Retired Army Col. Mike Jason has been running the Army Ten-Miler for eight years now, and he wears the same shirt every time.
The words on his shirt, “Team Voelke,” commemorate Maj. Paul C. Voelke, Jason’s second-in-command who was killed in Afghanistan in 2012.
“There’s a memorial aspect to it. There’s a comradery, a reunion. It’s really something we all look forward to in the community all year,” Jason said of the race.
That comradery will look differently this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year is the ATM’s 36th, but this time around the race won’t be held in Washington, D.C. — it will take place across the country and around the world.
Instead of cancelling the race due to COVID-19 as the Marine Corps Marathon did earlier this week, race officials announced Tuesday that the ATM would go virtual.
“Obviously it’s disappointing, but it is absolutely the right call,” Jason told Military Times.
Voelke was a marathon runner, but his wife had never really run before, Jason said. When Voelke died, his wife took up the pastime in memory of him. She now runs the ten-miler every year.
“There’s generally a dozen to two-dozen people who wear the team shirt in honor of Paul while Traci runs, and we’d always meet afterwards for a photo,” Jason said.
One year, now-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Voelke’s former brigade commander, approached the group at the run to talk about Voelke.
These sorts of interactions are what the ATM is all about, Jason said, describing the run as a sort of homecoming for the Army community. Retired and currently serving soldiers run into people they haven’t seen in years and have a chance to catch up before, after, or even during the run.
“You run into people the entire time. All 10 miles, you’re likely to run into somebody,” Jason said. “You can start a conversation while you’re running.”
Registration for the world’s third largest 10-mile race opened on Tuesday with the announcement that races will be completed wherever runners may be. Runs will be tracked and races reported via the ATM Runner Experience App.
There will also be an eight-day window of time in which to complete the race. Competitors can press the app’s start button any time between Oct. 11 and 18.
Once runners press the end button, their results are automatically submitted for evaluation.
“Conducting the race virtually will support the Department of Defense and local government health measures to minimize COVID-19 risk,” said Matt Zimmerman, race director.
The 400m youth run will also continue virtually for runners ages 4-10.
The ATM typically attracts more than 35,000 runners and 900 teams. Proceeds go to support Army Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs.
“The Army Ten Miler is a demonstration of the Army’s commitment to readiness, fitness, and our communities. This annual race is a symbol of these commitments and of our dedication to the health and safety of the entire Army family,” said Maj. Gen. Omar J. Jones, commander of The U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
In lieu of in-person booths, a virtual exposition with vendors and ATM gear will be made available on the ATM website on Oct. 11.
Early registration is $54 and ends on Aug. 21, at which point the price increases to $59 until the race is sold out. Registration packages include a shirt, race bib, calendar, and ATM Finisher coin.
The Association of the United States Army, the ATM’s founding sponsor, typically holds its annual meeting in the days following the ATM. That event will also be held virtually from Oct. 12-14.
“The Annual Meeting is an incredibly important event and one of our favorite ways to celebrate everything that unites us, but health and safety must come first,” AUSA’s websitestates.
AUSA will soon be reaching out to exhibitors and sponsors to determine more details about how the virtual event will proceed.