ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, 50 million Americans participate in some form of running or jogging, and for good reason: it burns calories, keeps you in shape, and can be relaxing. If one gets bit by the running bug, there is no shortage of races to run. Some runners set out to accomplish 5Ks, 10Ks and even 26.2 mile marathons, then there are those who race fifty miles through South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forrest.
U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Gallemit, 89th Attack Squadron chief of Blue Flight, attempted the Black Hills 50 Mile marathon June 25, 2022. He was joined by his teammate and training partner U.S. Air Force Captain Anthony Cooper, the 28th Bomb Wing Base Legal Office chief of military justice.
Cooper and Gallemit met through their shared love of rock climbing, and once the pair realized they both serve in the military, they began to speak of future athletic endeavors. Cooper had brought up the idea of running the Black Hills 50 and when Gallemit showed interest, Cooper immediately signed up. Gallemit appreciated the enthusiasm and reflected on his encouragement.
“It’s hard to find people, even in the Marine Corps, to motivate me to do something like that,” Gallemit said.
He, along with Cooper, stress the importance of not being ‘the only crazy person’ willing to take on this venture. They both agree that having a strong support system when taking on a challenge of this magnitude is paramount to success.
In the months leading up to the race, they both held fast to their regimens and leaned on each other for accountability. This practice involved texting photos of the distances traveled that day and at what times they were doing it. Cooper remarked that he could be having a terrible week and then receive that text message and feel inspired to get his miles in, even if he had to make sacrifices to do so.
“I have to spend the first six hours of the Saturday running and that’s going to mean I can’t do something that is definitely going to be more fun,” said Cooper, as he recalled having to decline a rock climbing trip that would conflict with his regimen.
As the two lined up at the starting line on the day of the race, they had conflicting mindsets. Cooper was worried about the attempt, but persevered, resolute in his decision.
“Not lining up was never an option,” he said. The thought of not participating with Gallemit after all the work they put in was not a possibility. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Gunnery Sergeant Gallemit had a plan.
“The Marine bravado kicked in,” he said. Gallemit ran through his plan for the race as he was set to begin. When to rest, and when to push was all laid out beforehand. His philosophy: a plan well executed will carry you to victory.
As the race carried on, both pushed themselves through the arduous journey through the Black Hills. Both were making excellent time until, something did not go according to plan.
“There was this hill that just would not end,” Gallemit said. “By the time I got finished with that hill, my legs and quads were completely gone.”
Even with exhausted leg muscles, Gallemit was dedicated to finishing and wished to press on. When he reached the next waystation, race officials informed him his arrival time was insufficient and he was forced to stop.
In order to complete the race, each runner must arrive at pre-determined checkpoints by certain times, or be disqualified. Gallemit was racing ahead of the clock at the beginning of the race, but his pace suffered too much during his trek up the hill and he was unable to make it to the next checkpoint in time.
Cooper was able to continue and did so with his own tribulations.
“I kind of forgot to eat between miles 40 and 45,” Cooper said.
With energy depleted, he trudged his way to the second-to-last aid station and had to sit for a while to recover, unsure if he would be able to continue. Thankfully, with the help of the aid staff, Cooper was able to get back on his feet and push toward the end of the race. As he became surer his goal would be reached, he reflected on his position.
“At that point, all the emotions kind of set in,” Cooper said. “I started thinking about how far we had come, and all the people that had supported us.”
Both Cooper and Gallemit agree that this was not something that either of them could have done alone and without firm dedication. Afterwards, Gallemeit reflected on his experience training with an Airman.
“I’ve met so many service men and women from other branches that are incredibly inspirational and motivational,” he said. “My new standard for Airmen is Captain Coop.”
The pair said they thoroughly enjoyed the experience and challenge of the Black Hills 50 Mile Marathon and their next endeavor will be to take on more running challenges together; with the next being a ruck-run marathon in September of 2022. The pair estimate that roads will continue to be rough and long, but they are dedicated to pushing each other to excellence.