SALT LAKE CITY –
From a back injury to the Army Ten-Miler, Lt. Col. Jim Daniel Austin III understands the importance of physical training.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Austin has been in the military since 2000. But physical fitness and competition have always played major roles in his life. “My older sister, who also ran track, used to dog me out all the time, so I used to want to keep up with her. I started chasing her because she would always run. It got to a point where I could not only catch her, but I could pass her. It finally got to the point where she like ‘OK, I’m done’.”
Austin also ran track and played football through high school and into junior college. When he stopped playing football, he started playing softball and getting into the things his kids were doing.
“I was never a ‘sit around and watch’ type of dad, so to make it less boring for me, I joined a softball team,” said Austin. “I’d watch them play and they’d watch me play. We did that, we bowled, we hiked, we did a variety of things.” Austin beamed as he added that they had a bowling league, and his daughter received a bowling scholarship.
However, things would change for Austin dramatically after fracturing vertebrae in his lower back in a car accident. “I fought it [surgery] for a while. But I went on deployment and towards the end of the tour I could only stand for about 30 minutes at a time. So I was like, alright, I’ve got to get this done,” said Austin.
Because Austin was in good physical condition prior to the surgery, he healed faster and better than he would have otherwise. But following the fusing of discs and having rods put into his back, Austin changed his approach to physical training. “Believe it or not, I am (still) very competitive. But not as much as I used to be, as far as winning anything anymore.”
Austin takes precautions to avoid inflaming the injury by limiting nearly all rotation of his lower back and listens to his body about the distance he goes in a week to avoid numbness in his leg.
“I’ve been always very active and with the doctor telling me I can only run so much and that I can’t play softball anymore because I can only twist my lower back so much, I started to bicycle and row, and I have Bowflex Max Trainer at the house,” said Austin. “I just bounce around to which one I feel like doing at that time.”
Austin’s mornings typically consist of 3-mile walk, but not at a leisurely pace. “My goal is to get my heart rate up. I went to Orange Theory one time with a friend of mine, and they kept talking about zones. I never really took any stock in it, but I tried it, and it does actually work,” said Austin.
He started using zone training during his walk and went from a 15 minute mile pace to 13:20. “My goal was to get it up to a fat burning heart rate pace, but it got harder and harder as I got in better shape and got used to the altitude here.”
Austin added hiking to his routine after moving to Utah, doing 7- to 10-mile hikes, including Mt. Timpanogos, which tops out at 11,749 feet in elevation. “That was a good hike,” said Austin.
“I try to not go to push, push, push…and it is actually more enjoyable - as weird as that sounds. I’ll watch TV and row and find out later I’m in my fat burning zone,” said Austin. “The Bowflex is harder to stay in my fat burning zone though. It really makes me work and my heartrate jumps up to the cardio level. I’m like ‘holy smokes!’”
This year, Austin’s former supervisor at the Office of the Surgeon General, Col. Anthony Marinos, approached him about the Army Ten-Miler, asking if he’d be interested in doing it with him. At first, Austin was reluctant but was eventually sold on the idea.
Although he had always been active, even with football and track, Austin had never really exceeded the 5-mile mark in distance. He knew this was also going to be a challenge. In spite of the physical limitations, he found incremental ways to prepare for the event. “I knew the Army Ten-Miler was coming up so I integrated a little bit of a run in my walks,” said Austin. “And then it became a run for one block, and then a quarter mile, and then a half mile, and then a mile.”
Austin also found that his current circumstances created an advantage to his conditioning. “Being a geographical bachelor, I ended up doing more PT [physical training] than I normally do. When I get stressed, I PT. when I get bored, I PT,” said Austin. But always cognizant of his injury, he is careful when it comes to taking care of his health when tackling this new challenge. “I’m ready to run it; but it will be more of a run walk,” said Austin.
On Sunday, October 9, 2022, in Washington D.C., Austin participated in the 38th annual Army Ten-Miler. “I like the fact that I am part of the in-person event this year instead of the virtual event,” said Austin.
“It was a really aesthetically pleasing course, past the monuments and Arlington National Cemetery… you see a variety of things,” said Austin, who is also a former Marine Corps Honor Guard and familiar with the area.. “And the atmosphere was awesome. You see a lot of people you haven’t seen in a long time and at one point you are ahead or behind of the different waves [running groups], and as you pass or they pass everyone is doing high fives – just a really supportive atmosphere. Absolutely everybody should partake even if you end up walking just to get the experience.”
One tongue-in-cheek suggestion Austin had for the race coordinators - from his competitive bike racing experiences - perhaps a ‘Senior Clydesdale’ category for those over 200 lbs. would add to the competition.