FORT POLK, La. – The air was crisp. The sun was rising. Another Army Ten-miler race was about to finish. At 55 degrees, it was a chilly, fall day, similar to every race day over the past 35 years. Except, this one wasn’t like previous years. No one was there giving a pre-race speech to hype up the runners. A cannon didn’t fire to signal the start of the race. There were no crowds of spectators cheering along the race route. Volunteers didn’t give out cups of water or offer words of encouragement as runners passed the mile markers.
Most noticeably, there weren’t 35,000 runners pacing down the streets of Washington, D.C.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Chang Yang, a motor transport operator assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, completed the 36th Annual Army Ten-Miler, Virtual Edition, Oct. 17, using the track at Honor Field, Fort Polk, Louisiana.
Starting promptly at 7 a.m., Yang finished the race in one hour, 47 minutes, 52 seconds.
The Army Ten-Miler is a 10-mile road race in which tens of thousands of runners, spectators and vendors gather at the Pentagon and throughout Washington, D.C. The race is conducted annually by The U.S. Military District of Washington.
The decision to host the event virtually did not come lightly.
“Conducting the race virtually will support the Department of Defense and local government health measures to minimize COVID-19 risk,” said Matt Zimmerman, race director, in a previous article published on Army.mil.
For Yang, having the opportunity to complete the race for the second year straight, albeit virtually, was still an exciting experience.
“I had already reserved a resort through my timeshare for this year’s race,” said Yang. “In July, when they announced the race would be virtual, I had to cancel my reservations. I wasn’t disappointed though. They were looking out for our safety, and I appreciated that.”
Shortly after immigrating to the United States from Yanji, a city in the eastern part of Jilin Province, China, Yang enlisted in the Army out of Arcadia, California, in March 2006.
As a 20-year-old private stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Yang would soon discover a love for running that continues to this day.
“They brainwashed me into loving to run,” Yang said with a smile as she recalled her days in the 82nd Airborne Division. “My first duty station was at Fort Bragg. That’s how I started running. If you’re stationed at Fort Bragg in the 82nd, you pretty much run six to eight miles every other day.”
Yang has been stationed at Fort Polk since May 2017. During that time, she served as the brigade Total Army Sponsorship Coordinator before starting school as a full-time nursing student at Northwestern University in August, under the 10th Mountain Division Education Incentive Program reenlistment option.
Although she had heard about the 10-miler from a friend at a previous duty station, it was the leaders she met while working at brigade who encouraged Yang to run the 10-mile race for the first time in 2019.
“My NCOIC, Master Sgt. Moore, did it when he was stationed in D.C.,” Yang said as she recalled a previous conversation. “He told me all the good stuff about the Army Ten-Miler. He said, ‘it was really good energy and great motivation.’ He motivated me to sign-up last year. I did wonderfully, and I enjoyed everything about it, so I signed-up again this year.”
Registration opened July 21, at a reduced rate of $54 for early bird registration to include active-duty military, and August 22 for everyone else wishing to participate at $59 a person, up to 25,000 runners.
Participants who registered before September 20, were mailed swag bags that contained a race bib, official runner shirt, finisher coin and calendar.
Race organizers allowed participants eight days to complete the race, from Oct. 11 – 18.
“This year was more flexible,” said Yang. “It was less complicated than completing the race in D.C. Last year I had to travel to Washington. Completing the race virtually, you’re able to save a lot of money and time, but you don’t get the big crowd.”
Runners used the Active Experience app as the official method for recording their run and submitting their results. The app also allowed users to share photos and training progress, as well as receive important messages and updates about the race.
“I used the app and my smartwatch to track my run,” said Yang. “It was easy to use and very interactive. I liked the app because it allowed me to see where I placed on the leaderboard as soon as I finished.
Even though Yang enjoyed the virtual experience, she said she missed the whirlwind of activities that usually accompany the race in Washington, D.C.
“The atmosphere in D.C. is so exciting,” Yang said wistfully. “It’s a big social event. People are there from all over the country. It’s not just Army; civilians and other military branches are running the race. And the crowd! The crowd is a big part of the experience. Everyone is wearing the same 10-miler uniform, and you know we’re all there for the same reason. We all have fun.”
She completed the race by herself, without the support from strangers she met the day before at check-in, or the people she chatted up before the race start.
When asked if she could change one thing about completing the race virtually, Yang said it would be to have a localized running group that offered support to anybody interested, but unsure about running 10-miles.
“It’s not just for me,” said Yang. “I think seeing people sign up here, as a group, and knowing that they have support will motivate others to register. Knowing they do not have to go all the way to D.C. could also get new Soldiers to sign up.”
Yang said she hopes for an in-person race next year. If COVID-19 is still an issue, she said she’s more than happy to complete the race virtually if it means keeping everyone else safe.
“Now that I started running this race, I know that I will continue to sign-up every year as long as I am able,” said Yang. My daughter Lily is four years old, and she loves to run. I hope this is something I can share with her when she gets older.”