JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. – Twenty-two miles of road to cover on a Saturday – alone and on foot – that’s the challenge long-distance runner and U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kristen Gray sets for herself while training.
“The longer the better,” Gray said.
A cyber operations officer with the 781st Military Intelligence Battalion, 780th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade, Maryland, Gray’s hard work paid off when she took home the individual gold in the women’s division and led the All Army Sports women’s team to victory at the 2023 Armed Forces Sports Marathon Championship Oct. 29 in Washington, D.C. The event took place in conjunction with the 48th annual Marine Corps Marathon.
This year was her first participating in All Army Sports. Gray also ran the 39th Army Ten-Miler with her unit Oct. 8, placing third in the military female category.
Going into the Armed Forces Marathon, Gray said she did not think of herself winning or taking home the gold for her division.
“I just wanted to win as a team,” she said. “The previous year, the Army didn’t send a team to compete and hadn’t won since 2018, so I just wanted to be of help getting our team back on the podium.”
And back on the podium they were. Gray finished with a time of 2:58:51, followed by 2nd Lt. Haley Seaward of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, with a time of 3:05:00 and Capt. Mollie Geyer of Camp Pendleton, California, coming in at 3:05:48.
As Gray entered the 20th mile, on a particularly hot and humid day, she spotted some of her teammates right behind her as the course looped back on itself. The sighting was enough to refresh her motivation and push her to the finish line, she said.
Running has not always been Gray’s sport of choice. Growing up in Park Ridge, New Jersey, she was initially a soccer player and not the most competitive of athletes at her high school, she said.
What drew her in to cross country and track was the realization that the bond runners form with each other is unique to the sport.
“The shared camaraderie that is built with running is unparallel with any other activity that I’ve done,” Gray said. “(Seeing) other people do this shared really hard thing – that’s what drew me in.”
Despite the difficulty of the sport, forming bonds with other runners is nearly instantaneous, Gray said, because of the shared hardship.
Just when she hit her stride and began her freshman year of college in 2011, a knee injury took her away from the sport. Major surgery and a long recovery prevented Gray from running for a year and kept her from being able to do high mileage for several years.
It’s been a 10-year process to build back up to the distance she is now able to cover, Gray said.
Unlike her high school years with a coach, now there is nobody overseeing her training schedule. It’s all done outside of business hours, and usually she is alone.
“I put a lot of time into running,” Gray said, noting that it requires most of her weekends and weekday time after office hours to prioritize running, stretching and recovery.
Finding other people to train with can be difficult, she said. When she does have people to run with, the mental challenge of running 22 miles is made lighter; this helps her stay dialed in, meet the paces she needs to hit and know how she’s doing.
“I’m in a place now where I have learned what training looks like, have a supportive family and am able to find a good work/life balance to put in some good training,” Gray said.
Although all her training happens outside of business hours, representing the Army while running in events is an opportunity Gray said she deeply appreciates.
“Wearing ‘Army’ across your chest is something I’m very proud to do,” she said. “It’s my own version of running for Team USA. I won’t make the Olympics, but it’s still an honor to run for the Army team.”
Gray just applied for Armed Forces Cross Country team for the second year in a row and said she would someday like to do a Conseil International du Sport Militaire race with service members from partner countries.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m just getting started with this level of training,” Gray said. “Hopefully I have a few more good years.”
|PARK RIDGE, NJ, US