Miles from Ordinary: Vance Airman ready to run 100 miles Oct. 17

  • Published
  • By David Poe
  • 71st FTW Public Affairs
It always happened the same way for Master Sgt. Torry Brittain.

In 2003, Eglin Air Force Base had monthly base runs where squadrons formed up and ran three miles together to encourage espirit de corps and unit physical readiness.

Brittain always started with his group but frequently finished alone, one of the many stragglers who couldn't keep up for the relatively tame three-mile jaunt around the base.

This was a reality on a lot of Air Force bases in the beginnings of the Global War on Terror. Airmen were always expected to be physically fit, but pushing themselves to pass PT tests was enough. Any off time Brittain had was spent far from a running track or a weight room. PT was at the back of his mind until the weeks before the next PT test.

And then, it happened the same way one last time - his first Eglin run after becoming an NCO.

Just like they always had, his unit took its place in the long chain of units that made up the base formation run. He started strong, but as the first mile came and went, he started to feel the familiar ache in his lungs and the fire in his joints.

Brittain and his Airmen crossed the second mile, and they watched him start to struggle. He wondered if they were as disappointed with him as he and his buddies were as Airmen just out of boot camp when they watched their supervisors labor through very basic physical training.

"I started realizing what a staff sergeant was responsible for in our enlisted force structure," Brittain said, now 10 years later. "I had to be physically and mentally ready to do my job, so I started focusing on those areas.

"At that point in the Air Force, you could still look around and see a lot of unhealthy people," he said. "I didn't want to be one of them."

Change came in pieces, but it did come.

"The [Health and Wellness Center at Eglin] had a nutrition display that showed the differences in fat between whole milk, two percent and skim," Brittain said. "It opened my eyes to how little changes can make big differences."

Brittain didn't start with goals of miles in mind or how many calories he wanted to burn per hour, per day or per month. He just knew he wanted to burn and become the runner he used to be when he and his childhood friends never stopped running and playing in his working class South Florida neighborhood.

Soon two and three miles became markers on his treks instead of goals out of his reach. His reintroduction to a healthy lifestyle became contagious.

"We started by walking our dogs," said Tech. Sgt. Denarius Brittain, Torry's wife of almost 15 years. "We used to volunteer for the Gate to Gate run at Eglin and one day we decided we were going to make the switch to be the runners we had previously volunteered for."

Torry rediscovered the runner he had been and how good that felt but also maybe was reminded of the kid who used to seek out challenges.

As a teenager, while his friends spent most of their time doing what teenagers do, he laid carpet with his uncles on weekends and all summer long to make extra money. Arduous work for teens and adults alike, Brittain, who was raised in a one-income household, looked at the work as a means to an end without complaint.

"I never looked at what I was missing out on - I'd sometimes work four, five and six days a week," he said. "It was great money for a 13-year-old."

Not particularly interested in college when he was 17, yet still a challenge-seeker, he chose enlisted service and the Air Force.

He didn't know what basic military training was going to be like as he took his first plane ride to boot camp. He didn't even know what the world north of Orlando was going to be like, but he was up for the challenge.

But by the time he made it to Eglin, he admits that he allowed the familiar routine of married life and a predictable desk job in the military to draw him away from the life challenges he used to crave. The small mountains became large and the large mountains became what he thought was impassable until that morning when he watched his junior Airmen disappear over the hill at Eglin.

"I distinctly remember being embarrassed," he said. "I could score in the eighties on the PT test, but I was just getting by, and I knew it."

On Oct. 16, the Vance Equal Opportunity counselor will run the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd in eastern Oklahoma, a world-renowned ultrarunning challenge. 

His goal is 100 miles - which is equal to almost three years' worth of Eglin Air Force Base formation runs. He's attempted the distance once before, but dropped out before finishing due to injuries.

"To go back and try to get over a wall he's already hit - he is my hero," Denarius Brittain said, who will also chase down one of her own challenges at she readies to run 33 miles during the same challenge. "If we can't show our Airmen what they are capable of if they choose to persevere, then we have no business being NCOs.

"One hundred miles is his white whale," she said.

Ten years ago, Torry Brittain decided to run away from complacency. For him, from Eglin to eastern Oklahoma, every mile has marked a life less ordinary.

"Running has taught me that I'm capable of more," he said. "Life would be very boring without challenges and I want to see where I stack up."

Follow the 71st Flying Training Wing (@71FTW) on Twitter Oct. 17-18 to keep up with Brittain during the event with the hashtag #gotorrygo.