Master Sgt. Jared Norwood hates running.
But to honor Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action, Norwood ran for 24 hours straight in Offutt Air Force Base’s remembrance run Oct. 6, totaling more than 81 miles.
It wasn’t about pride, he said, it was about remembering the sacrifices the POW/MIA made for the country.
“I just wanted to find a way to put myself in a place where I could kind of give back to them,” Norwood said.
“Running for 24 hours and running 81 miles in no way shape or form comes anywhere close to what any of them did, but … a little bit of solidarity for them wouldn’t hurt.”
The Air Force Sergeants Association organized the annual event, Offutt spokesman Ryan Hansen said, where military members took turns lapping the Offutt parade field carrying the POW/MIA flag.
At the end of each 30-minute time slot, Norwood watched the units switch out while he kept going.
To stay sane, he told himself, “one more lap,” each time he finished the last.
Because he hates running, Norwood said it was mentally challenging to push through, with self-doubt running through his head.
“That’s why I do it, because I hate it,” Norwood said.
“For mental toughness. Set the example for our troops.”
Norwood and one of his military mentors have a saying whenever they do something positive for their unit — “Average work, average work.” He said he heard that saying echo through his head during the run.
The month before, Norwood prepared himself the best he could. He ran or rucked — walking with a weighted backpack — around 7–15 miles three times per week and lifted weights twice a week.
The night before his wife loaded Norwood with carbs by making him a “giant” bowl of spaghetti. He only slept for six hours.
Norwood knew he’d need a good system in place to keep track of how many miles he’d run.
While his GPS watch counted the distance for him, he wanted a manual backup.
He counted every lap on a string of beads normally used for land navigation. When he got to six, he marked a tick on a whiteboard setup on his campsite.
The campsite was conveniently placed on the corner of the track closest to the building Norwood’s squadron works in, open 24 hours.
He set up chairs and sleeping bags and left medical supplies and food in it.
Every 4.5 miles ran, Norwood took one or two minutes to rest, eat and rehydrate. He tried to consume 200-300 calories per hour.
Run volunteers, co-workers and his family cheered him on and brought food. His wife and six children brought two foods he said were particularly “life saving” — breakfast burritos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
With their support, Norwood powered through each mile until he hit “the wall.”
It was mile 51.
Having run marathons before, Norwood was familiar with “the wall.” Normally it just made him tired, but this time was different, he said, since he’d been running at a slower pace.
Norwood’s feet started to really hurt. He was in so much pain, he said it felt like they were broken.
“It felt like someone smashed my feet with sledgehammers,” Norwood said. “I didn’t anticipate the amount of pain that I would feel.”
He walked the next 20 miles, unable to run through the throbbing pain. Eventually, in an attempt to relieve the discomfort, he slept for two hours.
It worked. After the power nap, Norwood was able to finish what he started.
At 8 a.m. the next day — a full 24 hours later — Norwood had run for 81 miles, a bit short of the 100 mile personal goal he set.
“To be honest, I felt a sense of accomplishment,” Norwood said. “But, at the same time, the reason I did the run was to remember the POW/MIA. It didn’t change the fact of what the run represents — you still have Prisoners of War out there. We still have people Missing in Action.”
Exhausted, Norwood said he couldn’t wait to crawl into bed and fall asleep.
His feet were sore and blistered the following days. He thinks his left foot’s arch collapsed, which he suspects was from running in trail running shoes.
Still, he wants to complete his 100 mile goal.
He plans to be back circling the track around Thanksgiving time to try again, but this time in running shoes.