By Army Sgt. Matthew E. Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 12, 2009 - Many soldiers find it difficult and inconvenient to conduct physical training in a field environment. Temperatures in Iraq can top out near 150 degrees, and running in a dust storm is no picnic. But Army Capt. Alex Quintanilla, an automation officer in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he began training for his first marathon while deployed to Iraq in 2005, and he hasn't stopped running since.
Quintanilla, a resident of Burtonsville, Md., recently ran the Marine Corps Marathon at Asad, Iraq, as one of 309 runners. His brother, Edwin, was among more than 21,000 runners participating in the primary Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
Running seems to run in the Quintanilla family. The captain's brothers -- Edwin, William and Wilbert -- ran with him last year in Washington, and they each finished the 26.2 mile race in less than four hours.
Quintanilla, who grew up in El Salvador and moved to Washington in 1990, said he always has enjoyed running, particularly since joining the Marine Corps Reserve as an ambulance driver in 1995.
In 1999, Quintanilla – then a sergeant -- began a two-year break from the military to finish his degree in information science at the University of Pittsburgh. He joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 2001. Although running was still a passion, it wasn't until his fist deployment with the Guard's 28th Signal Battalion in 2005 that he decided to train for his first marathon.
"To train here, you have to get up early, about 5 a.m., to beat the heat," said Quintanilla, who typically runs five days each week when training. "I do one long run each week, starting with about 10 miles."
In the beginning of his training, his short runs were about two to five miles. About four or five months before a marathon, his short-run days become quite long for anyone who isn't practicing for a marathon, at around a dozen miles.
As one might imagine, he's had no trouble completing the three-mile run the Marine Corps uses to test fitness or the two-mile run as part of his Army physical fitness test.
"I've always maxed the tests," he said, before correcting himself. "Well, the run, that is. Actually, I really have to practice my sit-ups."
While deployed here, Quintanilla has an extra incentive to run. Every Wednesday morning, many runners on base participate in the morale, welfare and recreation 5K.
"I have been running in the weekly MWR 5K here at Tallil since we arrived in May, and I have placed either first or second place in my age category 18 times," he said.
The roughly three-mile race may not seem like much compared to the five marathons and two half-marathons in which he's participated, but Quintanilla said he loves it just the same.
"I run because I like it, and because it makes me feel great and alive," the 33-year-old officer said. "I run because it makes me feel like getting older is not so bad. I feel like I could accomplish almost anything."
(Army Sgt. Matthew E. Jones serves in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.)