Running for the love of it

D8 LogoStory by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley

ST. LOUIS – In high school and maybe college, running laps was sometimes used as a punishment during P.E. or a team sports practice. [Now], however, running for fun has become more prevalent than ever before. The options range from [the 5k] to marathons to ultra marathons. They are also no longer about just getting from point A to point B. Now one can be chased by zombies, be bombarded with colored powder or complete challenging obstacle courses. People who never before considered themselves to be runners are now lacing up their sneakers, hitting the ground and getting something greater than they expected out of it. One such person is Coast Guardsman Tam Nguyen.

For Coast Guardsman Tam Nguyen, running began as a hobby while stationed in Monterey, Calif. Nguyen is an information systems technician in his first year at his first unit at the Coast Guard Centralized Service Desk in St. Louis. With the guidance of his running mentor Daniel Mitchell, a storekeeper in the Coast Guard, Nguyen was able to complete his first Marathon, the San Francisco Marathon, in 2010. From there he was hooked. Nguyen has now done a total of eight different runs including six half-marathons, but most recently and most importantly to him is the Tom’s Run Relay.

Tom’s Run is an annual event in the Washington, D.C., area designed to “promote fitness, team building, and community,” according to the website. The name Tom is in honor of Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Tom Brooks, who contracted Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1999.

The route is 200 miles starting in Cumberland, Md., and ending at Fort Hunt Park near Mt. Vernon, Va., in three days. Nguyen got involved when mentor Mitchell asked him to join the team.

“Mitchell asked me to come, and I said yes,” said Nguyen. “It’s really hard to find people to do a relay run.”

To train for such a run is not always easy with the demanding work schedule of a 24-hour, seven-day a week call center.

“I go for a short run, maybe five to seven miles after work, and on weekends 13 to 17 miles and have the next day off to recover,” said Nguyen.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Tam Nguyen

Petty Officer 3rd Class Tam Nguyen stands with three of his eight running metals at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, June 7, 2013. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayla Kelley)

Also important to Nguyen for preparing is nutrition, cutting down on foods heavy in saturated fats and eating leaner and lighter meals.

For his part, Nguyen ran three legs totaling up to 22 miles and was the runner’s escort biker for 10 miles.

“We started at night, about 9 p.m. Friday and ended around 4 p.m. Sunday,” said Nguyen. “It’s kind of scary at night; there is just a headlight for the runner and the [escort] biker.”

The route follows the historic C and O Canal, the Potomac River waterfront in Washington D.C., goes past the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and connects with the Mount Vernon Trail.

“The worst part was running at 4 p.m. in 98-degree heat and the sun reflecting of a rock wall on the trail; it was like being baked,” said Nguyen.

On top of this, Nguyen’s team, “The Blueberry Hillbillies,” comprised of five Coast Guardsmen and four civilians, had to contend with sleep deprivation and less than desirable road food. But persevering through heat, cramps, soreness, hunger and lack of sleep, they completed the 200-mile journey.

“The best was to finish and see that last person cross. It was kind of like graduating boot camp again. We beat this challenge as a team!” said Nguyen.

To finish such a feat is undoubtedly a surreal feeling and as for what keeps Nguyen going and his advice to others who want to take on a more active lifestyle:

“Determination is what I get most out of running. We all have the ‘wants’ and the ‘promises’ but most of us do not take it serious until everything is too late. I made or witnessed some tragic failures, and those tragic events motivate me to live life with a ‘DO-er’s’ attitude and I put all those things first into running. To me, it’s all in your mind. In order to change your body, you have to at least, plant a seed in your mind for it to change your mind later on … Once you start running, start small, make it enjoyable, try to form a routine. For example, instead of running three times this week and then take two weeks off, make it one time a week for three weeks straight,” said Nguyen.

It’s no doubt that Nguyen, his teammates and every other person who participates in the Tom’s Run and others like it is inspirational in what they are willing to brave and accomplish, but Nguyen is ready to take it further. He already has plans to attend the Tom’s Run next year after doing a Tough Mudder in Houston and the St. Louis full marathon this year. His ultimate goal is to summit a mountain such as Mount McKinley in Alaska.

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