MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
On a straight stretch of asphalt surrounded by still ponds, a lone runner quietly carves out his battleground. Though he has shed his camouflage utilities for a running uniform, the lighter set of armor morphs the quiet Marine into an aggressive athlete.
Parallel sets of lights flash past him, but he remains unfazed. In his dimension, Staff Sgt. Tyler Hubbard sees only his shoes and the ground beneath his feet. As the smoldering orange sun fades into nightfall and marks the conclusion to another day, his battle has just begun.
From running down dirt roads as a youth in rural Oregon to finding success as one of 20 members of the All-Marine Running Team, Hubbard has built a passion for the sport bordering on fixation.
“The simplicity of being out there in nature and running allows you to forget about whatever problems you have going on,” Hubbard, the substance abuse and control officer for Headquarters Battalion, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said. “When you’re running, you’re just looking for the next turn and focusing on the moment. Everything else kind of fades into the background.”
He spends between two and three hours a day running and stretching, and clocks in under 16 minutes on the three-mile-run portion of the physical fitness test. Despite his quiet, humble nature in uniform, Hubbard’s hunger to succeed changes him when he goes out to run.
“When you put the running uniform on, you have to make that mental shift and know that it’s game time,” Hubbard said about his competitions. “You’ve got to shake hands before the race, but as soon as the gun goes off, it’s all about the race.”
As an energetic 10-year-old bouncing off the walls of his family home in the small community of Grass Valley, Ore., Hubbard said his mother once sent him outside to channel his energy into running around the house. Several successful laps later, he had found his love.
“I ran laps around the house for 20 minutes straight and I thought it was the coolest thing,” Hubbard said. “This really hooked me, and I thought, ‘Wow, I can be a runner.’”
Once her son started, he never stopped, his mother, Doris Hubbard, said.
“We would drive out a mile down the road, and then he would start running,” she said. “He would have me and his brother time him to see if he was making progress and improving his run times.”
Advancing through his elementary and high school years in a town of approximately 165 people, Hubbard scraped for opportunities to exercise his newfound hobby, but found few outside running on his high school’s track team.
“When Tyler was in school, we lived in a rural area so the coach was just a volunteer,” Doris Hubbard said. “Tyler didn’t get a lot of direction about how to train, but he loved running so much that he continued to learn on his own.”
After finishing high school, Hubbard strove to find direction, moving through two labor-intensive jobs over two years before deciding in 2000 to enter into military service. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, parents, and older brother, but was the first Marine, serving as a bulk fuel specialist.
Beside unit physical training, Hubbard said nearly five years of service passed where he didn’t run competitively. In 2004, his interest was re-kindled when the All-Marine Cross Country Championship re-surfaced after a hiatus.
Though he missed the race, Hubbard began running other base races to prepare for the following year’s championship. Regaining his passion, he ran the 2005 Las Vegas Marathon on a Sunday, and followed up by running the cross-country championship only six days later.
“I placed seventeenth the first year, which wasn’t great, but it gave me a good starting point to see where I was at against other runners in the Marine Corps,” Hubbard said. “I knew I wasn’t in top shape because I had just run a marathon, so I knew I’d come back stronger.”
Moving from California to Virginia in 2006, Hubbard made friends within the Quantico-based Marine Corps Marathon office. He became part of a small group that ran every morning at 5 a.m., and ran with them for nearly three years.
“The cross-country race in California in 2005 was the spark, but the consistent running at Quantico really fueled the fire,” Hubbard said. “I started doing more races and having a lot of fun with running.”
After arriving in Hawaii in April 2010, Hubbard began earning spots on the winner’s podium in myriad races. He won the Windward Half Marathon in Kailua last September, and the Turkey Trot 10-kilometer race here last November; placed third at the All-Marine Cross Country Championship in California in January; earned second among service members at the Great Aloha Run in Honolulu in February; and won The Beast 10-kilometer, and the Surf and Turf 5-kilometer races here in March and April.
Each of these races is a stepping stone to his next. In May, Hubbard will travel overseas to the United Kingdom to compete against the British Royal Marines and Royal Navy in the Plymouth Half Marathon. He placed 15th overall among nearly 5,000 racers in the race last year.
“The best kind of runner inspires and encourages other runners around him or her,” Cpl. Patrick Murphy, a disbursing clerk with Headquarters Battalion, said. “Staff Sgt. Hubbard is the best kind of runner.”
Murphy, who runs with Hubbard frequently, said his mentor’s consistent enthusiasm for running, and tips for injury prevention and staying healthy, have helped him renew the passion he had for running track in high school. While Hubbard is quiet in giving advice, Murphy said, his abilities and example speak for themselves.
“Staff Sgt. Hubbard made running part of his lifestyle, and consistently hits every run he’s supposed to,” Murphy, from Sedro Woolley, Wash., said. “He doesn’t let the fact that he’s not a professional runner, or getting paid to run, deter him from getting out there and chasing it every day like someone of that caliber would.”
Inside a plain, white three-ring binder bearing the title, ‘Run, run as fast as you can,’ Hubbard logs the results of each race he runs and calls them his “motivation.” His devotion to running encompasses a lot of his time, but with the support and understanding of his wife and family, it has helped him find direction in life.
“Running has given me a lot more focus and helped me set goals,” he said. “It has made me more aggressive, and given me confidence to know I can get out there and tow the line with anybody.”
Though darkness has fallen, Hubbard insists he has another 35 minutes to run. This asphalt battleground isn’t where he’ll lay his head down to sleep tonight, but it’s his world for the next 35 minutes.