Runners endure Marine Corps Marathon Forward in Helmand province
By Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
| | October 31, 2011
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The sound of a 105mm howitzer thundered through the morning air on Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province as more than 300 coalition service members began the Marine Corps Marathon Forward, Oct. 30.
This year marks the third time the “Peoples’ Marathon” has been held at Camp Leatherneck.
While the more than 30,000 participants in the main race in Washington D.C. get to enjoy running on paved roads and seeing the numerous memorials and monuments scattered throughout the nation’s capital, service members at Leatherneck were provided with a radically different backdrop while enduring the 26.2-mile event. Participants ran five dusty laps on roads along the perimeter of the base, which were often crowded with armored vehicles either going to or returning from supporting combat operations. Machine gun fire was frequently heard on the course as service members conducted in-theatre training.
Aid stations were scattered along the course where Marines handed out water, snacks and energy gels while encouraging the runners.
As participants passed the lap start checkpoint, they were given one of four colored bracelets to help them remember how far they had gone. The bracelets were donated by the LiveStrong Foundation, the American Red Cross, the Semper Fi Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project.
The first runner to cross the finish line was U.K. Army Capt. Frazer Alexander, a vehicle maintenance officer with 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards of The Royal Armoured Corps, and a native of Luxembourg. Alexander finished with a time of 2 hours and 49 minutes.
“I’m very happy with the results, albeit it’s slightly slower than my [personal best], but it’s a good test marathon,” said Alexander.
In order to prepare himself for his seventh marathon, Alexander stuck with a strict and demanding training regimen.
“I’m always training,” said Alexander. “I’ll train for a marathon during the year and for this marathon for the last 7 to 8 weeks.”
During those weeks of training, Alexander would rise at 5:30 in the morning, run for an hour and go to work. Once the workday was over, he would run some more. Each week consisted of at least 50 to 75 miles of running.
“It’s something I’m very good at doing,” said Alexander. “It brings a lot of people together. It’s also a goal I’ve worked toward and I can better myself throughout it. It’s also the other things that it brings with it: the runner’s high, the camaraderie and that sense of achievement.
“We’re all here for one goal and the guys out there encourage you and do the old Marine Corps ‘ooh-rah!’ and it’s really good to hear that and you put your thumb out to them and wish them luck as well.”
First Lt. Angelica Valdez, an air officer with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, and a native of Tuscon, Ariz., was the first female and fourth overall participant to finish the race. She finished her third marathon with a time of 3 hours and 15 minutes.
“My legs feel like jello and my feet are numb and my head is floating a bit,” said Valdez.
For the next several hours, service members trickled past the finish line where they were given a medal for completing the marathon. Many of the runners fought through the last few miles, hobbling across the line with salt streaks from dried up sweat covering their faces and clothes. Several of the more worn out runners were carried to a nearby tent where medical personnel treated injuries sustained during the grueling run.
Many participants had a goal to reach. Some just wanted to achieve something significant while they were deployed. For Gunnery Sgt. Jaren R. Wright, the land acquisitions chief for Regional Command Southwest, it was not exactly his choice to run the marathon – a friend signed him up without asking.
“Never thought about running a marathon out here,” said Wright, a native of Valdosta, Ga. “Never even thought about running one back in the rear. This is the first marathon ever and maybe the last. It’s something I can say that I’ve done that a lot of people haven’t.”
Although he did not choose to run the marathon, he did choose to finish it.
“After about mile 20, that’s when you got to push yourself to keep going,” said Wright. “I did it for all the fallen heroes. Every time that I wanted to quit, I thought about someone that we lost…it kept me going.”