Four White Sands Missile Range employees participated in what they all describe as the hardest long distance event they have ever participated in. WSMR Executive Director Paul Mann, WSMR Security Specialist Brett Laird, WSMR Environmental Engineer Jim Thompson, and WSMR McAfee Occupational Health Physician Capt. Miguel Pérez were the top 100 finishers at the 50K Franklin Mountain Trail Run Nov. 14 in El Paso, Texas.
WSMR Executive Director Paul Mann
Having already completed five marathons, Mann sought a bigger challenge that could help him get back on track to a healthier lifestyle. Mann has participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March twice, once in the civilian light division and the second time in the civilian heavy division. He has also participated in two Marine Corps marathons. Though he was no stranger to long distance running, 26.2 miles was the longest distance he had ever endured.
“Pushing through and achieving extreme challenges, beyond what you think you’re capable of is an extraordinary growth experience,” Mann said. “Pushing yourself beyond your limits is extremely valuable. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially; it causes you to grow in all of those dimensions and you become a better person when you finish on the other side,” he said.
It was during a run with fellow WSMR employees, Laird and Thompson, when Mann said they all agreed to participate in the long distance race that tackles a distance beyond the 26.2 miles, roughly 31 miles. Mann said he had recently gained 25 pounds prior to deciding to participate and train for the 50K and he wanted a new motivation to help him get back on track.
“I knew I needed a goal, it seemed like a good thing. This was really a means to get healthy more than anything else,” Mann said.
He said his great support system helped him to accomplish his goal.
“Even though I’m the one who ran it, this is very much a team sport. It’s completely about teamwork and you learn a lot about it,” Mann said.
The chief of his support system is also his biggest source of inspiration, his wife, Yvonne.
“She wants us to live up to 110 and be doing yoga until we’re 105,” he said.
Laird and Thompson trained with Mann at a gradual increase for four months. The first month was 70 miles, then 80 miles, 90 miles and then 135 miles. He said he also cross-trained during that time and ate nutritious food.
“Without those two guys training with me and working with me I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” Mann said.
The WSMR Command Group and Lt. Col. Elba Villacorta also provided encouragement throughout the process, Mann said.
“I felt like I had a team of supporters,” he said.
Mann said the course was actually two miles longer, in reality he completed a 33 mile course.
“It was a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I was extremely relieved when it was over, emotionally overwhelmed and extremely hungry,” he said.
Mann finished in 97th place at 10 hours and 10 minutes.
WSMR Security Specialist Brett Laird
This was the fourth 50K event Laird has participated in. Prior to this course, Laird participated in the Mt. Taylor 50K in Albuquerque, New Mexico, twice, and the Cactus to Cloud 50K in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. He said this course was the most difficult of the three.
“It was a really rough course,” Laird said.
Laird has also participated in the Lake Stevens, Washington, Half Ironman, the Portland Marathon in Portland, Oregon, the Ragnar Relay in Washington D.C., where he completed 26 miles of a 200 mile relay, and the Bataan Memorial Death March five times. Laird said this was the first time he trained with other individuals and he liked that they helped keep him accountable.
“Having other people running with you helps you keep on track with your training regimen,” he said.
Laird finished in 79th place at nine hours and 25 minutes.
WSMR Environment Engineer Jim Thompson
Thompson has participated in five Bataan Memorial Death March marathon distance runs in the civilian light division. This was the first time Thompson had participated in a 50K, something he said had been on his bucket list for a long time.
“It’s pretty amazing what the human body can endure. It’s definitely a worthwhile pursuit,” he said.
The 50K, which is all primarily uphill, was more difficult than Bataan, according to Thompson. He said he’s trained with Laird in the past but he liked having Mann join their training regimen because it helped with accountability.
“It was really good to have a third person to help encourage and show up when no one else could. The partnership made training more feasible,” he said.
The only thing Thompson said he regrets about the event was not listening to his alarm the first time and showing up 35 minutes late to the event.
Thompson finished in 90th place at 9 hours and 43 minutes, even with a late start.
WSMR McAfee Occupational Health Physician Capt. Miguel Pérez
Pérez is no stranger to long distance running events having completed more than 100 marathons and ultramarathons combined. He said the 50K was the toughest he’s ever completed.
“There was nothing easy about this course. The terrain was extremely rocky and tough,” Pérez said.
He said rocks would come loose as they made their long descents down some of the peaks. He even witnessed some brutal falls early in the race when there was limited visibility.
“I actually found the descents more challenging than the ascents,” Pérez said.
The summit of North Franklin Peak is 7,192 feet above sea level, the total cumulative ascent for this course was 6,000 feet, according to Pérez. Pérez said the course was completely exposed and it got very hot.
“The view made it all worthwhile and it was a lot of fun participating in this local race,” Pérez said.
Pérez finished in 16th place at six hours and 28 mins, just four seconds apart from the 15th place finisher.