ANG runner competes around the world, qualifies for Olympic trials

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Julia Sorber
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
"I am light. I am fast. I am fit. I am strong."

Staff Sgt. Emily Shertzer repeats this mantra as she pushes through yet another 26.2 miles, relying on her mental strength and training to carry her across the marathon finish line.

An instrumentalist with the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast, Annville, Pennsylvania, Shertzer was first bitten by the running bug after joining the track and field team in seventh grade. From there, she moved into cross country and indoor track and field sports.

By the time she joined the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in 2009, Shertzer considered herself a well-seasoned and trained runner. Soon she caught the eye of the Pennsylvania National Guard marathon team, which led her to think about tackling a runner's ultimate long-distance challenge ... the full marathon.

"I was approached by the Pennsylvania National Guard marathon team coordinator and asked if I would consider running the Lincoln National Guard Marathon with the PA Air National Guard team," Shertzer said. "At that time I had run a couple half marathons and some 10-milers but had never attempted a full marathon. I agreed to give it a shot and participated in that race in May 2011."

Later that same year, Shertzer ran with the all-Air Force team at the Marine Corps Marathon, which serves as the Armed Forces Championships. It was at that marathon that her run time qualified her for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

For the past six years, Shertzer has been running half and full marathons every year with various teams, to include the National Guard, Air Force and Armed Forces. The Armed Forces team consists of runners from all branches of the military, who represent the United States around the world. In 2014, she competed with the Armed Forces team in the Netherlands and again in 2015 in Korea.

In order to run 26.2 miles, compete successfully and minimize struggles, Shertzer cross trains to stay in shape.

"[These days] I try to run four days a week instead of six, and I get about 50 miles in a week instead of 70," Shertzer explained. "I swim three days a week, and I try to get on my bike at least once a week as well."

According to Scott Douglas, an online writer for Runner's World, a runner's diet prior to running a marathon plays a vital role in his or her performance. He says it's the carbs - not the fat or protein - that fuels a person on race day.

Shertzer doesn't have much of a routine when it comes to what she eats before a big race. She said, when running with a team, everyone will go out to a pasta dinner the night before. However, when running on her own, Shertzer explained that she isn't very particular as long as she has enough to eat, it's early enough to digest the food, and it's nothing too heavy or greasy.

Shertzer said that people often ask why she runs and what motivates her to continue participating in half and full marathons.

"I've always been a rather focused and driven person in most everything, not just running," said Shertzer. "In high school and college, a lot of my motivation came from my coaches and teammates, and the desire to qualify and compete in post-season championships.  I've been fortunate to continue my running at a higher level since college, and again enjoy the team aspect of the military competitions. Now I just run because I can."

Shertzer's drive and determination is also recognized by her fellow bandsmen.  
"Like all athletes who excel and perform at a very high level, Staff Sgt. Shertzer is very goal-oriented and has an inner drive, determination and desire to meet any goal she sets out for herself," said Master Sgt. Jeff Wacker, first sergeant for the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast.

Shertzer is also often asked what she thinks about while running all those miles.

I don't listen to music when I run. A college coach of mine didn't allow it because it keeps you from being fully aware of your surroundings, she said. Instead, I daydream, plan out my week and solve all the problems of the world, she joked.

"It's a joy to have her in the band and a real privilege to serve alongside her," said Wacker. "She is truly an inspiration to each of us, and I know I'm not speaking out of turn when I say everyone in the unit is both proud of her and proud to serve with her. She is a first-class person in every regard."

Shertzer will be participating in the Air Force Half Marathon Sept. 17 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as a part of the National Guard team.