10th Mountain Division hosts Boston Marathon Shadow Run in Afghanistan
April 24, 2014
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Department of State's Josh Peterson beat out nearly 600 other runners with a highly regarded time of 2 hours and 39 minutes to claim top honors in both the overall and men's categories, while Capt. Daniella Mestyanek, a member of "Task Force Lift," 159th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Campbell, Ky., won the women's field with an impressive time of 3 hours and 12 minutes, during the Boston Marathon Shadow Run here Friday.
Peterson set his personal record during this year's race. He had established his PR in his ninth marathon, besting his Athens, Greece, race by 45 seconds despite the early start time of the race.
"The timing of the race was the most difficult part for me," Peterson said. "The 3 a.m. start time really messes with your sleep cycle; you have to decide whether you want to stay awake or try to catch some sleep before the race."
Mestyanek, participating in just her second marathon, ran in memory of fallen heroes with whom she had served during the global war on terrorism. Ten Soldiers were lost May 26, 2011, during her last deployment.
"Really with Boston, it was kind of poetic," Mestyanek said. "I just want to dedicate it to them."
Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Combined Joint Task Force-10 and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, addressed runners before the race.
"If you are like me, your sleep has been bad, your training has been worse and your body is not digging a marathon at a mile of altitude," Townsend said. "Throw in the threat of a rocket attack, and it sounds like perfect conditions for a great race to me."
Yet, aside from the dangers of a hostile zone, all of the other conditions for the race were ideal, with a starting temperature of 58 degrees with very little wind as runners began the race and increased only five degrees as the final runner crossed the finish line.
"Weather-wise, we had near-perfect conditions for the mar-athon, but the 5,000-foot elevation still made things a real challenge," said Chaplain (Capt.) Lukasz Willenberg, chaplain for Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division. "Even with the challenges, I was able to improve my PR by 10 minutes."
The only thing that could have been tougher was planning for this event while in a hostile area. Lt. Col. Rodney Freeman founded the first shadow version of the Boston Marathon in Iraq for armed forces personnel stationed overseas in 2005. He currently serves with the New Hampshire Army National Guard.
"When we deployed to Iraq in 2004, I was training to run Boston in 2005," Freeman said. "Not being able to run Boston in 2005, I contacted the Boston Athletic Association in February of 2005 to tell them that we were planning a small marathon in Iraq on Patriots' Day. They responded with medals, T-shirts and all the other stuff that we needed to hold a marathon in Iraq."
This year, Willenberg was the driving force in bringing the Boston Marathon Shadow Run to Afghanistan. He ran in the Boston Marathon for the last four years and was planning to run in 2014, when he learned he would be deploying to Afghanistan.
"Knowing that I wouldn't be able to run in Boston in 2014," Willenberg said, "I had an idea to bring Boston to Afghanistan."
Willenberg contacted the BAA, and the administration again was helpful in establishing the only official 2014 Boston Marathon Shadow Run. The entire 10th Mountain Division chain of command also was extremely supportive of setting up the marathon.
The BAA helped to set up the run, providing Boston Marathon start and finish banners, bibs, T-shirts, medals and certificates for participants. Runners who signed up before the 600-runner cap was reached were lucky enough to receive the same medal as runners who crossed the finish line in Boston on Monday.
The Boston Athletic Association has helped co-sponsor the shadow runs since 2005. This year, the 10th Mountain Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion hosted Afghanistan's Boston Shadow Marathon. This shadow marathon is expected to be the last official Boston Marathon Shadow Run as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
According to the BAA website, thousands of U.S. armed forces personnel stationed overseas have participated in "shadow" versions of the Boston Marathon, running the marathon distance on, or near, Patriots' Day, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan or on a ship at sea.
"I do not think this will be the last shadow marathon. The BAA does a great job of finding units and people deployed around the world to host these types of events," Freeman said. "We already have some leads on units that will be deployed in others parts of the world next year at this time."
The run was an opportunity for many to step away from their jobs, if only for a brief amount of time, as the war did not stop in eastern Afghanistan -- even for a marathon. In Afghanistan, Maj. Jeremy Smith, support operations officer for 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, was one of the runners who went right back to work after the race.
"I still gotta be able to go to work," Smith said. "I am expected to be back at work."