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Face of Defense: Airman Perseveres to Compete in Ultramarathons

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Aug. 23, 2016 — Inspiration for the modern marathon, a 26.2-mile race, stems from military origins. Legend tells of a Greek soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the defeated Persian army. More than two millennia later, one airman is writing his own story.

Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Dupertuis, the aircrew flight equipment superintendent for the 6th Operations Support Squadron here, is part of a select group of athletes driven to compete in the sport of ultramarathon running. An ultramarathon is any race that is longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles; typically, they run between 30 to 100 miles.

Though he tackles the distance now, Dupertuis never planned to become a serious runner, let alone an ultramarathon athlete.

“The Big D Marathon in Dallas, Texas, was eye-opening. By about mile 18 my body started breaking down,” Dupertuis said, recalling how unforgiving the pavement had been.

After he completed his first traditional street marathon, Dupertuis said he never intended to continue running.

But he did.

His interest in running began while stationed at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, where he says he was introduced to trail running during daily physical training.

“I’ve always enjoyed being outside and running in the woods,” Dupertuis said. “It’s quieter, less crowded and lets me enjoy the wildlife and terrain around me.”

First Ultramarathon

Dupertuis said he continued trail running after he changed duty stations. The more he ran, he said, the more he enjoyed the sport. With the support of a nearby trail running community and his family, Dupertuis attempted his first ultramarathon.

“I started running ultramarathons because I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could,” Dupertuis said. “I had already run a marathon, and I figured that 50 kilometers wasn’t much further.”

But, he said, his first ultramarathon, a 50-kilometer event, started off on the wrong foot -- a failure he believes to be the result of inadequate preparation.

“I was going back out to do the last eight miles and I tripped; caught my toe and my legs cramped up,” he said. “Everything cramped up and I was exhausted. I pushed through because my wife and kids were going to be at the finish line. I wanted to show my kids that if you push, you can finish anything you start.”

Longer Races

Dupertuis explained it took him three-and-a-half hours to finish the last eight miles of the race. However, despite his defeat, he was determined to try again. To date, Dupertuis has logged two ultramarathons and many shorter long-distance races. His longest run so far is a 100-kilometer ultramarathon.

“I found the 100K because I was looking for a 50-mile race,” Dupertuis said.

Dupertuis explained that the race website advertised a medal for everyone that finished, but something more attractive caught his eye.

“Those who completed the 100K would get a big ole’ belt buckle, and being me, I decided to run 12 more miles,” he said.

Dupertuis explained that except for a brief period of doubt around mile 30, his 100K performance significantly improved from his first ultramarathon.

“I felt good the whole time; I was just enjoying it,” Dupertuis said. “The last 16 miles were nothing but rain and I loved it. Running in the dark with only a headlamp, slopping through the mud, made me feel like a kid again.”

Extensive Conditioning

Dupertuis said his accomplishments are largely the result of extensive conditioning, which he said is key to completing an ultramarathon.

“During the week, I run twice a day and cross-train with weights,” Dupertuis said. “On the weekends, I do a pace run on Saturday and a long run on Sunday. The idea is to run on tired legs so your body is used to it during a race.”

For new runners, the feat of an ultramarathon may seem out of reach, but Dupertuis encourages others to start small by building a strong base and gradually adding distance as he did.

“I didn’t start running until Master Sgt. Dupertuis introduced me to trail running two years ago,” said Peter Raspitzi, a friend and neighbor. “Running up and down the hills was difficult at first, but now I train about once a week with him.”

Raspitzi explained that although he has completed a few short-distance races, he plans to leave ultramarathon running to his neighbor, who he describes as exceptionally driven.

“I think his drive and determination are what make him so successful,” Raspitzi said. “I told him he was out of his mind to run an ultramarathon, but he was determined to prove that he could. When he puts his mind to something, he does it.”

Distribution channels: Military