The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in countless canceled events, but it did not stop one of the nation’s largest race events from happening.
Held every October in Washington, D.C., this year’s 36th Annual Army Ten-Miler (ATM) went on, but it looked and felt very different.
Ralph Gaines, logistics management specialist, Fort Gordon Logistics Readiness Center, said he was pleasantly surprised when an announcement was made in July that the event would be held, albeit virtually.
“It’s one of those events you just want to keep going back to year after year, and that’s why I’m really glad that they decided to do the virtual,” Gaines said. “It’s a tradition.”
Without hesitation, he went online and joined the more than 23,000 people who registered for the race. Competitors had from Oct. 11-18 to complete the run, and were required to submit their results via the Army Ten-Miler app immediately upon completion. To ensure fair and accurate results, the race had to be completed in one session.
“Once I pressed ‘start’ on my watch, then reached the 10-mile mark, that was it,” Gaines said. “It stopped, and my time was saved then sent.”
Now an 18-year Veteran of the ATM, Gaines said this year presented unique challenges he had not previously faced. For starters, he did not have a lot of time to train, nor anyone to train alongside or other races to compete in leading up to the ATM.
“I wish I had more time to do more long runs, and normally I would have run at least two other races, but there weren’t any available,” Gaines said.
Maj. Gen. Neil S. Hersey, U.S. Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commanding general, said the biggest challenge for him was setting a pace since he was running alone.
“It was really a race against myself and the relative clock, so I had to focus on not allowing myself to slow down but also not to overcook it the first part of the run,” Hersey explained.
Despite a lack of crowds cheering them on, official start line, volunteers and water points along their individually-chosen routes, both men treated and prepared for the race similarly to how they would any other race. For Gaines, that meant donning his ATM gear he received in the mail prior to race day.
“I got my items ready beforehand – my shoes, my race number, the whole nine yards – and I started the time the race normally would start,” Gaines said. “At the end, I put my medal on just like I normally would do at the end of a race.”
Juggling a hectic schedule, Hersey said he wanted to ensure he had an opportunity to rest before race day, so he planned accordingly. In the end, both runners’ strategies worked to their advantages.
Not only did they successfully complete the ATM, but each finished in the top three for their age groups. Gaines finished first in the Male 60-69 Division with a finish time of 1:10:51, and Hersey placed third in the Male 50-59 Division with a finish time of 1:03:04.
With 21 ATM races underneath his shoes, Hersey said one of his goals for next year is to lower his time.
“To win the 50-59 age group and to not slow down … I would like to get back under an hour, which has not happened in a couple of years,” Hersey said.
For Gaines, his goal is to make it through at least two more ATMs.
“Once I get to 20, I don’t know how many more I’ll be able to do,” he said. “As long as I can remain competitive though, I’m sure I’ll keep going.”
Reflecting on previous races, Hersey and Gaines agreed there is nothing like “the real thing” and hope to return to the nation’s capital next year.
If anything positive has come from the pandemic and virtual events such as the ATM, Gaines said he believes they motivated more people to get outdoors and moving. In many cases, it also encouraged people to compete in events such as the virtual ATM – something Hersey said he hopes will continue.
“To all the folks out there who are interested in doing it, even the ones who don’t think it’s a great, fun event, I challenge them to look to sign up for the race – or any local races in the area,” Hersey said. “It’s a great opportunity to get outside. Bring your families, encourage them to run with you. You don’t have to do it as a race; you could do it as a run-walk event … or just an excuse to get outside and get your body in motion.”
The 37th Annual Army Ten-Miler is tentatively planned for Oct. 10, 2021, in Washington, D.C.