Head Start

[Bonus] The Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler

April 12, 2022 Brandon Hough
Head Start
[Bonus] The Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler
Show Notes Transcript

What do the Marine Corps Marathon, Air Force Marathon and Army Ten Miler all have in common? They are, of course, amazing races put on to celebrate branches of the US Military that attract tens of thousands of participants every year.

Well, there’s a new race in town for 2022, set to celebrate the youngest of all military branches: the Space Force. The aptly named Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler is set to take place this December 10th at historic Cape Canaveral, and we’re going to be hearing all about it from the event’s own race director Brandon Hough in today’s star-spangled bonus episode. 

So get ready for some military race history, rockets, alligators, more rockets, and some very interesting insights into working as a race director within the US government.

In this episode:

  • Military races: how it all begun with the Marine Corps Marathon
  • NAFIs and the legal structure of military races
  • The challenges of putting on a race inside the US government/military
  • The birth and mission of the US Space Force
  • Conceiving and launching the Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler
  • Mapping out a race course around historic Cape Canaveral
  • What to expect from the inaugural race (hint: more than rockets and alligators, although there's definitely plenty of those!)
  • The Sea, Air & Space Challenge

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Panos:

Hi. Welcome to Head Start, the podcast for race directors and the business of putting on races. Here's an easy one for you. What do the Marine Corps Marathon, Air Force Marathon and Army Ten Miler all have in common? Well, they are, of course, amazing races put on to celebrate branches of the US Military that attracts tens of thousands of participants every year. Well, there's a new race in town for 2022, set to celebrate the youngest of all military branches - the Space Force. The aptly named Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler is set to take place this December 10th at historic Cape Canaveral, and we're going to be hearing all about it from the event's own race director Brandon Hough in today's star-spangled bonus episode. So get ready for some military race history, rockets, alligators, more rockets, and some very interesting insights into working as a race director within the US government. Now, before we get into this amazing bonus episode, I want to give a quick shout out to our hugely supportive podcast sponsors, RunSignup and Racecheck. You, of course, know RunSignup as the market-leading all-in-one technology and registrations solution used by over 26,000 races as we speak. That's right. You wonder what 26,000 races find so good about RunSignup? Well, go find out for yourself at runsignup.com. Now, you may be a bit less familiar with our other good friends, Racecheck. That's a shame. Because Racecheck's Review Box, which you can download for free at organisers.racecheck.com can help you showcase your race reviews on your website, giving you instant social proof and a 20% boost on online registrations. So why not download your free Racecheck Review Box today by visiting organisers.racecheck.com. Okay, ready for lift-off in 5-4-3-2-1. Over to Brandon. Brandon, welcome to the podcast!

Brandon:

Thank you so much for having me.

Panos:

It's a pleasure to have you on. Thanks a lot for taking the time. By the way, you're a very, very busy man with all these marathons you're putting on for the government. Plus, you have a baby on the way which is gonna make you a whole lot busier. So, it's a great opportunity to have you on before that very fortunate occasion - I really appreciate your time. So, do we have an amazing topic to talk about today? We're gonna be talking about the inaugural space for T-Minus 10-Miler, which is a brand new race that will, hopefully, put Space Force on the racing map - you're going to tell us all about that. Before we go into all that, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, your military career, your running career, and how the two, sort of, like, came together?

Brandon:

Thank you so much for that intro. I'll try to keep it brief. I grew up running. I love running. I went to the US Air Force Academy. While I was there, I ran on our marathon team. So, I did my first marathon when I was 17 years old at the United States Marine Corps Marathon. I continued to run at the Air Force Academy, graduated, got assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, served a few years here as a contracting officer, and then decided to earn a Master's in sports administration. Through that program at Xavier University, I met Iris Simpson-Bush from the Flying Pig Marathon, Darris Blackford from the Columbus marathon, and Rob Aguiar, the former director of the Air Force Marathon. That, kind of, spurred my love of directing events. I was able to separate from the Air Force and got a job working out west in 2014 with Mike Bohn at Spectrum Sports, who managed a lot of events out in Southern California - one of our big clients was runDisney and a lot of our races happened on Catalina Island. So for them, I did a lot of the event operations, and I did that for a few years. Then, I moved back to Ohio in 2017 to be with my, then, fiance and, now, wife who, as you mentioned, is having a baby this week, hopefully. Then, in 2018, I got hired by the Air Force Marathon in May of 2018 when Rob retired. So, I have been here for just shy of 4 years now.

Panos:

Awesome. Being a race director for the Air Force Marathon - we're gonna get into that - is super exciting. You're also a pretty accomplished runner. I keep following you on Facebook, and I see you running some pretty crazy times - crazy by my standards.

Brandon:

Yeah. I mean, speed is a really relative term - that's what I tell a lot of people. So, a lot of people think I'm quite quick. My marathon personal record is 2h33m. I actually ran that during the pandemic when all the races were canceled. I put on a little private marathon for some friends - a two-mile loop course that I certified myself. We had a timer come out. We did 13 loops plus a little dogleg at the start to get that extra two temps on the windiest day in 2020, and I took eighth place out of 16 with a 233 that day. So yeah, I've been running my whole life. I consider myself a competitive hobby jogger. I think it always helped me as an event director to understand our participants really well. I know their training, struggles, highs, lows, and what they're like because I like those same things myself. So yeah, I'm still around and still getting after it. I'll be in New York City this fall for the third time. I can't resist that race - it's a good one.

Panos:

Awesome. Good luck with that! So, I've always wondered - you said you've been running all your life and then you went into the military - do people, generally, in the armed forces tend to be runners? Do they tend to run more than your average person or less than your average person?

Brandon:

I'd say probably more than the average person only by the fact that they have to because there's the physical fitness test once or twice a year, depending on how you score. But definitely, at least, like, running is definitely one of those sports you just see a lot - people are just always, kind of, running on lunch breaks. And yeah, it's just, kind of, a way of life. Most bases have multiple tracks. Like, here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, I can think of three tracks on the base plus a one-mile rubber path. So, everywhere you look, there's an opportunity to go for a run, and a lot of people are doing it. So, a lot of military people definitely run.

Panos:

That's great. I guess most military people also built their muscles quite heavily and stuff, so it's not necessarily, like, the physique you associate with a runner, but it's great to see people go out even if it's, like, a 4K or a 5K or something. And as you said, they need to keep fit as part of the job. Speaking of which, I want to start us off with a quick history of Armed Forces' races in general. I have to say that for people outside of the US - I consider myself as one of those. You guys have the Marine Corps Marathon, the Air Force Marathon, and all of those great races, which look amazing. They've reached a point of, like, being really innovative and some great events. It's a little bit alien, I guess, to someone outside of the US to be having races run, operated, and branded after the armed forces and different sections of the armed forces. So, what's the story behind that? How did the whole thing start? How has it evolved to, now, having these huge, really accomplished races that are backed by the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force, and all of the other branches of the military?

Brandon:

Yeah, that's a great question. I want to apologize in advance to my peers at Army Ten Miler and Marine Corps. I don't pretend to speak for them and their histories - they know them better than I do. So, to Angela, Rick and Matt, I apologize if I get these things wrong. As far as my understanding goes, somewhere in the 1970s, someone came up with the idea to have a Marine Corps Marathon around the nation's capitol somewhere, and the idea, kind of, took. I have, like, a brief chronology of it. As an organization, they kind of passed that idea around a lot because, like, no one really knows what to do with them. What do you do with a marathon in the US Marine Corps? But really quickly, it kind of sticks - people liked it and it, kind of, grows. Over the decades, the Marine Corps has earned the name, "The People's Marathon." So, it's a wonderful foot tour of Washington, DC - 26 miles of just beautiful history. It was my first marathon. A few years after their success, the army came along and created the Army Ten Miler, which has been around for 30-plus years now. Then, in the 1990s, someone at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base - it was actually a captain, a major, and a couple of medical squadrons - said, "We should have a marathon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Air Force, which was founded in 1947. So, for the 50th anniversary of the US Air Force, they had the inaugural Air Force Marathon. I think, at that point, they called it, like, the Air Force Marathon, but I don't know if the Big Air Force had, like, blessed it. And that didn't occur until about six or seven years later, in the early 2000s, when they, kind of, got the blessing from the Pentagon saying, "Yes, this is the de facto Air Force Marathon." So, at that point, you had Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army races. The Navy hasn't had, like, their own - they've, kind of, had a few iterations of things, but they haven't had, like, their marquee event. We'd like to see that someday. So, that's, kind of, like, the brief history. Marine Corps has grown and they have a massive umbrella of events - like, 17 events now. The Air Force Marathon is not just a marathon anymore - we've got multiple events going now.

Panos:

And these are all races that the general public can enter, right? You don't need to be, like, an Air Force veteran to run the Air Force Marathon or anything like that - anyone can sign up and run those races?

Brandon:

That's correct. What's unique about the Air Force Marathon compared to the Marine Corps and Army, the Marine Corps Marathon and Army Ten Miler are both, kind of, run in the nation's capital in public areas, whereas the Air Force Marathon is, kind of - not exclusively, but I'd say - about 20 of the 26 miles run through an active-duty military installation. So, in that case, it's quite unique that the gates to the installation are open for people to pass through on foot. But all of our races are open to the public, so it doesn't matter where you're from - you don't even have to just be from the US. A lot of our races have international guests. We tend to have 10 plus countries represented at Air Force Marathon and I imagine Marine Corps Marathon has dozens of countries represented at their event. So yeah, definitely open to the public.

Panos:

Right. I guess it's a great opportunity for aspiring spies to find a good way to get into an Air Force installation, right?

Brandon:

Yeah, you would think so. What do we actually do, though? A lot of people asked, like, "How does that work? Do we, like, scrub our list and check everything?" The answer is 'yes'. So, if people register for our event, we will ultimately cough up all the names of the registrants to the security forces and the special investigations team - they do what they do - and they will tell us who's allowed and who's not allowed. So, that's above my paygrade - I just cough up the names and they do the rest.

Panos:

Okay, great. So, one of the things that emerged from a chat we were having the other day, I think, is absolutely fascinating - the legal status of the organization behind those races. You want to talk us through in as plain language as you can - because it's full of acronyms and, like, little terms and stuff - on how exactly you guys operate these races - say, the Air Force Marathon, that you know quite well - under the government and military umbrella.

Brandon:

Yeah, it seems complicated, but it's really not. So, whether it's the Marine Corps Marathon, Army Ten Miler, or Air Force Marathon, we all are, kind of, like, small businesses that exist within a branch of the Department of Defense. So, how I explain it to people is, like, most things in the government are funded by taxpayer dollars. Taxpayer dollars are also known as appropriated funds because Congress appropriates those funds to units. So, for the Marine Corps Marathon, Army Ten Miler, and Air Force Marathon, we do not get our money appropriated to us from Congress, so we have non-appropriated funds, meaning we make our own money through sponsorships and registration drives - how we exist and survive as an entity. We have to make our own money to pay our bills and to pay for the supplies of the runner. So, I always say, "Don't worry. Your taxpayer dollars aren't being wasted here at the Air Force Marathon because we're not using appropriated funds." We're technically called a "NAFI" or Nonappropriated Funds Instrumentality, which is just, kind of, a fancy way of saying, "We make our own money. We don't exist to make money, but we don't exist to lose it. We're, kind of, like, a breakeven activity because, ultimately, we're just a good form of public relations for the military."

Panos:

Right. The other interesting thing about all these races is that I would have thought, actually - I did think that before we caught up on this - that lots of these races would benefit some, kind of, military cause, maybe, like Veteran Association or something, because I know plenty of other races in the US does that to support these kinds of nonprofits. I would have thought that, maybe, the Marine Corps Marathon would benefit Marine Corps veterans, etc. But apparently, that's not the case, is it?

Brandon:

Yeah. So the US government, in general, cannot, like, partner, if you will - we can't directly endorse charities, we can't directly financially support charities. I tell people, "Think about it like this. If the US government was taking tax dollars and just making a donation to some random charity, people will be, like, 'Why that charity over this one?' It's a preferential treatment situation. Therefore, it's just, kind of, like, a blanket ban. There's no endorsing of charities - no directly supporting charities - and so, that kind of trickles all the way down to us - The Marine Corps, Army Ten, Air Force. We cannot take our money and directly give it to charities." But as I was mentioning earlier, like, a nonappropriated funds entity, what that, kind of, means is there's a guide that we follow. We all, kind of, describe it as Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities - MWR activities. Especially for, like, the Army Ten Miler, they make it quite clear - they're structured such that it says on their website, "All race proceeds benefit the soldier MWR programs." So again, MWR is Morale, Welfare, Recreation. So, they actually take a lot of their money and it gets put back into programs that benefit, like, the actual soldiers on that installation and whatnot. So, I can't speak for Marine Corps. Then, for us at Air Force, we are our own little activity. So, our money - if we do happen to make money - has to stay with us, but then we use it by putting it back into the event so that we can get better things for the event and make the event better. And every now and then, we try to work on things that benefit the installation, but have an indirect tie back to the marathon like improving the running track - that's something that we can use our money for.

Panos:

Okay. Most race directors listening into this - I know there are plenty - sometimes, have issues with getting permits for races and other kinds of bureaucracy obstacles. Tell us a little bit about what happens when you guys need to order medals for the Air Force Marathon or something. Like, give us a little bit of insight into how easy it is to be doing these things under the government patronage, for a race like this.

Brandon:

Yeah. I think every race director has their own share of problems and would trade those problems for somebody else's problems - so, they think. I think Barbara at Detroit Marathon, like, has to run into Canada from Detroit and back - I would never want to deal with that problem. There's a lot of people who would like some of the things we've got going for us at Air Force, but would not like some of the other things - like, I can drop aid stations two weeks in advance, because no one's going to touch them, because they're sitting on a military installation, but then a lot of people would not want how we have to acquire our supplies. So, for most of our peers listening here today, if they want some medals, they can call up Maxwell, Ashworth, Always Advancing, Stride Awards - you name it - just place an order, give them the credit card, and that's done, but we have thresholds that dictate how we have to purchase. So, for pretty much any supply under $5,000, I have a lot of authority. I actually don't have a credit card here at the marathon - my employees do - so I actually can't buy anything. But under $5,000, we can buy pretty much what we want. But from $5,000 to $25,000, the rules start to really pick up. We need multiple quotes and we can't write the award or order - we have to send it to an office that does it for us. We provide them the quotes and the statement of work and they go do the order for us. Above $25,000, it gets a lot more complicated. It has to go to the base contracting office. So, say, we want shirts and we need a lot of them, we'll write a statement of work, we send it to the contracting office, they will solicit it to the general public, and they'll get multiple bids back. Then, they redact all the information out of those bids so that we cannot see who bid, and they'll send us the bids and say, "Are these bids acceptable?" I'll rule out the ones that aren't and say 'yes' to the ones that are good, and then send it back to them. Then, they know who put in those bids, they'll choose the bidder with the lowest price, come back to me, and say, "Congrats, this is the vendor for your shirts" or "This is the vendor for your medals." That process from when we draft the statement of work to when the order is awarded can take three to four months. Then, once that order is awarded, then you gotta wait for the items to be made and shipped. So, it's about a six-month lead time - it's very slow and bureaucratic. It can be frustrating, but it does have some good merit - speaking from someone who was formerly a contracting officer in the Air Force when I was on active duty.

Panos:

So you go through all this every year. So, even if you pick a vendor in your first year, you need to go through all that again, the year after and the year after?

Brandon:

Yes and no. So, we can do what we call "Option Your Contracts." If it's a service like, say, porta-potties or light towers, we can do a five-year option contract. So, after the base year, you can just renew the option for the next year and you can just keep renewing the options. It's a unilateral action, meaning the military gets to decide whether it wants to extend the option - the contractor has no say in it. So, as long as we agree and like the service provider, we just keep renewing. We've never been able to do this for commodity-style contracts like medals and shirts, but we actually just, kind of, did one for the first time. It's called a Base Purchase Agreement (BPA) where we went out to the general public and said, "We need pricing on long sleeve shirts, short sleeve shirts, jackets, hoodies, and beanies in, like, one big contract. And they have to price everything out. And it's a five-year option contract." We're not required to buy anything in it - there's no like limit, essentially - but we can buy if we want. So, why we set that up is, now, we decide, "Hey, we want to do beanies this year. I've already got pricing in a contract that has beanies on it. I can just write an order against that contract, and writing a purchase order off of BPA is a very fast process. Then, at the end of the year, if we like that contract, we just renew it. So, we just did that for the first time after 25 years. So, now, I have a five-year contract with about 30 items on it that I can quickly tap into. It got pros and cons because you're kind of locked into that contract. You can't just say, "Well, I kind of don't like the vendor that much, so I want to cancel." The government doesn't really like that. Like, unless you have a very legitimate reason to not renew the contract, they're going to keep renewing it. So, it kind of, like, locks you in, but it provides stability and consistency going forward, which is nice, and it's a way of establishing a relationship, which is can be hard to do when you're only doing one-year contracts. The downside is when that five-year contract ends, it's open for bid, again, to the general public - anybody can jump back in. When the contracting officer is choosing an award winner, your relationship with a vendor doesn't really factor in - it's not a variable they consider.

Panos:

It sounds, like, there's some downside in all this for the vendors, right? I mean, basically, they give out a price for five years or whatever, particularly, with what's been happening lately with inflation, disruption, and all kinds of stuff. I mean, it's a tough deal, I guess.

Brandon:

Right. Yeah, it definitely is, and we try to be sensitive to that one - they, kind of, price in that uncertainty. I was actually talking to a vendor recently who was applying or bidding on one of these contracts for another entity - not to be named - and I was trying to, like, help them understand how it works. I was, like, "Yeah, you just have to price in a bit of that uncertainty." But there are some, kind of, like, act-of-God things that can't be rectified on the back end. We actually had to deal with that - like, we wrote the contract, then the pandemic began, and we needed to airship things, but the contract did not account for air shipping. So, both parties were able to do a bilateral modification to the contract to factor that in. Because at the end of the day, we're not here to take advantage of a contractor and put a contractor in a bad spot - that doesn't work for them and for the US government. We just got to make sure we follow all applicable laws and do it right. Even though this isn't taxpayer-funded money, we still have to follow the laws of the US government. So, as long as we did it correctly, that's what matters.

Panos:

How do sponsorships work under this framework? Do you just go out and find sponsors the same way as other races might? Or are there limitations there? Are there benefits in being in this government-supported or sponsored type of oversight? How do sponsorships work?

Brandon:

Yeah. Again - you're gonna hear me say a few times - there are pros and cons here. Cons - there's a lot more red tape. In the general public, you can just go out, have a beer with a sponsor, hit it off, swap a few emails, and you're done - you agree on it. Again, they're not all that simple but, literally, a handshake can seal the deal. Here, it's pretty formal. There's got to be legal reviews - Air Force legal and, I would assume, Marine Corps Army legal. They want to make sure the letter of the law is being followed there. There are specific regulations on the types of sponsorships, what we can offer, what they can offer us, etc. The big thing for us is there can be no federal endorsement. Just because USAA, Northrop Grumman, or Boeing are sponsoring the event does not mean the federal government is endorsing those businesses. So, you'll always notice, typically, wherever we put our sponsors, you'll see a little line beneath it, "No federal endorsement intended." So, that's kind of like one of the nuances. We have a sponsorship coordinator just like a lot of you all do. Sometimes, they take cold calls themselves. Sometimes, they're making cold calls. So, it's the same kind of process. We obviously avoid, anything, kind of, illicit - there are some specific rules on what we're not allowed but, generally, what we are allowed is pretty broad. Probably, when you're browsing some of our peers, you'll notice a lot more, sort of, the military-industrial complex vendors - Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Navy Federal, USAA. So, a lot more of, like, the common assets that are associated with the military in the United States. But then, just like everyone else, we can get some of the ones that are sports-specific - Gatorade, Aquafina, and stuff like that - and, then, your random and local ones. So I think we got about 45 sponsors here at the US Air Force Marathon that do a lot for us.

Panos:

Well, let's talk a little bit about the Space Force itself. Can you give us a little bit of background? I think the US is probably one of the first - if not the first country - to have, like, a formal branch of the army that has, sort of, like, responsibility over space defense and all that. Can you tell us a little bit about when the Space Force was set up and, sort of, what its remit has been so far?

Brandon:

Yeah. Again, I do not pretend to be a spokesperson for the United States Space Force, so if the chief of the Space Force is out there - General Raymond - I sincerely apologize because I don't think I'm the best person to answer that. It was stood up in late 2019 under President Donald Trump, and a lot of people, at that time, were, like, "Is this a joke?" It's like, "No, it's a very serious thing. It's the next frontier. There are a lot of assets worth protecting out there. I mean, every day, you and I jump in our cars and we use Google GPS systems. GPS systems are all over space - extremely important. Someone's got to make sure those are staying safe. The military has a lot of satellites up there itself - satellites that do communications. Boeing has been working on a spaceplane. You have US missile warning systems up there. Look at the conflict right now in Eastern Europe and where are we getting those imageries from." So, there are a lot of serious assets that need protecting and need monitoring. Then, simultaneously, if you're paying attention, in the US, how fast we're putting rockets into space is kind of incredible. There's a cool Space Force Base - Patrick Space Force Base - known as Space Launch Delta 45. And if you follow their Facebook page, once or twice a week, they're shooting a rocket off Cape Canaveral into space - some of those are government, some of those are NASA, some of those are private contractors like SpaceX. It's really incredible. So, you've got to make sure that it's safe and being done correctly - I think that's where Space Force comes in and creates that safe space - no pun intended there nor the cultural reference - a literal safe space for military and civilian assets to be in space.

Panos:

Yeah. I know you mentioned the rockets. The rocket actually is part of the awesome race medal for the Space Force that you guys have released on the site for the inaugural race. What are the, kind of, assets does Space Force have beyond, like, rockets? Also, does it have any bases like the Air Force and the Army do?

Brandon:

Yeah. When you talk about assets, there's a lot of, like, the physical assets of the land - they provide the installation like Cape Canaveral to do some of the launches. As I mentioned, there are a lot of satellite communication networks and constellations, US missile warning systems, Space Surveillance Network, and a satellite control network - those are, like, some of the physical assets. But there's definitely a list of a lot of bases. A lot of them were former Air Force bases, and they're being, like, slowly converted. So, for example, you have Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Patrick Space Force Base, and then some of the other bases - I'm not sure if they've been fully converted yet, but they do have a lot of Space Force assets - like Buckley in Colorado, Peterson in Colorado, Los Angeles, Schriever in Colorado, Vandenberg in California. So, California, Colorado, and Florida are where a lot of Space Force assets have a footprint.

Panos:

You keep mentioning the Air Force. Besides being the race director for the Space Force race - you started off being the race director for the Air Force Marathon - are the ties between the Air Force and the Space Force as close as people would assume?

Brandon:

Yeah, definitely. I, kind of, liken it to the Navy and the Marine Corps - the Navy and Marine Corps here in the United States are actually really closely related. They're kind of tied at the hip, so they're separate but they're very similar. I think when they spun off the Space Force-- we talked so much about taxpayer dollars - you want to be smart and not just waste taxpayer dollars, so it doesn't make sense to have two versions of everything. I think the answer is 'no' - I think they wisely realize that, so they set up the new United States Space Force, but a lot of the services are shared between the two and I think they're gonna be shared between the two for a long, long time. There's just not really a reason to create-- I'll give you an example. As we talk about Morale, Welfare, Recreation, that is, kind of, generally, encompassed by the word 'services' in the United States Air Force. I think you'll see that services will be shared by the Space Force and the US Air Force. There's no need to create an entirely new services department just for the Space Force when - I'll use the word synergy here - there's just already good synergy. Why waste a bunch of money to prop up a second one? So, you're gonna see a lot of shared services, but they are separate commands or departments, but there's definitely a bit of shared footprint there. Yeah,

Panos:

You keep mentioning that Air Force and Space Force share a lot of services and have a pretty common footprint. Yet, these guys decided that they don't want to share in the Air Force Marathon, and that they want to have a race of their own. So, how did it all go down? Tell us a little bit about, like, the story of how it all began with the Space Force T-Minus 10-miler.

Brandon:

Yeah. I'm kind of glad they didn't just want to have our race. It's kind of funny because, at the Air Force marathon, we have historically called the MAJCOM Challenge, which is the Major Command Challenge. The US Air Force is divided into major commands - there are 10 of them - and one of those commands was Space Command. When they turned into their own force, we didn't know what to do. Because they still wanted to participate in our challenge and we wanted them, services told us that we needed to change the name of our challenge - it couldn't be called the MAJCOM Challenge, if we wanted Space Force to participate. So, we changed the name of our challenge to the Air and Space Challenge to allow the Space Force to compete. So, we were trying to make it work. Then, I guess, that wasn't enough for them and they just wanted their own race as well, which I'm totally excited about for obvious reasons that we'll get into. How it started was back a little under a year ago, I got a phone call at our office from a lieutenant and a captain down at Patrick Space Force Base asking about how to do a race. And we get that question a bit - I bet Marine Corps, Army Ten Miler, and other bases, kind of, want to have their own little race - so we, kind of, explained to them how it works. But it was clear that Patrick Space Force Base was not interested in, like, a fun run - they wanted a United States Space Force race like the Air Force Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, Army Ten Miler. So, when we started talking to them about how to do it within the US government-- we briefly alluded to some of those things here. When you actually look into how to start one from the ground up, it's a lot of work. It's quite a bureaucratic process. There's no real blueprint or template to do it because it's done so rarely. So, as we talk to them about it, what they wanted, how complicated it might be, a couple of - what we call COAs - courses of action were proposed, and one of those was that we, the United States Air Force Marathon, would be willing to help them with it. They took that idea and the other ones back to their leadership, and their leadership was amenable to that option where we were involved, so that's what we started working towards. We produced a memorandum of agreement between their installation and ours stating that we would come in and we would manage this race for them. Their installation would still need to provide the security forces and the civil engineering for the event and their public affairs team would need to help, but we would produce the physical event - just like here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, we lean on our security forces, our civil engineering, our public affairs, assets, etc, to help us but, day-to-day, we produce the Air Force Marathon. So, it's kind of the same agreement we made there. We'll do the management side of things - we'll take care of the ordering, the registration, the marketing, designing the course, certifying the course, making sure people have a good experience - but you just need to provide the background support that we need and they liked it. We liked that agreement and that is, kind of, how it worked.

Panos:

So basically, the Air Force Marathon team is organizing the Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler on behalf of the Space Force.

Brandon:

That is absolutely correct. Like, if you do Boston Marathon, like, DMSE is behind the Boston Marathon and supports. Or like, Track Shack is, kind of, behind runDisney at times. We're just, kind of, behind the scenes producing it for them.

Panos:

Right. When and where is the inaugural race going to be taking place?

Brandon:

So, it is going to be on December 10, 2022, at Cape Canaveral Space Force station - that date was chosen. It's a week before their birthday. The birthday of the Space Force is really close to Christmas - I think it's December 19, off the top of my head. They didn't want to put it on that weekend because it's the week before Christmas, so we moved it one weekend up to give people a little more time between the holidays. So, December 10, 2022, at Cape Canaveral Space Force station.

Panos:

Awesome. And you're also personally directing the Air Force marathon. Are you happy to see the Space Force come out in favor of doing a 10-miler over, like, an entire marathon? Do you think it's a good distance for this race to start off on?

Brandon:

I think it's a great distance. I was one of the early advocates, as we began our discussions with them of a shorter distance versus a longer distance race. I had actually originally proposed a 10K for them, but they wanted to see a few specific sites on the installation, a couple of specific launch pads, and stuff they wanted to run by. So, as we looked at that, a 10-miler, kind of, made more sense. I think 10 miles is a great distance. As you and I, kind of, chatted about the other day, there are so many amazing races here in the United States that are not half marathons and full marathons, and I'm happy to give some of those a shout out right now - like, Peachtree Road Race, BOLDERBoulder 10K, Carlsbad 5000, Boilermaker 15k, Beach to Beacon 10K, Falmouth Road Race, Lilac Bloomsday. There are just so many great races that aren't half marathons and marathons, so I tried to push the leadership that way and say, "This is a distance that is still long, still challenging, but it's a lot logistically easier to pull off, especially on a place like Cape which already has some logistical hurdles. Most importantly, the distance is rather accessible to a larger portion of the populace than, say, a full marathon. Full marathons are very challenging and only so many people can do whereas a 10-miler is a lot more accessible." I think one of our big goals is how do we get more people out? How do we have more people experience this? And I think a 10-miler gets us there.

Panos:

Yeah. And speaking of race experience and Cape Canaveral, I think most people around the world would appreciate what Cape Canaveral stands for and how iconic a place it is to be putting on a race in. Does the actual course or parts of the 10-mile, sort of, like, wind around the Cape Canaveral installation? How's the course laid out?

Brandon:

Yeah, you make such a great point. I think Cape Canaveral, as a place, is not just important in American history and space history, but it's also important in human history. So, I think the course that was designed highlights that - it is a point-to-point course that runs by some really iconic places on the Cape. We haven't publicly released the course yet - we'll probably going to be doing that really close to registration opening - but we made sure that it really touches some very incredible places in space history. And one of the benefits that the course offers is just the wildlife. If you've never been to Cape Canaveral, Cape Canaveral is really close to the Cape Canaveral National Seashore - which is a national park - and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. So, the island itself is pretty much a wildlife refuge. It's teeming with just incredible birds and alligators swimming in the water. There are ibises and ospreys. There's even one bird there, the Florida Scrub Jay, completely endemic just to Florida. You'll just be running and see it, kind of, sitting on top of a branch 20 feet away from you because they're, kind of, curious birds. So, if you're paying attention while you're running, you're running in a place that is just like a biological reserve - it feels almost like a zoo in some instances while you're simultaneously running through space history. So, I mean it when I say it, "I've run all over the country in the world. I think it's one of the coolest courses I've ever run." I think the only course I could probably say to give a tough 'go' is New York City - shout out to Ted. That's just such a fun race through the Big Apple. But for different reasons, this course is amazing as well.

Panos:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you have that combination of, like, the space race and history on one side and, then, on the other side, you have the wild birds, Floridian wildlife, alligators, and stuff like that. Actually, I wanted to tell people what you were telling me the other day about weighing up whether you would have a band playing around the course - I think it's interesting for you to share this. Race experience is something that people struggle with quite a lot. I frankly think it's the only reason why people go to races - they don't go for the time, they go for the experience of actually running an amazing race with great people in a great context. But having more stuff, sometimes - like bands playing and stuff like that - is not always better. So, tell us a little bit about your decision and, sort of, like, your thinking around incorporating music and other elements throughout the course.

Brandon:

Yeah. I've been privileged so far to go down to Cape Canaveral twice to look at the installation and run the course. I first went back in December - I went alone. So, with a point-to-point course, to run the course, I had to run from the finish to the start and then run the 10-mile course, and I really, really loved the course - I thought it was beautiful. I came back in February with a co-worker, Matthew. Matthew was really integral in designing the course - I made a few tweaks to it, but he designed the bread and butter of it. So, he and I were running it together and he's just, like, completely blown away by it, and I was, like, "I told you it's gonna be a great course!" So, we're coming down this road - it's named ICBM road or Intercontinental Ballistic Missile for those who don't know. So we're running down ICBM road, which is a rather long straightaway, when he mentioned, like, having a band. He was like, "This might be a good spot for a band." I said, "Matthew, it's funny, I was just thinking that!" But as quick as I had the thought, I said, "I don't think that's right, though." I was like, "Matthew, really, just listen." And as we stood there, we could hear the water, kind of, crashing from the ocean and hitting the shore of the beach. Then, we looked over and there was, like, a black vulture sitting on top of the light pole just looking at us and I was like, "This place is wild. It really is wild. I think if we're just, like, putting bands out here, we're really taking something away from what this course offers." So, instead, I think our idea is just to put a lot of signs out along the route - like 100-150 signs along the 10-mile route - that have historical and wildlife facts to try to make people be present when they're running this route. There might be some quiet stretches, but that's okay. Like, you're running through a beautiful place that's preserved and filled with wildlife and history. There's a lot of races out there that have bands - I don't think that's what we want to be, and I'm okay with that.

Panos:

Super! Beyond the amazing wildlife, the rockets, and all the great history, do you guys have anything else up your sleeves in terms of Space Force stuff for the race?

Brandon:

I think the goal is just to correctly honor the Space Force. It's, kind of, hard to sit here and say, like, "Oh, they're the history and heritage of the US Space Force when they were just founded in 2019." But they actually do have a lot of history and heritage - it just wasn't called the US Space Force at that time. There's a very rich space history at Cape Canaveral - it is the gateway to space. I mean, even the rocket we selected to feature this year is the RTV-G-4 Bumper rocket - that was chosen, specifically, because that's the first rocket that ever launched off Cape Canaveral. Even the fact signs on the course-- there's a historian at Cape Canaveral, and we've been working with him to make sure that we convey the correct information to people. So, the shape of the medal is a tribute to something important. We're featuring Polaris - the North Star - is so important in space. So, little things like that are all through the event. We do have an astronaut who's going to be there - I won't name which one at this time, but we're going to announce that later. I think there are a lot of amazing astronauts, so it's hard to find a bad one. We found one that has a close relationship with the installation there and is going to be a natural fit. It's exciting too because it's not enough for them just to appear - they want to run. So, that astronaut will show up, will be at the start line, and will run the race with the participants, which I think is very exciting. We'll try to do a flyover. We always like flyover, and they're like, "Woah, what are you gonna fly over? You're gonna fly over a rocket?" And you're like, "No, there are actually Air Force assets that are involved in search and rescue if something were to go wrong." So, they'll try to get some of those assets over the start line, make sure senior leadership is out there so that when people finish, they're getting their medal handed to them by senior officials of the United States Space Force. So, wherever we can, we want to try to make sure we're tying in Space Force elements to the event to honor their history. As I said, it seems, on the surface, to be a short history at only two-plus years, but it's a much longer history when you really dig in.

Panos:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think you mentioned that the Air Force was formed in 1947. I'm sure I remember American aeroplanes before that. So, it's not, like, exactly the date when the actual thing goes down on paper and becomes official. So, where can people sign up? Can people sign up already for the race?

Brandon:

Not yet. We're opening up registration on May 4. For those of you who are smart enough to figure out the date, it is not a random date. We thought it would be pretty funny, and so did the leadership - they're good spirits about that kind of stuff. So the website is runspaceforce.com. We're on Facebook too. So, it's gonna open on May 4. The race is capped at 5,000 people. We would like to grow it in time, but it's kind of tough because Cape Canaveral is closed to the general public day in and day to Cape Canaveral. It is, like, a secure installation. So, to invite 5,000 people onto the installation on a point-to-point course is going to come with a whole host of logistical issues that we need to navigate - we hope that we do that well in year one. Then, once we, kind of, figure out what that template looks like, we grow the event and get more people - 6,000-7,000 - obviously in time. Eventually, we'll hit a natural cap based on what we can offer. So yeah, we think it's gonna sell out quickly when it opens up because it really is a unique opportunity to come run on the installation.

Panos:

Yeah, absolutely. I'm sure all of these elements that you mentioned earlier make for an amazing race. I'm sure that, very soon, this race will enter the pantheon of Marine Corps Marathon, Army Ten Miler, and all the other, sort of, like, races that I've run for a longer period of time. I also saw on the website, this Sea, Air, and Space challenge. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what that is?

Brandon:

Yeah. That was, kind of, a really organic thing that happened. Maybe a little over a year ago, I remember getting a Facebook ad for a Coast Guard Marathon and Coast Guard Half Marathon. I literally just messaged them on Facebook and, kind of, asked, like, "Who are you? What are you? How do I not know about you?" Because it's a small family of race directors and the military ones are a very small family - we tend to know one another. A woman messaged me back and said, "Well, we're brand new." Corrina Ruffieux Phillips is her name. We started chatting. From there, I was like, "I want to do your race." So, it was virtual. In year one, they had to cancel like many of us did last year. So, I did it virtually. From there when they announced and by the way, I said her name wrong. Sorry, it's Corrina Phillips Ruffieux - I said it out of order. So, that's the race director over there. They announced that, for year two, it was going to be in-person and a full marathon. It was in Elizabeth City, North Carolina a few weeks ago - wonderful event and highly recommended to anyone listening. So, when we saw that they were going to do a full marathon and there was the Coast Guard, we were about to announce the Space Force Race. We said, "Well, why don't we partner on a challenge? There's a lot of runners who like stuff like this." And I know a lot of our peers listening, sometimes, are still a bit skeptical about challenges and virtual events, but I think the pandemic made it quite clear that there's a big audience for that. We've watched it, kind of, decline a little bit as the races have physically returned - I guess everyone would have foreseen that coming - but the demand is still there. So, we said, "Let's partner and make a challenge where runners do the Coast Guard event, the Air Force Marathon, and the Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler, and if they do it, we'll give them a challenge medal." The thinking is it benefits us all. 1) Actually, most importantly, it gives the customers a product they want - they want this kind of challenge. 2) It benefits us all. Coast Guard Marathon's very new. So, how can we help them as the Air Force Marathon in a way that's legally sound? How can we help ourselves? How can we help the Space Force Race? This challenge was a natural evolution of that, so we call it the "Sea, Air, and Space Challenge." So, you can do the Coast Guard Marathon or Half Marathon first, then you can do Air Force Marathon or half marathon, then you can do the Space Force race. It's a big ask to say, "Hey, in one calendar year, you need to go to Elizabeth City in North Carolina, Dayton in Ohio, and Cape Canaveral in Florida, which are not easy places to get to for the most part." To go to all those physically in one year is a huge ask, so you can do the challenge any way you want. You can do it all virtually, or one in-person, two virtually, or all three in-person - it's the dealer's choice. So, we announced that only about a month and a half before the Coast Guard Race and a few hundred signups. So, I'm really optimistic that after this year's event, when we drive interest in it for longer, it's going to grow a lot. I'm really excited about the future of it and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I would, very much, like to try to get our other sister services in on that challenge and find a way to create something where it's all five of us, because I think our audience really wants that.

Panos:

Yeah, I would have asked you about that, actually. I mean, in the US, I get the impression that they have some strong emotions about the military and veterans who have served - there's quite a fondness towards the armed forces. So, it sounds like there might be an audience for a combined Army, Marines, and Navy challenge, right? I mean, just throw all of those amazing races into one - hopefully, not too few people end up doing that - and it would be an amazing challenge to have completed and to be able to say that, in a year, they've run all those races, if it's even possible. I don't even know, like, how the dates line up, but if it is possible, it would be an amazing challenge.

Brandon:

I think it is possible. It's a little stacked in the fall. Coast Guard is now free-floating out in March. Then, you have Air Force in September, Army Ten Miler in early October, Marine Corps Marathon on the last week of October, and Space Force on the second weekend of December. So, you're gonna have a busy fall, but I think it's doable. It's kind of logistically complex where one is in the Army, one is in the Marine Corps, and one is in the Air Force, so we all fall under our different branches and it's not easy to make such an agreement. Of course, as fate would have it, we all literally use different registration platforms - I think RunSignup, Race Roster, Haku, and ACTIVE are all, like, represented, which does not make it easier - in an ideal world, we'd all be on the same platform to make the sharing of information easier. So, there's some, like, logistics there. Ultimately, the other two - Marine Corps and Army - would have to want to join too and it has to be right for them. But I'm hopeful that - since we, kind of, struck out first and partnered with Coast Guard in making the blueprint or template, navigating some of the struggles, and seeing what works and what doesn't - we can go to them in the future and say, "Hey, we've already done this and solved the problems for you. We have just made it very easy." Hopefully, we'll make it to where they'll just say 'yes' because it would make no sense to say 'no'. So, that's kind of what we're working through right now - Corrina over at Coast Guard has just been an incredible asset and so easy to work with. As I said, there's a lot of excitement and there are a lot of people who want to do it - we haven't even opened up the Space Force registration but there are already a few hundreds of people who are committed because they've signed up for this challenge. So, we know that we've already got 5% of our registrants sold out or sold right now, and that's exciting. We think we can grow that in future years. We know we can grow that.

Panos:

That's amazing! So before we go, can you share with us any thoughts you may have about the future or the potential of this new Space Force 10-Miler that you and the team are bringing to the world? How big do you think it might grow? How significant of a race is it going to be? And what's your team's ambition around that?

Brandon:

That's a great question. It's so hard to know when you're just planning the first one right now. I think, if you asked me and the team planning it about what are our ambitions for the future, it is to produce a successful first-year event. That is so hard to focus, sometimes - the future of this event - when we know just getting the first one off the ground is so hard. I've told the team that so much of what we do this year, we might just end up blowing it up. Right after that, you might think, "That did not work. We are not doing that again." We're really trying to keep it simple in year one and not to overextend ourselves, make all these promises, and write checks that we can't really cash. We want to produce a quality event, and if that means a more simple event, that's okay. We just want to make sure that people's experience from the first touchpoint to the last is really good, and then say, "How do we build upon this? How do we make this a marquee event?" I don't like to get into, like, numbers and say "Oh, if it was successful, it would have 10,000 or 15,000" because it's hard to know what that number could be. Boston Marathon is one of the most iconic marathons in the world and only has 25,000 people because they're logistically capped - you can only fit so many people in Hopkinton. So, I think we're going to run into that someday. There are only so many places to park people on Cape Canaveral. So, I'm not too worried about the size of the event, whether it was 5,000 or 10,000 in the long term. I think the goal is to just produce a race that truly honors the United States Space Force and is commensurate with the other DoD races such that people know - not just locally, regionally, and nationally, but even internationally - that this is a very fine and respectable event, that people circle it on their calendar, that when May 4 rolls around, people are itching at their computer to register because they know it's going to be a sellout, and that there may be, hopefully, someday, a lottery - I think that would be a success if we get a lottery because my marketing person would love us. They wouldn't have to spend a year marketing - they could just focus on the branding aspects and stuff like that. So, it's really hard to know what the future holds because, I think, if you were to ask anyone in 1997 about the future of the Air Force Marathon, they would not have said, "25 years from now, there's going to be a staff of, like, nine people. They're going to have a Space Force race. They're going to have relays, challenges, virtual races, and all this stuff." They probably thought they were just doing something fun to honor the US Air Force, and it kind of just grew into a life of its own - same with the Marine Corps Marathon. So, I think the potential is limitless - probably about as big space. So we're gonna have to wait and see after our successful year one. I'm going to go ahead and say it's going to be a successful year one and the team planning is doing a wonderful job. Then, we'll see what the future holds.

Panos:

Absolutely. I'm sure you guys have an awesome first year. And I wholeheartedly wish you all the best with this race. I don't want to jinx it, but I think it's very, very difficult to be able to produce an experience that is absolutely unique for people - the place is unique, the concept is unique, the gators are pretty unique - at least in a Space Force installation context. You have a great starting point to be able to deliver an amazing event. Brandon, if you're willing to do that, if someone takes an interest in reaching out with regards to this event or something else, can they reach you via email somehow?

Brandon:

Yeah, I'm super easy to reach through a couple of ways. 1) If you go through the runspaceforce.com website or even our Air Force Marathon website, which is usafmarathon.com, if you just do the Contact Us and mention my name, that email is always going to find me. I'm on LinkedIn, Brandon Hough - super easy to find there. My email address is brandon.hough.3@us.af.mil - so, super easy to reach. I'm happy to speak with anyone. As you mentioned at the beginning, my wife is going to be having a child any day soon, so I'm super stoked about that. I'm going to be on leave for a few months, but still very easy to reach. I'll be browsing my emails from time to time, so feel free to reach out if I can do anything for you or if you just want to chat.

Panos:

Awesome. Brandon, thank you very, very much again for coming on. I really appreciate it when you said you have a little one on the way - I've had a couple. I know it gets pretty hectic over the first few weeks. It's really great that we could do this before the delivery - that makes things a lot easier for me and for you. And I want to wish you and the team just an amazing run-up to your inaugural event. It's super exciting. Thanks again for coming on.

Brandon:

Thanks for having me. Take care.

Panos:

Thanks to everyone listening in and we'll see you all on our next episode! I hope you enjoyed this bonus episode on the Space Force T-Minus 10-Miler with race director Brandon Hough. You can always check out more great content from the podcast by visiting racedirectorshq.com/headstart/ and you can get all new episodes of the podcast delivered straight to your phone, laptop or other digital device by subscribing to the podcast on your favorite podcast player. Many thanks again to our awesome sponsors, RunSignup and Racecheck. And, until our next episode, come join us and more than 6,000 fellow race directors in our Race Directors Hub group on Facebook, take care and keep putting on amazing races.