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The Mental and Physical Benefits of Ultramarathon Training

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Gesl, Space Launch Delta 30 30th Staff Judge Advocate, poses with all his running medals that he has won over the last several years on Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., May 5, 2022. Gesl started running marathons in 2008 and has continued since. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kadielle Shaw)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Gesl, Space Launch Delta 30 30th Staff Judge Advocate, poses with all his running medals that he has won over the last several years on Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., May 5, 2022. Gesl started running marathons in 2008 and has continued since. (U.S. Space Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kadielle Shaw)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Gesl, , Space Launch Delta 30 30th Staff Judge Advocate, races in the 2016 JFK 50-miler in Boonsboro, Maryland. The JFK 50-miler was Gesl’s first 50 mile race of his running career. (Courtesy photo from Lt. Col. Paul Gesl)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Gesl, , Space Launch Delta 30 30th Staff Judge Advocate, races in the 2016 JFK 50-miler in Boonsboro, Maryland. The JFK 50-miler was Gesl’s first 50 mile race of his running career. (Courtesy photo from Lt. Col. Paul Gesl)

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. --

There are many mental and physical benefits when it comes to running. For U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Gesl, Space Launch Delta 30 30th Staff Judge Advocate, training for an ultramarathon has given him the time to focus on his physical performance as well as his mental resiliency.

 

“When I’m prepping for a race, I normally build up to run more than 70 miles a week, and sometimes more than 80,” said Gesl. “I end up doing a lot of problem solving while running.”

 

Gesl joined the U.S. Air Force at the age of 26 as a Judge Advocate and was stationed at Yokota Air Force Base, Japan. He first gained interest in running marathons during his first deployment overseas. To test his endurance and run time, Gesl signed up for his first real marathon in 2008, the Tokyo Marathon.

 

“I signed up to see if I could actually do it,” said Gesl. “After finishing that race, I wanted to see if I could run faster.”

 

Gesl’s determination to run faster led him to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, Air Force Marathon, New York City Marathon, and many other races across the globe.

 

Gesl’s planning, training, determination and success can be credited to his coach, Ian Torrance. Torrance has been guiding and coaching Gesl for over 11 years as an accomplished trail and ultramarathon runner. When the time came for Gesl to switch to ultramarathons for more of a challenge, Torrance was the perfect coach for Gesl.

 

“It’s been a rewarding experience seeing Paul blossom from a road marathoner into a trail ultrarunner,” said Torrance. “He’s moved from 4-5 days a week of flat pavement running to covering more than 70-80 miles a week on mountainous terrain.”

 

Ultramarathons are running marathons that range from 31 miles to 100 miles and the terrain in a race differs depending on the location. During training, Gesl has to adapt to different terrains and distances to conquer each trail he will face in a race.

 

“When we moved to Arizona, I decided to give trail running a try,” said Gesl. “Trails are slower than roads, and there can be a lot of elevation changes that slow you down even more.”

 

His first two trail races became the foundation for Gesl to train for and run future ultramarathons. For his first trail race, Gesl ran a 10k night-time race where he finished 9th place.  During his second trail race, Gesl ran a 30k night-time race and won first place, but admitted he struggled with poor pacing later in the run.

 

After that, Gesl moved to his first ultramarathons - the Crown King 50k in Arizona, Mt. Disappointment 50k in California, and TransRockies run in Colorado.

 

“All three runs were new challenges,” said Gesl. “They had a lot of climbing and pushed me a lot harder than anything else I’d done in my life.”

 

After pushing himself further and further, Gesl managed to run approximately 12 ultra marathons over the course of the last seven years. With a multitude of hard work, dedication, and mental resiliency, he pushed himself past comfortable limits to achieve success.

 

“I think I’ve really matured as a runner,” explained Gesl. “A lot can go wrong during an ultra, and I think dealing with those issues during a race has really helped me improve my problem solving skills.”

 

There are several different aspects of ultramarathon running that strengthen someone not only as a runner, but as a person. The strategic and mental aspects of the sport pushed Gesl to become better physically and mentally.

 

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of my family, my wife, and my coach,” said Gesl. “They have all pushed me to new heights over the last decade, and I really appreciate their endless support.”