RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — In mile 19 of the Air Force Marathon, Capt. Jill Metzger was nearly five minutes behind the leading woman — the same runner who beat her last year.

Metzger’s legs hurt. Her mind was fogged by the thought that she might not take the race after battling from fourth place at mile 13 to second place among 56 other runners in her division.

“You have to understand the mental and physical anguish I was dealing with,” said Metzger, who works at U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s Theater Air and Space Operations Center at Ramstein. “And then there was this hill!”

The next leg of the race was up a 17 percent grade.

Metzger, 30, churned her aching body up the hill, passed mile 21 and started down the other side. She had her dad, retired Air Force Lt. Col. John Metzger and her mom, Jeannette, rooting for her at every station on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, course.

Metzger had been training for six months and had put her regimen into high gear three months before the Sept. 20 marathon. When her job required her to be at work from 6:30 a.m. to as late at 11:30 p.m. during Operation Iraqi Freedom, she got to the gym at 4:30 a.m. to run on the treadmill. Or she ran in the dark at night. On weekends, she turned out 20-mile runs along Germany’s forested trails.

Here she was at the marathon, on the painful precipice of first place. Metzger decided to go for it.

The lithe, 5-foot-2-inch blonde went on the prowl for her competitor — a civilian named Sandy Hilliard. She picked up her pace until she was averaging 7-minute miles.

With about 800 meters to go, Metzger was still 26 seconds behind.

“I mentally pulled the trigger,” Metzger said.

Hilliard came into view, but she didn’t realize Metzger was coming up from behind. Metzger decided to use a battle-tested military strategy: the element of surprise.

A hundred yards before the finish line, she caught up to Hilliard and went into stealth mode.

“I held my breath. I was trying to be quiet,” Metzger said. “She didn’t know I was there. She couldn’t hear me.”

“I thought ‘hopefully, I can catch my breath real quick so I can kick,’” Metzger said.

Just as she came abreast of Hilliard, Metzer’s father shouted, “Now!”

“I sprinted harder than I have ever sprinted and I blew past her,” Metzger said. The race ended in a 100-yard dash. She beat Hilliard by seven seconds.

Metzger broke the finish-line tape and was surrounded by her parents and a throng of cheering onlookers.

Overall, Metzger finished with a time of 3:05:35, placing 40th in a field of more than 3,300 men and women from 48 states and eight countries.

Hendrick Vanloon, a Belgian master sergeant who works for NATO at Kleine-Brogel, Belgium, took first place in the men’s division. Vanloon ran the event in 2:37:44.

Metzger said she was stunned that a 26.2-mile women’s division marathon should end in a footrace — something almost unheard of in long-distance running.

But she had her parents, her boss in Germany, and hundreds of spectators cheering her on.

“I felt like everyone was pulling for me,” Metzger said.

Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up