Utah Guard Marathon Team Clears Hurdles to Take Team Third at Lincoln

 

By LTC Hank McIntire

 

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Published May 10, 2010

 

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Nearly 8,000 runners wait to begin the Lincoln-National Guard  Marathon May 2.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Nearly 8,000 runners wait to begin the

Lincoln-National Guard  Marathon May 2.

LINCOLN, Neb. — Three members of the Utah National Guard’s marathon team, LTC Eric Petersen, CPT DeAnne Trauba and Cadet Chris Odekirk, traveled to Nebraska to compete in the annual Lincoln-National Guard Marathon, held May 2.

Joining the 8,000 registered civilian runners in the race were 265 Guardmembers from 46 states and Guam, up from 160 runners from 30 states last year, according to the Nebraska National Guard’s SFC Mike Hagen, coordinator for the event.

"It’s getting the word out, the love of the sport and the thrill to come here and compete with fellow Guardsmen," said Hagen about the reason for the uptick in Guardmember registrations for the race. "This is the most we’ve had in the last 15 years."

At stake for Soldiers and Airmen were the Top 5 team awards and 40 male and 15 female individual spots on the All-Guard Team. While states were free to send any number of runners, team awards would be calculated by the average time of only their first three finishers.

Utah's three runners, Cadet Chris Odekirk, LTC Eric Petersen and CPT DeAnne Trauba stand for the National Anthem before the race.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Utah's three runners, Cadet Chris Odekirk, LTC Eric Petersen and

CPT DeAnne Trauba stand for the National Anthem before the race.

In preparation for this year’s race, Utah was confident of a strong team showing with perennials Petersen, Trauba and LTC George Graff in the running, as well as Odekirk, who finished in a very respectable 2:57 in his first and only marathon at the 2009 Lincoln.

Two differences for this year’s team, however, were the loss of standby SFC Ray Workman to retirement, as well as an injury to Graff, who sustained a broken collarbone and rib in a cycling accident in early April during a cross-training session.

Those circumstances combined to put extra pressure on Trauba, of the Utah Guard’s Joint Forces Headquarters and a resident of Draper, whose race time would now be factored into Utah’s team score with her two male teammates.

"I’ll be helping the team qualify, where most teams it will be three men," she explained the day before the race. "It’s a disadvantage, but it will help me try to be tougher and stronger. I’ll leave it all out there on the course."

Despite Graff’s injury, Hagen invited him to Lincoln to assist with the race, and while there he could act as a coach to his Utah teammates and provide moral support to the team.

Cadet Chris Odekirk, left, leads all Guard runners at Mile 12, close to the midpoint of the Lincoln-National Guard Marathon.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Cadet Chris Odekirk, left, leads all Guard runners at Mile 12,

close to the midpoint of the Lincoln-National Guard Marathon.

"When I became injured, I was kind of let down because I always really enjoy the experience here," said Graff of the uniqueness of the Guard presence at Lincoln. "It’s like a big family gathering all rolled into a race."

That atmosphere included Utah’s team—Petersen, Trauba, Odekirk and Graff—taking its turn at the National Guard recruiting booth at the race expo to talk to runners who may have interest in wearing the uniform. Many racers stopped by to ask questions and to pick up a free set of inflatable thunder sticks.

"I call them my ‘Utah Foursome,’" said Hagen. "I’ll put them in my expo booth any time of day, and I’m guaranteed that they will get me ten signatures for my recruiting leads. They are my dream team."

Sunday morning at race time the mercury read 47 degrees, with a few clouds and very little wind—all ideal conditions for a marathon.

"I’m cautiously optimistic," said Peterson, from Holladay and member of 97th Aviation Troop Command, envisioning a 2:58 race, while Salt Lake resident Odekirk, of the Utah Guard’s Medical Command, had a goal to run a 2:40.

Cadet Chris Odekirk, right, finishes as the second Guardmember and fifth runner overall in the Lincoln-National Guard Marathon.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

Cadet Chris Odekirk, right, finishes as the second Guardmember

and fifth runner overall in the Lincoln-National Guard Marathon.

"I’ve done everything I can do," said Trauba as she did her final warmup, feeling that she had to better her 3:24 time from last year. "All that’s left is putting the action toward all the training that has gone into this."

The Utah Foursome—minus one—inched toward the front of the pack for the start, knowing that awards were based on the gun time and not when runners crossed the starting line.

The gun sounded and the Utahns were off, leading the scrum of thousands of runners, who took more than 15 minutes to cross the starting line.

At the halfway point of the race, Odekirk was leading all Guard runners and was in the top ten overall, while Petersen and Trauba were at or ahead of their goal pace.

Trauba made a point to hit each water stop to stay hydrated, but she started to get tired after the midpoint.

"At Miles 13 to15 I was in la-la land," she said, admitting that it was becoming hard to focus. "I lost my pace for a couple of miles, but I found someone to pace me. I thought, ‘This is a race; race it!’ It was good for me to push it."

Each of the Utah runners said the last six miles of the race were the most grueling, with Odekirk and Trauba mentioning the warm temperature and the lack of shade along that stretch of the course as a factor they had to deal with.

LTC Eric Petersen, center, finishes his race with a big smile, meeting his prerace prediction of a 2:58 race, helping Utah to third place.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

LTC Eric Petersen, center, finishes his race with a big smile, meeting his prerace prediction of a 2:58 race, helping Utah to third place.

"At Mile 22 the heat got to me a little bit" recalled Odekirk after the race, slowing him down enough that Guard runner 1SG Seven Richmond, of Oregon, passed him at Mile 24.

The heat notwithstanding, one positive from those last few miles was the hundreds of spectators lining the streets, cheering runners on.

"The crowds here are incredible," said Trauba, recalling that kids were giving her high-fives along the route. "People like Utah; they shout ‘Go Utah!’ all the way."

The ‘Go Utahs’ also helped spur Odekirk on.

"It’s hard to make it 26 miles if you don’t have a little bit of encouragement," he said.

CPT Deanne Trauba, crosses the finish line at Memorial Stadium's 50-yard line three minutes faster than last year.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

CPT Deanne Trauba, crosses the finish line at Memorial

Stadium's 50-yard line three minutes faster than last year.

Petersen begged to differ with his teammates, however, on the impact of drawing strength from spectators and fellow runners.

"Some people get energy from other people, but I like the solitude of thinking through what I need to do," he said.

At the finish, a new twist in the 50-year history of the Lincoln race was changing the course so that runners crossed the finish line on the turf field of the University of Nebraska’s 85,000-seat Memorial Stadium. About 10,000 spectators filled the east stands, greeting lead runners with the same Husker Nation volume as if the home-team tailback had just reached the red-painted end zone after a 60-yard breakaway run.

"It was really cool coming through [the tunnel], seeing the Jumbotron and people announcing your name," said Odekirk, finishing in 2:43:38, fifth overall and second in the Guard rankings, just behind Richmond.

CPT DeAnne Trauba, left, LTC Eric Petersen, center, and Cadet Chris Odekirk show off their new hardware, taking a team third at Lincoln.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

CPT DeAnne Trauba, left, LTC Eric Petersen, center, and Cadet Chris Odekirk show off their new hardware, taking a team third at Lincoln.

"I had thoughts of what runners feel like when they run into Olympic Stadium," added Petersen, whose 2:58:29 time matched his prerace prediction. "All the spectators in one place and with all that Cornhusker history, it was a very meaningful way to finish."

"It was tough finish; I was really tired," added Trauba, the first Guard woman to finish and tenth overall, beating her 2009 time by three minutes with a 3:21:17. "But it was cool to come into the stadium and run across the 50-yard line."

After a postrace massage and a pork-sandwich lunch, courtesy of the Nebraska Pork Growers, runners were honored at the awards ceremony at the Champions Club next to the stadium. Odekirk and Trauba accepted their trophies and prize money for their top-ten finishes, and Petersen received a plaque as a top finisher in his age group.

The three added to their hardware collection at a ceremony at the Embassy Suites hotel for their performance among their Guard peers.

CPT DeAnne Trauba, right, in a postrace interview with Public Affairs personnel from the Nebraska National Guard.

Photo by LTC Hank McIntire

CPT DeAnne Trauba, right, in a postrace interview with

Public Affairs personnel from the Nebraska National Guard.

Trauba and Odekirk were again recognized for their individual efforts, and all three were called up to the stage for their third-place finish, the only team in the top 5 with a female runner’s time factored in. The three also returned to the podium when the names for the All-Guard team were announced. With that distinction, they will now represent the National Guard for the next 12 months at races around the country.

"Coming off a knee injury [in 2009], I was more prepared this year than last year," said Odekirk. "This year I had a decent base behind me. I went out faster."

"We couldn’t be happier with a top-three finish," said Petersen. "Everybody had to step up this year with George being injured. There were a hundred more runners this year, so the competition was stiffer."

"Lincoln is one of those races where you never know what you’re going to get," said Trauba, surprised and gratified at her team’s individual and collective performances. "I love competing for Utah. I love that we’re a team."