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Marathon office ‘dominates the dirty work’ by showcasing Wright-Patt, Air Force on a global scale

  • Published
  • By Matthew Fink
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – In the early-morning hours on the third Saturday in September, the sharp crack of a starting pistol echoes across the flat plains of Dayton, commencing the annual Air Force Marathon.

Thousands of runners start their watches and begin an hourslong journey through the course’s 26.2 miles, which will take them past countless monuments to the nation’s aviation heritage. With minds fixed on factors like weather and pacing, runners likely have no idea that every aspect of the race they are about to run, from the course and hydration stations to volunteers and entertainment, is the undertaking of a small office with less than 10 people.

Part of the 88th Air Base Wing’s Mission Support Group, the Air Force Marathon Office has one primary mission: to host the marathon, which has been held at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force each year since 1997.

“We are the official race of the U.S. Air Force,” said Rachael Ferguson, the marathon director. “It is a very large production and a year-round job. There is a lot of work needed on a daily basis to produce the type of event that we do and to give participants a great experience.”

Achievement through teamwork

Currently a staff of six, including an intern, the marathon office oversees every facet of the event. This includes the course itself, which starts at the museum and takes runners on a trek through Area A, Area B and the city of Fairborn before ending back at the museum along a paved road lined with aircraft.

The course is certified by USA Track & Field as a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon.

“There is a whole long, tedious process that goes into getting certified,” Ferguson said. “Boston is ‘the’ event, so it is a big deal for us to be a qualifier. It draws people in.”

Being a Boston-qualifying event elevates the race’s profile in the running community, both nationally and internationally, she added. 

“People come from over 15 countries and all 50 states to run our marathon,” Ferguson said. “We had 8,500 runners last year, but we had up to 15,000 prior to COVID-19. We are trying to build back up to that number.” 

On a smaller scale, marathon staff work year-round to obtain sponsors, who provide funding and products such as bottled water in exchange for logo placements, social media shoutouts and other advertising benefits.

Chris Meister, the Air Force Marathon sponsorship coordinator, said sponsors come from both local and national businesses that are interested in associating their brands with the prestige of the marathon.

“We have a really good relationship with our sponsors,” Meister said. “I really like talking to them and tailoring a package that fits their needs. I look for sponsors who are willing to try to be creative and unique in order to enhance the participant experience.”  

Once funding is secured, the office works with the Air Force to award contracts to provide, among other things, the unique infrastructural support such a large race requires. 

“Contracts are their own process, and we pretty much start working on the next year’s contracts right after the marathon ends,” Ferguson said. “We have 17,000 feet of fence that we rent through a contract. There are other ones for things like shirts, medals, awards and companies that help us handle traffic.”

One team member handles logistics, which involves maintaining a warehouse full of equipment, organizing signage and coordinating with local law enforcement. Another deals primarily in marketing the race to target audiences and maintaining close ties with other marathons throughout the country. 

“Running is a very niche community, so word of mouth is a big way people learn about our event,” Ferguson said. “We have relationships with the Marine Corps Marathon, Flying Pig Marathon, Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and more, and we will go to each other’s events. It is like a family.”

Added Meister: “I have met my peers at other races, and they are extremely helpful. I love hearing their ideas and trying to implement those into our work.” 

Other office roles include administration, events management and coordinating the 1,500 volunteers who will staff hydration stations, merchandise sales tents and other key functions on race day. Without them, Ferguson said the race would not be possible.

“Volunteers are the heartbeat of our event,” she added. “Without their support, we could not produce the races. They bring the energy, excitement and necessary help to execute the experience that participants have when they come to the marathon.” 

Promoting fitness year-round

While the 26.2-mile marathon is the flagship event, it is not the only race held over the three-day Air Force Marathon weekend: There is also a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, relay and 1K race for kids.

Ferguson said her team works diligently to make the event as accessible as possible to all ages, sizes and ability levels. 

“We are about promoting fitness as a whole, not just running fast,” she said. “A lot of people hear marathon and think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ But the reality is, we are very inclusive. You can walk races, we have a wheeled division, and we have blind and deaf runners. Caring for the physical and mental health of all people is an important element of what we do and why we matter.” 

Even after marathon weekend ends, the office is kept busy throughout the year with other fitness events.

It hosts the History & Heritage Race Series, which began during COVID-19 restrictions as a way to keep the marathon community engaged during lockdown. The series consists of six virtual races, with 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon options, held every other month. Like the marathon in September, each race features an aircraft incorporated into the design of race shirts and the finisher’s medal. However, unlike the marathon, the History & Heritage Race Series spotlights retired aircraft instead of those currently in use.  

“We had a lot of people asking us to feature retired aircraft in the September marathon, which we can’t do,” Ferguson said. “So we found a way to highlight the Air Force’s history with this series. Motivationally, it lets people still connect with the marathon while simultaneously keeping in touch with the past.”

Outside running, the marathon office also hosts the Blue Streak Time Trial, a 10-mile cycling event held on base. Now in its 25th season, the time trials take place every second Tuesday between April and October. 

The final two races hosted by Ferguson’s team are all additions within the last year: the Museum Mile, which held its inaugural race in May, and the Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler, which began last December and takes place at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.   

“The Space Force wanted to establish its own event similar to the Air Force Marathon, but they didn’t have the team to do it,” Ferguson said. “They asked us to take that on for them, and we are proud to give them a hand.” 

Crossing the finish line

Having worked in the marathon office for nine years, including the past two as director, Ferguson said she has started to find a comfortable pace – not unlike a distance runner – while juggling so many moving pieces throughout each marathon season.

In the weeks leading up to race day, when the workload can reach an almost fever pitch, she and her team dig deep and try to remind themselves why they do their jobs.

“We are a very unique entity that showcases who the Air Force is in a way that probably no other organization can,” Ferguson said. “The majority of our runners have no military background, so having them run through the base is eye-opening for the public. We give them a glimpse of what the Air Force does for our nation and the Dayton community. That is a large part of why we matter.” 

Ferguson’s small team often falls under the radar in the massive scope of missions that happen on Wright-Patt, and many who work on base aren’t even aware of its existence.

Even so, watching everything culminate in such a joyous atmosphere is what makes everything worth it, she added.

“Race day is the best part of the job, hands down,” Ferguson said. “Seeing participants cross the finish line, which for a lot of them has been a lifelong goal, is really motivating.”

Meister agreed.

“I love the commotion and the excitement that surrounds it,” he said. “Having raced myself, I know the feeling of anticipation the participants are having, so being the one behind the scenes making it happen is very rewarding.”

For more information regarding the Air Force Marathon, email or visit