By Somer Breeze-Hanson/Northwest GuardianOctober 20, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Over a span of nearly two decades, Shannon Swords has recorded about 50,000 miles on foot. On the map it's about two laps around the world. In shoes it's about five pairs a year.
Beginning in 1994 the distance runner recorded every mile he ever ran and now has an entire shelf full of running journals.
Swords turned those miles into a storied career that includes 30 marathon wins and about 25 pounds of medals and counting.
"I have the right make up for pounding my body continuously forever," the 41-year-old said. "I'm the turtle in the race. I start out slow and keep on going."
When Swords enlisted in the Army in 1992 he was everything but a runner. The former football player and wrestler struggled with the running portion of the physical training test. He turned the struggle into a challenge and went from not being able to pass the PT run to completing his 15th Army Ten-Miler race Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C. with the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Masters men's team.
The Ten-Miler marked another milestone in Swords' career as he ran it with his 16-year-old son Kyle. The younger Swords upstaged his father for the first time and beat him by nearly four minutes.
Swords ran the Ten-Miler just three weeks after competing in the Grand Coulee Iron Man triathlon. It did not take long for him to realize training for both events was not a good idea.
"I suffered a lot with my speed and my sore, tired legs," Swords said.
But he isn't looking back. Swords is prepared to run yet another marathon Saturday in Umatilla, Ore. He will then run the Seattle Marathon next month. Swords plans to run a marathon every month for the next year to train for the All-Army marathon team next October. He has sworn off all Iron-Man triathlons until then.
Swords first ran for the All-Army marathon team in 1998 and competed in track and field, marathon and cross country races until 2008. He competed in the National Championships three times and twice in the Military World Championships -- once in marathon and once in cross country. His goal is to make the All-Army team one more time before he retires.
As he approaches 20 years of running competitively, Swords is at just one of his many peaks.
"I think a person can reach different peaks at different times in their life," Swords said. "I've already peaked with my speed. I haven't peaked in ultra running and I know I can better my time in the Iron Man."
Over the years Swords has accumulated numerous trophies, certificates and medals. His medals are from all over the world including Germany, Korea, Italy and France. His medals are all that he kept over the years to show his accomplishments. He donated his trophies to the YMCA and his certificates were ruined during one of his many permanent changes of station.
Swords has competed in six ultra marathons, with his longest race at 62 miles and he shows no signs of slowing down. He has yet to run in a 100-mile race, but he will. Swords is running anywhere from 40 to 85 miles a week. There were times during his career he would go an entire year without taking a single day off from running -- even if he was sick or it was his wedding day.
"I've done it for so long I literally am running before I realize I'm doing it," he said. "I've learned getting older I need a little bit of rest."
Swords never really pushed himself to see if he was at the World Class Athlete Program or even the Olympic level, but he didn't want to give up everything to invest in a sport he enjoyed.
"In order to make it you have to accept your sport as your job. I never wanted to do that," he said. "I never wanted running to be my job."
Somer Breeze-Hanson: firstname.lastname@example.org