As the commander of a military bomb squad, U.S. Army Captain Katie Hernandez is trained to take on the toughest situations with unflappable focus and control.
So when she was presented with an opportunity to attempt to run the world’s fastest mile while wearing a bomb disposal suit, the 30-year-old didn’t flinch.
“I’m always setting my sights on new goals,” Hernandez, a marathoner, triathlete and CrossFit athlete, told Women’s Running in phone interview this week. “I figured, why not? I have nothing to lose.”
That positive attitude and months of intense training paid off April 3, when Hernandez put on the 80-pound body of armor and ran a 10:23 mile on the George Mason University track in Virginia, crushing the previous women’s Guinness World mark of 11:06, which was set in 2013 by her friend and former mentor, Army 1st Lt. Ashley Sorensen.
“The first two laps are definitely physical and the last two are mental,” says Hernandez, commander of 717th Ordnance Disposal Company (ODC) who has served in Afghanistan and is currently stationed at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky/Tennessee border.
Sorensen, who met Hernandez when they are both stationed in Hawaii, was on the sidelines to cheer on her friend. Leading up to the race, Sorensen encouraged Hernandez to relax and carbo load and assured her she would do great.
“It was incredible to be able to support Katie in her attempt,” Sorensen says. “We have known each other a long time. We played rugby together; she tried to teach me lacrosse. It is important to support each other.”
Hernandez’s effort also helped raise funds and awareness for The Military Family Program and HeadStrong, nonprofits that provide mental health services and other resources to veterans and their families.
Already an accomplished athlete, Hernandez knew when she began training last year that she’d need extraordinary strength and endurance to not only run in the bulky suit, but run fast. (The race was originally scheduled for March 2020 but postponed due to COVID-19).
Merely standing in the bomb disposal suit is physically and mentally exhausting. Specially trained soldiers wear the protective gear when they have to investigate suspicious devices that could be explosives.
“It’s heavy. It’s hot. There is zero breathability,” Hernandez says. “Your dexterity is limited. Wearing the helmet is the worst part. The helmet weighs 12 pounds on its own.”
Now imagine wearing that, running 400, 600, 800, and 1200-meter intervals on the track, taking a 10-minute break and doing it all over again. That’s what Hernandez did every week for months, in addition to twice-a-day weight lifting sessions.
“Our body is capable of so much more than you think it is,” she says. “Pushing boundaries mentally is what gets me motivated.”
Although Hernandez ran an unofficial 10:17 mile in practice, she and her running partner opted for a conservative pace on race day. Crossing the finish line well under the record, Hernandez felt relieved.
“I was done and out of breath, and I thought I probably could have pushed faster, but I got the record and came what I needed to do,” she says.
After relishing in her success and recovering for a couple days, Hernandez is already working toward her next goal. She hopes to perform well in the early rounds of the upcoming CrossFit Games and eventually compete against the best CrossFit athletes in the world.
As for running, she has no plans to chase more records while wearing a bomb disposal suit, but would love to test herself in other ways.
“Ultrarunning—that would be so cool to do,” she says.