Kunsan ultrarunners inspire
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Many runners are inspired every day. Two Kunsan Airmen channeled their inspiration to accomplish an incredible feat.
The two Airmen ran the ultra, a race exceeding the normal marathon distance of 42K (26.2 miles), and finished within the top 100.
Maj. Elissa Ballas, 8th Medical Operations Squadron physical therapy and health and wellness center flights commander, and Master Sgt. Jesse Horton, 8th Security Forces Squadron command support staff member, recently blasted through physical barriers to place 3rd and 96th, respectively, out of 1,300 participants in the Busan, Republic of Korea, Beach 50K (31.1 miles) ultra-marathon.
Ballas' running adventure began in the 5th grade during an intramural track program.
"Track was really big and everybody did it," said Ballas. "My dad ran track in college so he was excited when I took an interest in running. At the first meet, they told me I was going to run the 800 meter. At ten years old, 800 meters sounds like a long distance. I ran my first race and I won. I was so excited and kept going from there."
Her father, who inspired her to pursue running, used to run five miles a day. Following his example, she went from running 800 meters to completing the Western States 100 mile marathon.
Ballas trained for both races by running an average of 60 miles a week. This training paid off at Busan when she came in first in her category at a time of 4 hours, 25 minutes, 9 seconds.
"The time commitment to train for any event is large with running almost every day and doing strength training to make sure I don't get injured," said Ballas.
During her running career, she participated in six ultra-marathons across the world. Ballas is always looking to inspire others to pursue a better lifestyle, not only as a physical therapist, but also as a runner.
"One thing about running is that there are a lot of people that love to do it that don't have a lot of experience," said Ballas. "Now that I have 23 years of experience and I am a physical therapist, I have found that I enjoy helping people who don't have that experience. I like to help them prepare for races and get them experience, especially in a foreign country where it's more intimidating."
When Horton heard of Ballas running career, he was inspired. She passed on her running techniques, schedules and nutrition advice to help him complete his first ultra. But Horton's initial inspiration came from his wife.
His first motivator came five years ago when his wife gave him a gift. The gift, a pair of running shoes, would later lead him to run the Busan Beach ultra in 6 hours, 31 minutes, 14 seconds.
Without knowing, Horton started preparing for the ultra the day he arrived at Kunsan.
"I woke up my first morning (at Kunsan) still jet-lagged, and it was snowing," said Horton. "I said, 'Man this sucks.' So what did I do? I went out and ran."
Horton learned early in his training with Ballas that it takes more than running every day to finish ultra-marathons.
"I got through it by trusting in my training," said Horton. "I knew I wasn't going to stop at any point; it was all mental. There were some miles where you just focus, others the opposite."
In the end, Horton made it across the finish line completing his first ultra with Ballas waiting for him.
"I was a bit worried because I didn't see him for a while," said Ballas. "I was so excited when I saw him cross the finish line though."
After completing one of his goals, Horton hopes to pay it forward by inspiring others like he was.
"I want to lead by example," said Horton. "I hope to inspire many other defenders or any Airman not only to run, but to be physically fit."
Ballas has confidence Horton will continue to inspire others. While it may not be to complete a full ultra-marathon, it can be to run more 5K races, sprints, laps or just stay physically fit throughout their Air Force careers.