JACKSONVILLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Fla. --
After the birth of her son at age 36, Master Sgt. Crystal Fulco made running a habit to keep up with the demands of caring for a growing child. She anticipated motherhood would change her but didn’t foresee this new phase of life sparking a more ambitious goal.
In just a few short months, her postpartum hobby morphed into a rigorous challenge to run a half or full marathon in every U.S. state.
“I wanted to be able to run and play with him because he was super high energy,” said Fulco, a quality assurance manager at the 125th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “My parents had some health issues and they’re both gone now. I wanted to do everything in my power to stay healthy so that I can stay around as long as possible for my family.”
Fulco started running about three times weekly to get fit and then began entering local 5K races. Soon after, she chased longer distances until she worked her way up to running both half and full marathons. As she grew more proficient at long-distance running, she aspired to bring a new passion project to life.
So far, she’s completed 17 half marathons and two full marathons netting more than 275 miles in eight states. Her most memorable races include the U.S. Air Force Marathon held in Dayton, Ohio, the Cedar Breaks at Night half Marathon in Brian Head, Utah, and the Saratoga Classic half Marathon held in Jacksonville, Florida. The latter was her highest performing race where she won second place in her age category.
“I pick races I’ve never participated in or somewhere that sounds interesting to me,” she said. “Great scenery motivates me to keep going because a marathon can be five to six hours of running. You need something interesting to look at!”
Fulco began training for long-distance running by using the Galloway method – a walk-run technique intended to reduce impacts on the body and increase an individual’s ability to run farther and faster, she said.
“I’m at the point now where I’m trained enough to be able to go out on any weekend and run a half marathon fairly easy without injury,” she said. “It mentally helps me to remain consistent and limit any injuries that may come with uninterrupted running.”
This type of interval running allows her to run for long stretches of time – typically up to three hours before fatigue sets in, she said.
“That’s about when I hit my wall,” she said. “You play a lot of mind games. Whether you’re doing a half marathon or full marathon, most everyone is going to hit that point where you feel like you want to quit. You might want to cry or scream, especially if it’s your first race. But if you keep training, you can get through the pain.”
To remain motivated, she leans on a group of friends who keep her focused and steadfast in her commitment to realize her goal. The group – mostly comprised of women – bond over their shared commitment to stay fit by competing in organized races.
“Everyone is like-minded and encouraging,” she said. “Even at races, it feels as though you’re running with friends. Everyone is so supportive and we’re all just trying to help each other get across the finish line.”
Fulco also trains others to participate in marathons, including Senior Airman Kassandra Slone, a supply systems analyst with the 125th LRS. Slone was drawn to Fulco’s dedication to running as she sought ways to improve her own runtime. She started training with Fulco about three days per week for 2-3 hours each session. When both traveled to Hawaii for a deployment for training in August 2022, they ran the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Half Marathon, an unexpected first for Slone.
“She (Fulco) asked me to run with her, but I didn’t know I was agreeing to run a half marathon,” said Slone. “It was a bit of a shocker, but I was still excited to do it.”
Fulco led karaoke sessions to keep the pair moving and they both finished the race in just under three hours.
“She’s so outgoing and she always brings positive energy,” said Slone. “I tend to focus on the negative side of running but she teaches me that it can be therapeutic, like you’re running your stress away. I think that’s what helps me.”
Fulco will next participate in Jacksonville’s 15K Gate River Run and hopes to eventually compete in larger races including the Marine Corps Marathon, the New York Marathon and the Boston Marathon. By age 50, she hopes to start participating in ultra-marathons, which can span anywhere from 31 – 100 miles in distance.
She’ll be bringing along her reason for beginning this journey nearly nine years ago – her son, who now competes in a few local races with her.
“It’s a lifestyle now,” she said. “I hope to be the 90-year-old woman running the Gate River Run.”