By BRIAN J. DAVIS
BREMERTON — Lt. Cmdr. Gina Slaby, a Navy officer serving with NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound at Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, set a world record for the 100-mile run at the 2016 Desert Solstice Track Invitational in Phoenix, Dec. 10.
Slaby is head of the operations department at NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound.
Slaby ran the 100 in 13 hours 45 minutes 49 seconds, breaking the previous record set in 1991 by Ann Trason in Flushing, New York.
When she signed up for the Desert Solstice, Slaby intended to compete in a different event at the meet, the 24-hour run, where runners try to see how many miles they can run in a 24-hour period.
She had originally planned to run the 24-hour race in an attempt to make the USA Track & Field 24-hour team, slated to participate in an international competition in Ireland in 2017. After she was well into her run, Slaby learned that she was on the verge of shattering a record that had been in place for more than two decades.
“I went out at a quick pace and figured I would just scale back as soon as it started feeling really difficult,” she told the Navy. “I got to around 70 miles, and my husband Steve said I was several minutes ahead of the world record pace. It was at that point I decided I was going to give up the chances of making the USA team and instead try to beat the 25-year-old world record.”
Slaby is a veteran marathoner and ultrarunner, with experience running races that have taken more than 24 hours to complete. At the Desert Solstice, the challenge didn’t lie so much with the physical ability to complete the race as it did with having the mental stamina to remain focused.
“The difficulty in this race was that it took place on a 400-meter track. I ran over 400 laps in just under 14 hours … mentally it was a beast.”
According to Slaby, the rules of the race allowed occasional breaks as needed, and officials had the runners switch direction on the high school track every four hours to help them stay alert.
According to the Desert Solstice website, one of the goals of the event is to set new records and encourage top performances by athletes from the U.S. and around the world. Desert Solstice runners participate in one of two categories: 24 Hour, where runners compete for the longest distance covered during a 24-hour period; and 100 Mile, where the object is to run 100 miles for the best time. The event is also a qualifier for the U.S. national 24-Hour team.
Slaby has competed mainly in road races such as marathon and 10K runs over the last 12 years. She competed with the U.S. cross country team at the Pan Am Games earlier this year in Venezuela. After participating in the February 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, Slaby decided to shift her focus from road racing to ultramarathons.
Ultramarathon, also known as ultra distance or ultrarunning, is any foot race longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathon distance.
According to Slaby, she has been focused on ultrarunning for only 10 months prior to Summer Solstice, and to date she’s undefeated in any race over marathon distance.
While on the surface, ultrarunning may seem somewhat similar to marathon running, it’s not the same.
“Ultrarunning is completely different from traditional marathon running. The mindset is
completely different … An athlete needs much more mental toughness to go out and run a race that can take over 24 hours to complete,” Slaby said.
The training is also different. Slaby’s marathon-focused training included running 80 to 90 miles per week, incorporating track workouts to improve leg speed. According to Slaby, ultramarathon training requires more mileage and there is a bigger focus on strength. Her ultramarathon training regimen includes running 140 miles or more per week, with much of the training time spent on mountain trails.
Slaby’s husband Steve, also a Navy officer and avid runner, put his own running career on the back burner in order to support her running endeavors.
“He is incredibly supportive of my running. I couldn’t have had the success I’ve had without him and my coach,” Slaby said.
Slaby also gives a lot of credit for her success to her coach, Jim Felty. “He’s been coaching me for the last six years, and he has transitioned me from a 2:55 marathoner (6:45-minute mile) to a 2:39 (6:05-minute mile) and to a 100-mile world record holder. We have a great coach-athlete relationship, and we talk just about daily on my training,” Slaby said.
In Washington, Felty closely followed Slaby’s race on his computer via live video feed. He also stayed in constant telephone contact with Steve, who was with Gina at the Desert Solstice track in Phoenix. Throughout the record-breaking run, Felty monitored Gina’s progress and provided constant support and encouragement throughout the run.
“Gina is the most humble and hungry athlete I’ve ever coached,” Felty told the Navy. “She is truly a remarkable and accomplished athlete with an amazing range, from 10K to 100 miles,” he said.
For her next challenge, Slaby is considering making another try at making the USA 24 hour team for the competition in Ireland.
NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound, one of eight fleet logistics centers under NAVSUP Glocal Logistics Center, provides operational logistics, business and support services to Navy, Coast Guard, Military Sealift Command, and other Joint and Allied Forces. Products and services include contracting, fuels, global logistics, hazardous material management, household goods, integrated logistics support, material management, postal, regional transportation and warehousing.
— Brian J. Davis is with the NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center Puget Sound Office of Corporate Communication