Capt. Kaitlyn Hernandez, commander, 717th Ordnance Company, 52nd Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) kept reminding herself it’s just “four more laps” as she ran a mile wearing a 12-pound helmet and an 84-pound bomb suit.

“You never know how the suit is going to affect you,” Hernandez said. “It’s like any time you go to work out. Sometimes you’re feeling really great, and sometimes it punches you in the face. Windy days are pretty rough too, when you hit a headwind it feels like you’re running in mud.”

But on the day of the race, she crushed it. At the 2nd Annual Bomb Suit Run and Family 5K April 3 at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, Hernandez clocked a time of 10 minutes, 23 seconds, easily beating the previous best of 11 minutes, 6 seconds.

“The helmet’s definitely the worst part because if you’re leaning forward or backward it’ll take your whole body with you,” she said. “Overcoming that is more mental. It’s usually a split-second, any time I run and start feeling sorry for myself I just have to get over it and say it’s not that bad.”

Hernandez spent more than a year training for the event, after last year’s event was delayed due to COVID. In addition to her regular CrossFit workout, Hernandez hit the track every week in the bomb suit.

Her mentor throughout was the previous record holder, Ashley Sorenson. She and Sorenson were longtime friends who were stationed in Hawaii and both played rugby.

“She was able to give me some advice – just to try and stay calm and remember it’s only four more laps,” Hernandez said.

Her attempt at the record initially began as a bit of friendly competition with Sorenson, but then it took on added significance.

Headstrong, a veteran-owned nonprofit that provides mental health care for veterans and their Families, signed on as her primary sponsor during her training.

“For me, the best part of all this was bringing awareness, not only to the organization but to shed some light on an obvious issue that affects way more people than you’d think,” she said. “That we were able to promote organizations that help veterans through this, it all worked out very well.”

Headstrong also worked with Navy SEAL veteran Sean Matson who was attempting the male bomb suit record during the event, but had to withdraw after suffering a leg injury.

That meant Hernandez would be the only runner, but with friends and family cheering her on, she kept her focus and smashed the record.

“I’m just so grateful for this whole experience and everything that happened and everything that’s to come,” Hernandez said. “I’m overwhelmed and humbled by everybody that has reached out, and it’s just been such a crazy experience.”