Airman takes on Tinker: an ultra-runner’s quest for the 1.5-mile base record

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- His alarm clock broke the silence. It was three in the morning April 2, 2016. He made his way to the bathroom sink and washed the three or four hours of battled sleep from his face.

His clothes were already laying out for him: combat running tights and shorts, black pro compression socks, a pair of running shoes and a white singlet. Dressed, he greeted his mother in the kitchen and quickly consumed the equivalent of six eggs.

After breakfast, he drove from their family home in Vallejo, Calif., northeast to Folsom, quietly sipping Gatorade and water while his family slept in the back of the car. It was a perfect prelude to a day Daniel had routinely played out in his mind’s eye all winter — the day he would run his second American River 50-Mile Endurance Run, besting his initial run in10 hours, 23 minutes and 56 seconds.

For many athletes, AR50 might have been the capstone to a satisfying running career, but for Daniel it was only a stepping stone.

The ultra-runner’s next project is a different kind of race than he’s used to, and it will bring him much closer to Tinker Air Force Base: in August, the 552nd AMXS personnel specialist will go for a sub 7:51 during the 1.5-mile run component of his annual PT test to break a four-year record.

“In ultra-marathon training [I usually ran 10 miles a day]. For ultramarathon training, I trained up to 80 and 120 miles a week,” the 28-year-old said. “But now I’m focusing on speed, so you’ve gotta lower the mileage and incorporate more speed work.”

Every Airman who has taken their PT test in Tinker’s Fitness Assessment Cell has undoubtedly compared their personal efforts to those recorded on the dry erase board on the testing room’s east wall.

To earn a spot on the leaderboard, Daniel will have to outrun John Gignac, who since 2013 has become something of a legend.

Gignac separated from the Air Force in January 2016 and is employed by a healthy lifestyle retailer serving Oklahoma City. “I’m pumped someone’s trying to break it, man, if it motivates people to … go after it, it’s cool,” Gignac said over the phone. “Most people don’t run under nine, so if someone’s trying to go for sub-8, I’m all about it.”

Gignac said he wants to come out and watch Daniel run in August.

When asked why Daniel is vying for Gignac’s record, he said, “It’s personal achievements, I guess. Having a goal and try and crush it. If I stop running, I think I wouldn’t pass the fitness test at all. I think I would gain so much weight.”

Daniel was introduced to running in the eighth grade by a friend who had to drag him to the track.

“I was obese and everything. I was overweight. I was 150-160 in eighth grade, and I’m like 160 now. I had like 30 percent body fat.”

Last year Daniel ran an 8:52 on his 1.5-mile run for his PT test. In speed competitions, dropping an entire minute is no easy feat. At the time, Daniel was training for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and wasn’t focusing on a sub-8 minute run, though breaking Gignac’s longstanding record is something he’s wanted to do since he arrived at Tinker in November 2014.
“I’m going to feel so happy,” Daniel said. “I’m going to take my picture with the clock, like set it to that time like the Olympians when they break the record, they stand next to their time.”