CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Before the sunrise Sunday, participants of the Marine Corps Marathon Forward were preparing for the challenge that lay ahead.
More than 250 servicemembers from different countries, civilian contractors, and one linguist, ran the 26.2 miles throughout Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion. It was a unique experience for the participants, who ran the marathon while deployed to a combat zone.
“Running this marathon out here is a totally different environment,” said Master Sgt. Edwin Holloway, food service chief, Regional Command (Southwest), and the marathon’s organizer. “It definitely means a lot to the participants to run while deployed.”
The Marine Corps Marathon Forward started during 2006 at Al Asad, Iraq, to give deployed servicemembers the chance to participate. It works in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon held the same day in Washington, D.C.
Marathon runners typically train for months in preparation for a race. The servicemembers here worked around their schedule, making sure their training did not interfere with their mission.
“It’s tough to find time to run one or two hours when you work 12-hour days,” said Holloway, from Spokane, Wash. “We try to find two or three hours for the long runs on the weekends.”
The participants ran on a variety of different surfaces, varying from the asphalt of paved roads to the dirt hills near the flight line on Camp Bastion.
One particular stretch of hills started at mile 17 and tested the runners’ mental toughness.
“From (mile) 17 to 24 was a challenge,” said Holloway. “Most people hit a wall at 18 miles, so not only did we hit the wall, we also had to deal with the hills. It really hurt the quadriceps.”
In addition to the hills, runners dealt with the dust and distractions that come with running next to an operational flight line. During several occasions, the roar of a helicopter and the dust it picked up tested the tired runners.
“Running a marathon is 90 percent mental,” said Holloway, who finished in 3:31. “The ups and downs we experience when we’re in a race can really have an effect on the runner.”
Motivation is what helps the runners stay mentally tough.
“I had to keep pushing through,” said 1st Lt. Ben Lukowski, Regional Logistic Support Command advisor, RC(SW), and the winner of the race with a time of 2:43. “There’s the wall and there’s beyond the wall, and I had to push through to beyond the wall. Pain is temporary, but pride is forever. I’d rather feel the pain than quit.”
Lukowski, from St. Albans, W.Va., ran hundreds of races in college, but this was his first time winning a marathon.
The first place finisher for the women was 1st. Lt. Elizabeth Gomez, 126th Transportation Company, who finished in 3:39.
Many participants ran in memory of a fallen comrade.
Runners could be seen wearing shirts with names of friends who gave their life serving in Afghanistan or Iraq.
While keeping their fallen friends in their hearts and minds, runners were not afraid to have fun and make the best out of the 26.2 miles.
One participant from the United Kingdom donned a bright blue full body suit with the British flag on his chest. Others ignored the pain in their legs to pose for cameras, flexing muscles and making faces.
“The camaraderie and support really impressed me,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daren Richardson, fuels officer, RC(SW). “I enjoyed seeing all the people who came out to support us.”
In addition to the more than 250 participants, many volunteers came out to support the runners. They handed out water, directed traffic and cheered as runners passed by. Navy corpsmen also set up first-aid stations to provide medical attention if needed.
Regardless of nationality, the course represented a chance to run a marathon with friends.
“It was really fun,” said Sakhidad, a local Afghan linguist. “This was my second marathon. I ran it here last year too. I loved it.”
After 26.2 grueling miles under the Afghan sun, participants received a gift bag of different items and a medal. Gift cards were given to the first, second and third places finisher for each gender.
“My goal was to provide a scenic and challenging course, but also a fun and memorable one,” said Holloway. “I think we accomplished that today.”
With helicopters overhead, hills at the hardest moment, outrageous costumes and the Afghanistan horizon, this marathon is one many runners will remember for the rest of their lives.
This work, Deployed runners push bodies, complete marathon overseas, by Sgt Timothy Lenzo, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.