DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del., October 5, 2015 ? Running a half marathon is no easy feat. Training and preparations include weight training, proper nutrition and hydration.
And most important of all — a lot of running.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Jessica Rodriguez, an air traffic control apprentice with the 436th Operations Support Squadron, was the only airman assigned here selected to compete on the Air Mobility Command team and run in the 19th Air Force Half Marathon, which took place Sept. 19, 2015, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
?My story with distance running starts back in high school,? Rodriguez said. ?I ran cross-country my senior year and during that season I ran three-mile races, which was pretty simple. But I did a 10K for one of the bigger races and that just started my love for distance running.?
After high school, Rodriguez set her eyes on a bigger goal and completed her first half marathon in December 2014 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
?The course was completely flat and it was really cold,? Rodriguez said. ?But it was really rewarding because running 13 miles is very hard. There comes a point, like around 10 miles in to the race, where your legs just start giving up.?
Since then, Rodriquez has completed three more half marathons, including the Heritage Half Marathon held here in April, where she finished with a time of 1:55:00.
As a trainee in the air traffic control tower, Rodriquez works in a high-stress environment where nearly 65 percent of trainees drop out or do not complete training. She credits distance running with giving her the ability to handle the stress of training.
?Running helps me a lot with air traffic,? Rodriguez said. ?Even when it?s hard, I know I can still keep going. When I have hard or stressful days, I can still keep pushing because I know physically going out and running a lot of miles requires a lot of mental of physical strength. So when I?m at my job, I know I can do it.?
Her hard work on- and off-duty has not gone unnoticed. Air Force Lt. Col. Aaron Oelrich, commander of the 436th Operations Support Squadron, said Rodriguez is a leader among her co-workers.
?I think Airman Rodriguez is fantastic,? Oelrich said. ?This is just incumbent upon all of us to say, ?You know what, it doesn?t matter if you?re a lieutenant colonel, a general officer or an airman first class, you can lead and you can stand up and take charge of your peers,? and Airman Rodriguez has done that time and time again.?
After 16 weeks of training, Rodriquez drove to Ohio to take part in one of the biggest races of her life. Even as an experienced runner, she had some doubts about the race.
?I was a little nervous because of the weather, it is a lot different in Ohio than it is here in Dover,? said Rodriguez. ?The course is also hilly, and obviously by looking around Dover it is pretty flat.?
On race day, the wind was blowing and the sky was cloudy, but Rodriguez maintained an 8:50 pace to finish in 1:55:42. She said the most difficult part of the race was finishing on a hill. But there was plenty of support to push her through to the finish.
?There were a lot of people along the course that were cheering us on,? Rodriguez said. ?Even if you start to slow down, people behind you will usually see it and they motivate you to push through. I had a guy tap me on the shoulder and say, ?You got this!??
Rodriguez finished 510th in a field of more than 6,000 athletes and 13th in her age group. She said this race, like all the others, is an opportunity for personal growth.
?It?s always a learning experience with every half marathon I run,? Rodriguez said. ?Every time I run a half marathon I always learn that I?m so much more capable than I ever imagined. Even though it?s always just 13.1 miles, it?s still a challenge and I?m pushing myself past what I think I can do. So in the end it?s all about knowing you are more capable than you ever think you are.?
Rodriguez has now completed five half marathons and said much of her running career stems from a huge support network.
?My family has been really supportive throughout my whole journey in the Air Force and with my running,? she said, ?They help to keep me motivated so I have to give a lot of props to my family.?
After high school, Rodriguez took her running to another level when she signed up for her first half marathon. She again wants to take it to the next level.
?I?ve decided to up my game,? Rodriguez said. ?I?m going to sign up and run a full marathon within the next six months.?
By Air Force Airman 1st Class William Johnson, 436th Airlift Wing