By Suzan HollMay 15, 2018
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- It may have been the third Monday in April, however the weather conditions for this year's Boston Marathon were less than favorable.
Thirty degree temperatures and 30 to 40 mile per hour winds are not ideal conditions for running 26.2 miles but despite the cold, wind, rain and periodic snow, Lt. Col. Roberto R. Sanchez of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command , finished the 2018 Boston Marathon.
"The conditions were not the best for running a marathon," said Sanchez a future operations planner for the 20th. "It down-poured the entire day for all the runners and the temperatures were in the 30s with 30 to 40 mph winds at different portions of the course. But I was able to 'embrace the suck' and earn my finisher's medal."
Initially, Sanchez wanted to beat his best time of 4:38, but after experiencing a bout with Achilles tendonitis while training, he said he was happy to just finish within a four hour time frame.
Crossing the finish line at 4:54, the New York City native was happy to achieve his goal of running in one of the world's oldest, most prestigious marathons. "It was my slowest marathon," said Sanchez, "However, considering the weather I'll take it."
Although he's been running throughout his Army career, it wasn't until 2012 when a classmate at the Air Command and Staff College got him interested in running long distance. Then in 2014, while serving as the Headquarters Battalion Operations Officer for Combined Joint Task Force-10 at Bagram Air Base, Sanchez was approached by his good friend, Capt. Lukasz Willenberg, with the idea of hosting a Boston Marathon Shadow Run at Bagram.
According to the Boston Athletic Association, since 2005, thousands of United States armed forces personnel stationed overseas have participated in "shadow" versions of the Boston Marathon, running the marathon distance on or around Patriots' Day.
"Knowing I was a runner as well, Capt. Willenberg approached me with the idea and I thought it was great," said Sanchez.
Willenberg had competed in the 2013 Boston Marathon and qualified to run again in 2014 but wasn't able to because he was deployed. So he reached out to the Boston Athletic Association and asked if the command could host a shadow run in Bagram.
"Of course they gave us the green light, and that's how it got started," said Sanchez.
The BAA sent bibs, tee shirts, start and finish banners, finisher certificates for participants and the exact medals that were handed out in Boston.
Sanchez said the two put their heads together and thought about races they ran in the past and based off the better organized events, they brain-stormed and developed a plan for hosting the Boston Marathon shadow run at Bagram.
"I never organized a marathon let alone a race so that in itself was the biggest challenge," said Sanchez. However, they brought in support from other units and had a whole planning team.
Since they were in a combat zone they had to take potential threats into consideration as part of their planning so they had to have a well thought out security plan as well as medical support on hand during the race in the event something did happen.
The shadow run in Afghanistan was Sanchez's first full marathon and while he had the opportunity to not only plan but to participate in the race, he said if he had a preference, he would rather have ran in Boston than Afghanistan.
"Considering that the Bagram race took place a year after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, running in Boston in 2014 would have been an unreal moment," he said. "We ran the marathon in Bagram in memory of those who lost their lives in the face of the enemy to include those that lost their lives in Boston and all the victims due to the bombing in 2013."
Sanchez competed in another shadow run at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait while deployed with the 71st Ordnance Group (EOD) and WMD Coordination Team 2 in 2017. The biggest challenge for him then was to compete in the race after being hospitalized for five days due to pneumonia.
After leaving the hospital he had four weeks to the day to prepare for the 2017 Boston Marathon Shadow Run at Camp Arifjan. "My goal was to complete that race," said Sanchez. And he did.
You could consider Sanchez to be a veteran marathon runner. This year's Boston Marathon is his seventh marathon but he's not done yet. He has two more marathons to run this year.
"I'm doing the Chicago Marathon in October and then New York City in November. Its home and it's an amazing race," he said. And who knows - he may just inspire some of his fellow Soldiers from the 20th CBRNE Command to join him.