by Michael Skuban in Stories

A Rifle and Trail Shoes: Running in Afghanistan

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About a year ago, I volunteered to deploy to Northern Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom with the 10th Mountain Brigade Support Battalion for 6 months. After a month of training at Fort Dix, learning everything from Army terminology to combat movements, I found myself 8,000 miles from home, stuck inside a camp with less than 1 mile of running roads.
So what’s a runner to do? Using one of my dad’s old sayings, “make do with whatcha got.” And so it started: my 6 months of trial and error of running in a 130 degree heat over rough terrain, ducking around tanks and trucks.

My job in the Air Force requires that I stay in peak physical shape since I am a firefighter, and I can tell you that  I am not a fan of treadmills. I do agree that they work for some, but not for me, even when the alternative is to run over sharp rocks and breath in dust and truck exhaust. Since my adventure in the desert and running a 10k in 54 minutes while I was out there, I found a couple of training tips for those of us, in the uniform or civilian, that can be applied to everyday training here in the states. Using basic things at home and the area in which you live/train, pushing your body to the limit and beyond can be fun, if done safely.

Battle Rattle and Ruck Packs – Gravity can be your friend

While I was in training at Fort Dix, NJ, prior to my deployment, the Army issued us what is known in the military as “Battle Rattle” and “Ruck Packs”. Battle Rattle consisted of a Kevlar helmet, body armor with composite plates, and a web belt that held all of your magazines. We wore this 80 lbs of gear every day to class to get us used to wearing it.

Now, what has this to do with you, a regular guy/gal living in the civilian world? Let me explain. After the winter wore off a bit in New Jersey, it was just warm enough to run outside without losing feeling of everything attached to your body, so I went out for a little run with one of the students, and let me tell you, I have NEVER run so fast and so far in my life! Was I imagining it, maybe. Did the cooler temperatures make it easier for me to breathe, maybe. Was it the infamous runners’ high, doubtfully. What I discovered is that the added weight on my body while walking around from class to class made me feel lighter and faster; I was stronger. I did very little running during the whole month of training and here I was, burning through mile after mile,  only to be stopped by the fact I had class at 0600 the next morning.

So, my thought is if you’re in the dead of winter in the great north, or it’s blazing hot outside allowing you to fry an egg on the hood of your car, try loading up a back pack with some weight and walk a mile or two. Keeping in mind that proper hydration is critical in hot or cold weather, sturdy shoes or boots should be worn, and building up the weight in the pack should be done just like when adding miles to a run, slow and even, a little added weight can help get some bounce in your run. If you’re into backpacking and camping, an external/internal framed pack is best since it distributes the weight to your hips instead of your lower back, just like the military issue Ruck packs.

Where we’re going, we don’t need… roads.

Trail running. Some people hate it, some people love it.  And a select few of us, like myself, have no option but to run in the rough stuff. After a few weeks of running in my road shoes, I found that the tall, stability road shoes were not up to the challenge of running over loose rocks that were freshly dumped on the dirt roads to keep the dust down.  After receiving a fresh pair of trail shoes and strapping them on my size 14 feet, I found out very quickly what these shoes were all about. Traction, glorious traction! And the stiffer soul made running on razor-sharp rocks almost a pleasure. So, moral of the story, if you find yourself running in the rough, commit to some solid trail shoes, and your feet will thank you. But, if your feet continue to thank you, it might be time to see a professional psychiatrist about that.  ;)

All joking aside, running out on the trails adds some extra resistance while running. whether it’s running uphill, crossing creeks, or even just taking a trail that has lots of turns and bends. Trail running can increase your stability while running and situational awareness to watch out for loss rocks, branches, logs, and critters.  Plus, you might even see some wild life while you’re bounding through the prairie.   Be warned though, I would suggest bringing a cell phone in the unfortunate event of injury and if you plan on running in the wild during hunting season, WEAR SOMETHING BRIGHT! If I were a hunter waiting for Bambi to come walking by and I hear something running my way that even barely looks like a deer… Well, you can see how that could be a big issue really quick. Besides, bright green looks good on you anyways!

Train like your life depends on, because someday it will.




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