FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Running 1-mile can be hard enough without nearly 100 pounds of equipment weighing you down, but Capt. Kaitlyn Hernandez, commander, 717th Ordnance Company, 52nd Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), was never one to back down from a challenge.
Instead, Hernandez set her sights on the Guinness World Record for fastest woman to run 1-mile in a bomb suit and shattered it at the 2nd Annual Bomb Suit Run and Family 5K April 3 at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, with a time of 10 minutes, 23 seconds.
“As soon as it was done it was kind of a whirlwind, so I didn’t really have a chance to take it in at first,” she said. “But I was very happy and excited. The whole process has just been great.”
Hernandez spent more than a year preparing for the attempt after COVID-19 delayed last year’s event. Along with her regular CrossFit workout, that meant hitting the track in the bomb suit once a week.
“The suit is 84 pounds and the helmet weighs 12, so the helmet’s definitely the worst part because if you’re leaning forward or backward it’ll take your whole body with you,” she said. “Overcoming that is more mental. It’s usually a split-second, any time I run and start feeling sorry for myself I just have to get over it and say it’s not that bad.”
Hernandez unofficially beat previous record-holder Ashley Sorenson’s time of 11 minutes, 6 seconds on a few occasions while training, so she felt confident heading into race day. But she knew it was important to prepare for the unexpected.
“You never know how the suit is going to affect you,” Hernandez said. “It’s like any time you go to work out. Sometimes you’re feeling really great, and sometimes it punches you in the face. Windy days are pretty rough too, when you hit a headwind it feels like you’re running in mud.”
Months of physical and mental training paid off, and Hernandez beat the record Sorenson set back in 2013. The two are actually longtime friends who were stationed together in Hawaii and bonded through playing rugby. They reunited the weekend of the event.
“She was able to give me some advice – just to try and stay calm and remember it’s only four more laps,” Hernandez said. “Once somebody put that in perspective, in my head I knew that I only had to run four more laps, and for the rest of my life it’s done.”
Hernandez initially decided to challenge Sorenson’s record as a form of friendly competition, and the effort quickly grew from there.
“I like to set goals and get after it to have something to aim for,” she said. “But then a couple of non-profit organizations got on board and it became something much bigger than myself.”
Headstrong, a veteran-owned nonprofit that provides mental health care for veterans and their Families, became Hernandez’s primary sponsor as she worked toward her goal.
“For me, the best part of all this was bringing awareness, not only to the organization but to shed some light on an obvious issue that affects way more people than you’d think,” she said. “That we were able to promote organizations that help veterans through this, it all worked out very well.”
Headstrong also worked with Navy SEAL veteran Sean Matson as he prepared to attempt the male bomb suit record during the event, but a leg injury forced him to bow out days before.
That left Hernandez feeling nervous about being the only runner, but Matson joined friends and Family in offering support from the sidelines that helped push her over the finish line.
“It never ceases to amaze me, when Kaitlyn puts her mind to something, what she can accomplish,” Hernandez’s mother Jennifer Sperduto said. “To see her do that was so inspirational, and she motivates me constantly. When I see her push herself to these limits … she can do anything she wants to do.”
Hernandez continues striving for fitness goals and will compete in the quarterfinals of the CrossFit Open this weekend, but she said setting a world record was uniquely memorable.