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Deployed sergeant training for 100 mile ultra-marathon

Master Sgt. Robert R. Snyder Jr. runs during a training session at a base in an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, April 17, 2013. Snyder is a U.S. Air Forces Central Force Protection liaison officer, training to complete two ultra-marathons later this year. (U.S Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Rachelle Elsea)

Master Sgt. Robert R. Snyder Jr. runs during a training session at a base in an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, April 17, 2013. Snyder is a U.S. Air Forces Central Force Protection liaison officer, training to complete two ultra-marathons later this year. (U.S Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Rachelle Elsea)

Southwest Asia -- The appetizer: four times around a 25-mile track in Missouri in September, with 10,000 feet of ascent and 10,000 feet of descent. The main course: a 100-mile point-to-point track with several water crossings and approximately 12,000 to 15,000 feet of elevation gain in Missouri in November. The dessert: a belt buckle or two.

Master Sgt. Robert R. Snyder Jr., Air Forces Central Force Protection liaison officer, on his sixth deployment, is a life-time runner with goals of completing two ultra-marathons within the next year. Both races, the Mark Twain 100 Mile Endurance Run and the Ozark Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, promise a signature belt buckle upon completion under the designated time.

"My goal is to complete the races in less than 24 hours," said Snyder. "The farthest I have run so far, at one time, is 40 miles."

The 39-year-old, Pana, Ill. native, began running at a young age and has slowly pushed himself further and further throughout the years.

"I grew up on a farm," said Snyder, who is deployed from the 375th Security Forces Squadron at Scott AFB. "Being on the farm, most of my friends lived a couple of miles away. If my parents wouldn't take my brother and me, we would run."

Over the years his mode of transportation would take him to a higher level. He began to compete in track and field in middle school and high school, with a culmination of making it to state for several events.

After completing a year of college and deciding he needed a change from the early mornings and chore-filled days on the farm, Snyder enlisted into the Air Force in October of 1994.

He continued to keep up the pace by competing in Air Force-wide events, both inside and out of his career field, as well as civilian races.

"I have competed in the Defender Challenge, Peacekeeper Challenge and Atlantic challenge," said Snyder. "I also participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March, Austin Marathon, Air Force Marathon, the River to River Relay, a lot of 5Ks, 10Ks, and trail runs."

However, the upcoming ultra-marathons takes it to a whole new level, which will require intense dedication and self-discipline.

"I do circuit training on Tuesdays, Thursdays I do yoga, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I do weight training or Crossfit," Snyder said. "I also run three to four times a week with my long runs falling on the weekend. I average around 40 to 55 miles a week."

A lot of his runs include wearing an elevation training mask, with temperatures commonly reaching into the triple digits.

"I run with the elevation mask for a couple reasons. On my short recovery runs, I run with it set to 6,000 to 9,000 feet, that way my lungs get a cardio workout when I am not trying to push my pace," said Snyder. "Also, in Illinois, I am basically at sea level, so with the elevation training mask I can go to races in places like Colorado, where I am thousands of feet above sea level and be prepared."

Also impacted by his goals: his diet.

"I try to eat every two hours, balancing my carbs and proteins and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, while also taking in a lot of calories," Snyder said. "Back home, I eat mostly organic. My staple meat is venison, which I hunt for myself. Because I am deployed and don't have access to organic, I eat vegetarian a week per month, cleaning toxins out of my system."

Luckily, Snyder has a firm support team backing him, to include his wife and three kids.

"My son, Trent, runs with me sometimes and is getting more into it," said Snyder. "My daughter, Amberly, will not let me get out of the house with my running gear on unless I take her with me. I have a running stroller, she just sits in it and watches shows on her Ipad or sometimes, her and I will talk about things we see. I also run 5ks and 10ks with her in the stroller."

When his daughter is not accompanying him on his runs, he takes time to enjoy the peacefulness.

"I enjoy the calmness and the quietness, especially if I am trail running, which I prefer over running on the road," Snyder said. "It is nice to be out away from everyone, alone; it is my time to relax."

Although he finds running enjoyable, he also recognizes it as a career necessity.

"Being physically fit prepares you for the mission," said Snyder, who is currently on a six-month deployment. "You need to know what your body is capable of. If, and when, things hit the fan, you may have to drag someone, run long distances or sprint short distances."

He encourages anyone and everyone, in and out of the military, to consider pursuing running.

"Start slow, listen to your body and set realistic goals," Snyder said. "Join a local running club or even try a program like Couch to 5k; it's a good starting point."

At his home base, Snyder runs with the Road Warriors running club. A fellow club member and Scott AFB security forces Airman, Senior Airman Caleb D. Brackett, 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron member, is also deployed here.

"Everyone in our flight, at home station, was always nervous when he would lead PT because we knew it was going to be hell," said Brackett. "I enjoyed it though and he always pushes people to positive levels and shows me how hard work and determination pays off."

Brackett occasionally joins Snyder on his runs when their busy schedules allow. He will also accompany Snyder on the last forty miles of his first ultra-marathon, as his handler, a common practice in the running world.

"I can say that I am a friend that will push him to dig deep and drive toward his goals," Brackett said. "It's not how fast or far people run, it's what brings us all together, and that is our passion for running and a healthy lifestyle. When others here about people running incredible distances they consider it crazy, but its passion and that's what drives us to where we are today."