Thousands of people stood around on the Glass Bowl FieldTurf as foot traffic moved in every direction, and yet Thom Hites was unmistakable.
Springfield Township firefighter Thom Hites, right, ran the Glass City Half Marathon in full gear Sunday alongside his wife, Cathy.
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Among the mass of runners, supporters, amateur photographers, and event personnel on hand for Sunday’s Mercy Health Glass City Marathon, which finished inside the University of Toledo football stadium, Mr. Hites may well have been the one person everyone noticed.
That was very much by design.
The 52-year-old Springfield Township Station 53 firefighter participated in his very own career day, which is to say he brought his occupation to the race: Mr. Hites ran the entire half marathon in full gear.
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The 13.1-mile trek never was about a finishing time for Mr. Hites, who slowed himself considerably to bring awareness to firefighter training, which he said needs to put more focus on cardiovascular exercise. Strength usually is the first physical characteristic most people associate with firefighters, though Mr. Hites said the profession is more about endurance than anything else.
To reflect the reality of being a firefighter, Mr. Hites said cardio needs to be emphasized more.
“Too many people think we just need to be strong. We need the endurance and to train for it,” Mr. Hites said. “Without endurance, we’re killing ourselves. The cardio is the key for us firefighters.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 68 firefighters died on duty in 2015, and the biggest percentage — 31 of the 68 — were sudden cardiac deaths.
To bring more attention to the issue, the 30-year firefighting veteran came up with the idea of running in full gear, similar to an actual call.
For the past two months, Mr. Hites trained in firefighting gear, which weighs about 45 pounds. Mr. Hites drew cheers and encouraging words from the crowd as he maneuvered through the course, all in the name of firefighter health.
“I’ve always been trying to push that we need to stay healthy,” Mr. Hites said. “When I had the opportunity to show that we really need to be this way, I had to do it.”
Even with the added weight, Mr. Hites was able to finish the half marathon in less than three hours. He ended with a time of 2 hours, 56 minutes, which is a pace of 13:26 per mile. He ran the full 5K on Saturday at a 9:56 pace.
Mr. Hites ran alongside his wife, Cathy, a first-time half marathon runner to whom he gave credit for helping him keep pace. Without her, Mr. Hites joked, he “would’ve started too fast and probably died.”
The couple crossed the finish line one after another, as Mrs. Hites finished one second ahead of her husband.
“I said, ‘Well, at least I know I’ll be able to keep him from going too fast,’” she said. “This is my first half, and it was really nice to have somebody with me.”
With continued awareness, Mr. Hites said he is hopeful that cardiovascular training will become a bigger focus in firehouses across the United States.
“It’s starting. It’s starting, but slow,” Mr. Hites said. “In the past, everyone thought we need to be these big burly people, and we’re finding out that’s not the case.”
In truth, Mr. Hites said the half marathon in full gear wasn’t overly strenuous when done at the correct pace.
Finishing the race in full gear — and doing so in good health — was all about prioritizing the correct approach, which sounded an awful lot like his day job.
“You can be strong and everything else, but just like a fire, it’s a marathon. It’s not quickly running in to do something, and it can take a long time,” Mr. Hites said. “Cardio can save your life.”
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