main story image for facebook sharing

Health and Fitness

Running in Their Honor

30% Physical, 70% Mental, All Heart

The sun was just peeking over the Atlantic Ocean and already it was way too warm for running. No matter, Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Chris Cwiklinski laces up his running shoes and heads out to begin day one of his four-day journey.

"This never gets easier," said the ultramarathon runner. "It's different each time, but never easier."

Over the next four days Cwiklinski would cover 245 miles, pausing every mile to honor and pay tribute to those who had come before him. This was his second year participating in the 2014 VA Run for the Fallen.

"You see the grieving of the family members, whether it's a mom, dad, sister, brother, uncle, it doesn't matter," said Cwiklinski. "You can see how grateful they are that we run for their fallen hero; it's a very emotional time. You know you have to go that last mile, that last couple steps."

Running any ultramarathon distance is no easy feat on its own. However, Cwiklinski also faces unique challenges. He perseveres even though he is faced with the adversity of Ankylosing Spondylitis.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is an autoimmune deficiency that causes swelling of the joints. It is a form of arthritis that commonly affects persons as young as age 20.

Cwiklinski must mentally prepare for each race knowing it very well may be his last.

"There will come a day that this disease will take over, and I will not be able to run anymore," said Cwiklinski. "That's going through my mind all day on the course, and it's one of the biggest reasons I push myself to finish. I run to spread awareness, but when I'm out there I'm also running for those who are affected and cannot run for themselves. Not finishing is not an option."

Cwiklinski was once like any other Sailor; each year of service brought with it the arrival of the physical readiness test (PRT) ... a test he dreaded, until he was bit by the running bug.

"I finished my PRT in 2006 and started thinking about how much farther I could go," said Cwiklinski. "I graduated to 5k races and in 2007 I ran my first marathon. From there I just kept trying to go farther."

The challenges that are presented on such long distances are not limited to endurance and fatigue, but rather the most chronic bind exists between the runner and his mind.

"You go through peaks and valleys out there," Cwiklinski said. "You will be on top of the world, then a mile later you just want to quit. It's a real emotional rollercoaster. Then when you want to quit, you get someone out there cheering you on and you feel like you could go another 10 miles no problem. This sport is 30 percent physical and 70 percent mental."

For those wanting to get into long distance running Cwiklinski's offer this advice, anyone can do it, train and stay motivated.

"It doesn't matter if you are running a PRT, a 5k, a marathon, or an ultramarathon, as long as you are having fun doing it. There will be times when you want to quit and say 'this is a mistake' or 'this isn't for me' but as long as you can put one foot in front of the other and remain vertical, you can finish. That's how I live my life: vertical and moving forward."