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History
Minnesota National Guard
Basra Marathon

COB BASRA, Iraq " Hours before the sun rose Nov 28, some 139 service members and civilians gathered in the damp cold at Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, to run Most were there for the 10-miler, but, despite steady rain in the hours before and mud as thick as axle grease, 52 showed-up just for the opportunity to run a marathon that ran mostly along the barbwire perimeter of a combat-zone base

"It takes an awful lot for a runner to go out there and run by himself on this, when there's no crowds," said Capt Jim Pereda, effects section, 34th Infantry Division, from Rogers Minn  "You've got six water stops, they go by each one twice, and that's you're cheering section"

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The majority of the course had participants and volunteers within feet of the fence that separates the base from the flat, barren terrain surrounding it With miles separating those points, the dangers of runners " and even volunteers " out by themselves quickly comes to mind

For these reasons, organizers placed the water points at guard towers This made them stand out to the runners, but also provided the volunteers with added protection and an additional set of eyes

There were other security precautions as well

"At home you have to organize security to block the roads," Pereda said  "Here you've got to organize security because you're in an unsafe area They've got the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) guys out there stationed in their (gun) trucks"

Other preparations included music, such as the theme from "Rocky," which blared from the Moral, Welfare and Recreation stage as the runners gathered at the combined start point for the 10-miler and marathon
At 5:15 am the first notes of "Eye of the Tiger" could be heard against the near-silence of the runners

No gun signaled the start There was only the word passed in the dark to follow the chase vehicle, a gun truck from the 305th Psychological Operations Company A few moments later, the Beatles' "Come Together," began playing from the public address system on the gun truck, and as it pulled out, the runners dutifully followed

The runners spanned a variety of levels of preparation and skill, with the final times on the marathon ranging from the winner, Isiah Mamai, a security guard with contractor Saber international, at three hours, 14 minutes, to six hours and more for those final few who were unable to finish in the six-hour time limit

Staff Sgt Daniel Bari, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 34th Infantry Division, who finished only a few minutes shy of his four-hour goal, said he trained as much as he could with the time allowed
"It was kind of late notice, so I only had about a month and a half to train," he said, "But I did do two 20-mile runs and some other runs in the mid-teens I think I'm as ready as I'm gonna be"

A variety of units and backgrounds were represented as well Around 15 Soldiers from 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Brigade ran, said 1st Sgt Jillanna Malachi, the battalion first sergeant

Most of the 308th's runners trained for the races on their own, though they run together at times for regular physical training, she said

"I run probably about 20 miles a week," Malachi said
Still the 10-miler, which Malachi completed as the second female across the line, was not a huge challenge for her, she said

"This was something to do for fun," she said "I like to run"
The 17th FB's chaplain's assistant, Staff Sgt Caroline Keller, for whom a short run day is four miles and a long run day is ten, had similar sentiments

"I run all the time," she said, "so this is pretty much just a way to get outside and do it and have company to run with"

"This is me versus me, not me versus 300 other runners," Keller said "This is me getting out here and trying to do something positive with my time while I'm here"

Keller did most of her training on a treadmill, so the challenge for her was compensating for the difference between treadmill and road, she said

"It is a completely different running style," she said "My time does slow down on the road, so I just try to push myself further on the treadmill so I can try to compensate"
Having run a 5K and 10K in the past, Pereda said he was amazed at the kind of people who run marathons and other long races, regardless the environment

"It's one of those things, you've just gotta have the goal to do it, I think," he said "It takes an awful lot of guts"

One man who ran that day with a goal was Pfc Terrance Jackson, supply specialist, Headquarters Support Company, 34th Infantry Division This was his first marathon; the farthest he had ever run before was a 10-miler, he said Jackson prepared by running four- to- six miles every day, increasing his distance each day, but he could not have been fully prepared for just how far he went that day

As the 10-miler and marathon shared the first portion of the course, Jackson, due to miscommunication, turned around with the 10-milers when he was supposed to keep running straight  When he reached the 10-miler finish, the mistake was immediately apparent

He could have quit then, and a part of him wanted to, he said, realizing how far he was from actually finishing, but quitting was not a real option

"I had to finish it," he said "I promised my wife that I'd finish a marathon while I was here"

If someone had told him the day before he could run almost 30 miles, let alone in just over four hours, Jackson would have laughed at them, he said Still, for all the pain, it was worth it

"It feels good to know that I completed it," he said, "but the body is just hurtin' right now"

The marathon winner, Mamai, said that, although he had run long distances before at his home in Kenya, this was his first marathon

Running against military, Mamai wasn't certain of his chances to win the marathon, but figured he had a chance, he said Still, the conditions added to the difficulty

"There was no escape from running through the mud," he said

The event itself was organized by Lt Col Luke Charpentier, 34th Inf Div

"Many Soldiers have had the opportunity to run marathons in previous deployments," he said  "We contacted Kristine Smith from the Twin Cities Marathon office  We were delighted when she graciously agreed to sponsor the marathon here for Soldiers deployed to Iraq"

The marathon was coordinated with the Twin Cities Marathon organizers in Minneapolis, which was run Oct 4 The Basrah Marathon was delayed until November to allow t-shirts and medals from the Minneapolis race to make it to Iraq and for the participants to train, Charpentier said

"Additionally, this being a few days after Thanksgiving it was thought to be a great weekend to have a major event like this planned for people to participate in," he said

With 49 of the 52 marathoners finishing within the six-hour time limit and 84 of the 87 10-milers completing the race, there was no question as to the success of the event

"The marathon and 10-mile race is a huge boost to Soldiers working here, allowing them to have a focus for their running and training," Charpentier said  "Events like this help Soldiers have a positive event to focus on, and then the great feeling you get in finishing a race"

By Sgt Benjamin R Kibbey, MND-S
1 DEc, 2009


Article source: http://www.theredbulls.org/article00477



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