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World Class Athlete Spotlight

Air Force Olympic hopeful takes first at top U.S. 10K

BOULDER, Colorado --

In the crisp air and stunning view of Colorado’s Front Range, Maj. Benjamin Payne was first to cross the finish line at this year’s Bolder Boulder 10K race. It was just one of many wins he hopes to achieve on his road to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in February 2016 in Los Angeles, but not his first time running his favorite road race.

Bolder Boulder 10K

“Since I grew up near Boulder (Colorado), I’ve been around this race for a long time,” said Payne. “Bolder Boulder is my No. 1 favorite road race — the weather is always great, there are slip’n’slides, belly dancers, costumed runners and bands along the course, and the finish in (Colorado University)’s Folsom Field is like none other.  Plus, racing at altitude (5,391 feet) is a challenge I typically look forward to.”

That’s a challenge Payne embraced early in life, running his first Bolder Boulder in 1993 at the age of 11. Since then, the Arvada, Colorado-native has run the race 12 times and not only holds the race special in his heart, but considers it somewhat of a family tradition.

“My mom and younger brother actually beat me (at my first race),” said Payne. “My 78-year old grandfather, Paul Turley, trains yearly for the Bolder Boulder and for the first time won his age group this year! I couldn’t be more proud.”

Those experiences and supportive environment led Payne to continue his passion for running through his education and commission at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he was recruited to run cross country and track. Throughout a career as a pilot with 3,400 hours in four different aircraft, five deployments and 1,200 combat hours, Payne’s commitment to running has helped him make high achievements, placing first and setting course records at the Air Force Marathon half marathon event multiple times, winning the 2009 Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville, the 2012 Manchester City Marathon in New Hampshire, several track conference championships while competing at the academy and – one of his personal favorites – placing 24th overall at the 2011 Boston Marathon with a runtime of 2 hours, 21 minutes and one second. Added to all that, he recently qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Preparing for Glory

The Air Force is making his Olympic dream happen. In addition to a career-long association with AF Marathon & Cross-Country Team under the AF Sports banner, he has been made a representative for all Airmen by assignment to the AF World Class Athlete Program at USAFA where he trains to run as his primary duty.

“Being a runner is definitely a lifestyle for me,” said Payne. “ It’s a 24-7 job that not only includes the 80-100 miles a week that I’m training, but also the rest, nutrition and recovery such as stretching, gym, yoga, massage, icing, etc., that has to go along with it to stay healthy and strong.”

Payne is committed to achieving, which includes using a coach and mentor to help him become the very best runner he can be.

“I met (Major) Payne during my time as Head Cross Country Coach at USAFA,” said Juli Benson, who became Payne’s coach at the Pike’s Peak Elite Track Club in Colorado Springs in March 2014. “Payne possesses the ‘intangibles’ that every coach loves to have in an athlete. When Ben is training, he demonstrates an incredible combination of toughness, intelligence and discipline that is necessary to become one of the best in the country.”

She knew about Payne’s accomplishments while he was still a cadet and welcomed the opportunity to coach him at this phase of his career.

“I was very aware of Ben's accomplishments as a cadet athlete during his time at USAFA and that he was one of the most accomplished athletes in Air Force Academy history,” she said. “What I learned upon becoming his coach was how incredibly disciplined and driven he is. Major Payne is completely invested in whatever duty he performs for the United States Air Force, including reaching his potential as an athlete.”

Benson added that her experience with military athletes is special to her, both as her brother and father spent time in the Marine Corps, but because military athletes remain very grounded.

“Sometimes, when coaching professional athletes, the athletes become consumed with themselves and their sport,” said Benson, who left her position at the academy in 2014 to focus exclusively on the AF WCAP athletes. “Military athletes have an incredible perspective and are equally as passionate about serving their country while appreciating the opportunity to chase their athletic dreams.”

During the next 15 months, Payne will train to finish in the top three at the Olympic trials in hopes of making it to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He also hopes to qualify for the U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meter run, and represent the U.S. Armed Forces at the Military World Games in October 2015 in the Republic of Korea.

“Being selected for WCAP was something I definitely dreamed about for four years as a cadet athlete at (the) academy — the chance to put all your time and energy into being the best athlete you can be, with minimal distractions, is literally living the dream,” said Payne. “My goal is to maximize every precious day and workout leading up to being ready to race on the starting line on Feb. 13 at the (trials).”

Running for More Than Himself

“I’ve also made it a tradition at BB to wear the names of friends and family that have lost their lives serving our country,” said Payne, “my grandfather Navy Lt. j.g. Ronald Payne, Army Maj. Blair “BAMA” Faulkner, the U-28 crew of Ratchet 33 that crashed in 2012 and fellow academy graduate Capt. David Lyon.”

 He credits his God as the source for his passion and his purpose.

“Pursue your dreams and passions and discover what God specifically made you to do,” said Payne. “Do the best you can do and doors will open, opportunities will present themselves.”

Lastly, he considers it a great honor to run for the Air Force.

“I’m always proud to wear USAF on my chest and hear people yelling ‘Go Air Force!’ — that’s so much bigger than just me out there as a runner,” said Payne. “The chance to represent our great country as well as Air Force Airmen is an incredible honor.” 

Big Finish

Payne completed the Bolder Boulder with a time of 30 minutes, 41.25 seconds, just another in a long line of achievements already made and, he hopes, yet to come. His coach believes he has what it takes to go very far in running.

“Ben is only beginning to scratch the surface of how good he can be as an athlete,” said Benson. “I think Major Payne will accomplish great things as we head towards the Olympic year!”

For the major, however, running remains something more than achievement.

“I’ve been running competitively since getting cut from my high school baseball team as a sophomore almost 18 years ago!” he said. “I love that it’s a lifelong sport, a great excuse to get outside and explore new places, and has changed my life and created lifelong friendships.”

Payne considers the freedom to run, itself, the best he could ask for.

“Just as Eric Liddell says in the movie Chariots of Fire, ‘When I run, I feel His pleasure’ …” said Payne. “For me, this is literally living the dream.”

By Master Sgt. Christian Michael, Air Force Installation & Mission Support Center Public Affairs / Published June 03, 2015


Can You Compete With the Best of the World?

The Air Force World Class Athlete Program provides the opportunity to train for national and international sports competitions and ultimately, for national teams that will compete in the Olympic Games. If you are an active duty Air Force, Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve member and think you’ve got what it takes to compete at the global level, apply for the World Class Athlete Program today.

Here’s How:

  • Submit an Air Force (AF) Form 303 (Request for USAF Specialized Sports Training) by e-mail or by mail.
  • The Air Force Fitness and Sports office will forward the application to the United States Olympic Committee to verify your potential for making the Olympic team in your sport.

If you are accepted into the World Class Athlete Program, a PCS move may be required to locate you closer to the national team coaches and training facilities. The program starts two years prior to each Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

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