddy about it and he just laughed and said ‘You didn’t know.'”
As any logical person would respond to his story of anything but failing a 6-mile run, his friend invited him to run a 24-hour ultramarathon in Canton, Georgia, where he would compete in the 100-mile event. miles. And as any logical person who just recounted her horror 6 miles uphill where she “felt like I almost died four times on a 900 foot incline” would respond, Weed accepted the invitation, signing up for the 50 mile portion of the event.
It took 19 hours and 45 minutes for Weed to complete what he affectionately called a “suck-fest,” his first completed ultramarathon among many.
Why choose to endure physical pain? The often contradictory elements? The mental showdown between continuing and giving up?
“It’s about seeing how far I’m able to push myself,” Weed said. “How much can I endure and overcome to achieve my goal? How can I improve each time? You get to know each other when you’re there and you can do so much more than you think.
Although he’s since completed 19 other races, including a 48-hour, 100-mile race, his staged sucking party experiences haven’t all been sunny and daisy.
Take his first attempt at the 2020 “Race to the Top of Alabama 50K” for example, an annual trek to the summit of Mount Cheaha, the highest natural point in the state of Alabama reaching an elevation of 2 413 feet.
Unlike the other races he has entered, the Mount Cheaha event came with a cut crew bringing up the rear. Their goal: to send latecomers who do not arrive at the aid stations in time.
“That day just wasn’t my day,” Weed recounted. “I vastly overestimated my racing ability and vastly underestimated this track, and it kicked me to the point where I had to pull off the track at mile 18 after falling twice on rocks and rolled my ankle.”
Like his experience after that unimpressive performance in his first 6-mile trail run, Weed’s response to his failure to complete the hike up Mount Cheaha was not discouragement, but rather competitiveness and determination. . He said he had marked next year’s event on his calendar.
Some things in life, however, are more important than personal vendettas against tectonically affected parts of the Earth, and he had agreed to accompany his wife to a seminar on marriage the same weekend as the event. next year, so his attempt to conquer Mount Cheaha should be put on hold.
Two years after that failed attempt, Weed had four goals:
1. Go further than the first time.
3. Avoid serious injury.
4. Complete in less than 9 hours.
“This time I was smarter – I was hoping,” he laughed. “But I couldn’t train that much before that, I was the heaviest I had been, and I had a broken toe, so I had those factors working against me. But I thought I had my faith in the Lord on my side and what better than that?Plus my buddy Caleb was running with me.
Once again Mount Cheaha presented no walk in the park for Weed and company – more of a run, climb, consider giving up at mile 23 because they were way behind the time limit, walk- you in the park. But on February 26, after 9 hours and 29 minutes, Weed became a finisher in the “Race to the Top of Alabama 50K”.
“Overall it was a great experience,” he said. “I finished and while my ankle is a little swollen, I came out unscathed. I didn’t go under the 9 hour mark, but that’s something I can hope to accomplish if I decide to do this run again.
The attractions of sport, beyond the challenge of pushing your limits and improving, come in the form of camaraderie, fellowship and spiritual fulfillment.
“The environment is so encouraging,” he said. “Everyone you meet on the trail is pushing you and cheering you on and it’s just a great time. It’s also a great opportunity to just be in the woods with my creator.
As for how this hobby translates into other facets of his life, Weed says he has a better understanding of what he, and really anyone, is truly capable of.
“It’s a great conversation starter when people find out I do this,” he said. “They start asking questions, and I’m able to turn the situation around and say, ‘Peel your own onion a little bit. How far can you go? Because no matter where you think the line is, believe me, you can go way beyond that. Generally, your limits are what you impose on yourself.
If there had ever been an aircraft maintenance operation parallel to the ups and downs of 24-hour runway racing, the Airmen of Weed’s 403rd AMXS could claim it.
Weed took command of the squadron in November and noted the difficulty of trying to be an effective leader as a traditional reservist who only comes in four or five days a month.
The squadron is responsible for the maintenance of 10 WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 53rd Hurricane Hunters Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, and whether in support of winter season operations or hurricane operations, the unit could be called in at the drop of a hat anywhere in the United States, including the Caribbean and as far away as Hawaii, requiring round-the-clock attention from the 403rd AMXS to maintain mission capability.
With careful preparation and a good team around him, Weed is able to approach his tasks and the mission much like he races, at a methodical pace rather than wearing himself out in a weekend sprint. uphill.
“Any experienced ultramarathon runner will tell you when you’re just starting out: run on flats and walk on hills,” he said. “As a wing, we train ourselves to think in a process improvement and compliance mindset. This doesn’t come overnight. We have to walk these learning hills before we can run these flats. No matter what challenges come our way, if we stay focused and persistent and don’t give up, we can hold our heads up high, whether it’s during a drill, inspecting the effectiveness of a real unit or situation, knowing that we have changed our culture and ultimately our direction to success.