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Team Pete trio heading to XC World Championship

RIVER’S EDGE GOLF COURSE, BEND, OREGON – Maj. Ben Payne, 200th Airlift Squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard located at Peterson AFB in bib No. 215, leads a group of racers during the USA Track & Field National Cross Country Championships, Feb. 4, 2017 in Bend, Oregon. Payne finished fifth in the military portion of the race, 25th overall and qualified for the Military World Cross Country Championships to be held in Balatonakazattya, Hungary Nov. 3-7. Following Payne are his U.S. Air Force teammates Capt. Matthew Williams, 21st Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist, No. 168, who finished eighth and 32nd overall, and Lt. Riley Coats, 21st Force Support Squadron personnel officer, No. 212 who crossed the finish line ninth and 44th overall.

RIVER’S EDGE GOLF COURSE, BEND, OREGON – Maj. Ben Payne, 200th Airlift Squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard located at Peterson AFB in bib No. 215, leads a group of racers during the USA Track & Field National Cross Country Championships, Feb. 4, 2017 in Bend, Oregon. Payne finished fifth in the military portion of the race, 25th overall and qualified for the Military World Cross Country Championships to be held in Balatonakazattya, Hungary Nov. 3-7. Following Payne are his U.S. Air Force teammates Capt. Matthew Williams, 21st Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist, No. 168, who finished eighth and 32nd overall, and Lt. Riley Coats, 21st Force Support Squadron personnel officer, No. 212 who crossed the finish line ninth and 44th overall.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Maj. Ben Payne, 200th Airlift Squadron C-21 pilot (center), runs alongside Capt. Matthew Williams, 21st Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist (left), and Lt. Riley Coats, 21st Force Support Squadron personnel officer (right), at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 27, 2017. All three run between 80 to 90 miles a week. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Maj. Ben Payne, 200th Airlift Squadron C-21 pilot (center), runs alongside Capt. Matthew Williams, 21st Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist (left), and Lt. Riley Coats, 21st Force Support Squadron personnel officer (right), at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Feb. 27, 2017. All three run between 80 to 90 miles a week. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dennis Hoffman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Three elite runners from Peterson Air Force Base will participate in the world military cross country championships after top 10 finishes at the USA Track & Field National Cross Country Championships, Feb. 4, 2017 in Bend, Oregon.

Maj. Ben Payne, 200th Airlift Squadron C-21 pilot, part of the Colorado Air National Guard located at Peterson AFB finished in fifth place among military competitors, Capt. Matthew Williams, 21st Medical Operations Squadron, physical therapist finished eighth and Lt. Riley Coats, 21st Force Support Squadron, personnel officer, crossed the finish line ninth.

The top 12 finishers typically comprise the World Championships contingent, though Coats said the official list is not published yet. The 57th running of the event will take place Nov. 3-7 in Balatonakazattya, Hungary.

The USATF Championships were challenging and not just from the level of the competition. The day was dark, snowy with a mud-covered course – in true Cross Country fashion - as the USAF team toed the starting line with more than 100 other runners.

“We were not all at our peak, but we were close” Coates said. “We were happy for where we were with our conditioning. We will all be in better shape for Hungary.”

Going into the race the team’s ultimate goal was to qualify for the world championships, said Coates.

“Our goal was going to be tough,” Williams said. “We knew the U.S. Army was bringing Olympians, but we thought we could sneak in.”

The trio are not strangers to the pressure of a big race. All three ran NCAA Division 1 cross country at the U.S. Air Force Academy, competing on the national stage regularly. They were all USAFA track MVPs, albeit at different times, and Payne finished ninth in the 2016 New York City Marathon and has won the Bolder Boulder 10K.

“We are kind of like an Air Force all-star team,” Williams said.

Competing at the national level again was a happy occurrence for Coates. He relished competing at a high level again after completing his college career.

“It was an awesome experience,” said Coates. “When you get out of college you think it was your last team event, but getting to put seven guys on the line again is cool.”

The three often workout together and say the altitude and environment of the Pikes Peak area make Peterson AFB a great place to train. Ironically, the fact that all three of them are stationed at Peterson AFB is completely random.

“We all have similar training plans,” Williams said. “We all run 80-90 miles a week. We all had the same coach at the Academy.”

Coates said the training also includes weight training, biking and swimming. Depending upon the season, or what races are upcoming the training regimen may increase or decrease in intensity. Both Payne and Williams have participated in the World Class Athlete Program, allowing them to focus on qualifying for the Olympic Games. All three are members of the Pikes Peak Elite Running Club, coached by their former college coach and former Olympian Juli Benson.

Coats said the World Military Games looks to be a highly competitive event, but the U.S. is regaining its ability to challenge for the top spots. Williams agrees.

“We have a legitimate chance at winning,” he said. “It’s cool because I don’t think we had a chance before.”

With all of Team Pete behind them, and other powerful U.S. military runners alongside, Payne, Williams and Coates will bring a solid chance for collecting some hardware in November.

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