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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 11, 2004

Afghan marathon commences tonight

 •  Runner is with troops in spirit
 •  Detours set for tomorrow's marathon
 •  Defending champions face tough challengers

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Just as some 26,000 Honolulu Marathon runners tuck themselves in tonight for their last pre-race slumber, 311 U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors will undertake a special marathon of their own with Hawai'i in their hearts and Afghan dust beneath their feet.

Workers for the "Honolulu Marathon in Afghanistan," wearing caps donated by the Honolulu Marathon Association, receive their orders during a rehearsal for the event in Tarin Kowt.

Photo courtesy Capt. Ivan Hurlburt • U.S. Army

After months of planning, the "Honolulu Marathon in Afghanistan" gets under way tomorrow morning (8 p.m. tonight, Hawai'i time) at Firebase Ripley in remote Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan.

The race is the pet project of Capt. Ivan Hurlburt, a battalion signal officer, and several other Honolulu Marathon veterans who weren't about to let their deployment to the hotbed of Taliban activity get in the way of running this year's race.

Runners will make just under six passes around a dusty airstrip to complete the full 26.2-mile distance. The race is expected to wrap up just as the official Honolulu Marathon gets under way on Ala Moana tomorrow at 5 a.m.

In a phone interview from Afghanistan yesterday, Hurlburt said everything was in place to have a safe and enjoyable race.

"We had a rain storm in the morning and it's looking pretty overcast, but we're ready to go," Hurlburt said.

Yesterday, soldiers and contractors from all over the country were still flying into Tarin Kowt, about 75 miles from Kandahar.

"It's something to do besides the day-to-day routine of being in a wartime situation," Hurlburt said. "This is something that reminds us of being in Hawai'i even though we're far away from our friends and relatives."

Because of safety concerns, Hurlburt declined to specify what security measures will be in place. But, he said, "it's more of a military operation right now, so you can imagine what security will be like."

"We've taken every precaution," he said. "The runners will be very safe."

Although the race is not an official Honolulu Marathon event, Hurlburt and his fellow runners will enjoy many trappings of the real thing.

The Honolulu Marathon Association is supplying official runner numbers, volunteer and finisher shirts, medals, certificates and banners. The route is decorated with artificial palm trees, a "Diamond Head" marking the one small hill on the course, and banners from all over Hawai'i.

ChampionChip USA/Burns Computer Services has donated a computer-chip timing system that will allow family and friends to track the runners' progress.

Each runner will be equipped with a computer chip, worn on one of their shoes, that will register their name and time every time they pass a computerized timing mat on the course.

This information will be relayed over the Internet at www.honolulumarathon.org.

The system is a simplified version of the one used in all of the major U.S. marathons, including those in Honolulu, Boston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

System owner Mike Burns said he also hopes to provide e-mail updates to the runners' families.

Burns and his associate, David Simms, are donating the time and equipment.

"I know it sounds cornball, but it's important for us to do whatever we can," said Burns. "If we can in any way provide information to family members so that they can feel closer, so that they can get that emotional payoff, I want to do that. Whatever we give is very, very, very insignificant compared to what (the soldiers) give us. They're out there keeping us free."

Since The Advertiser first reported on the Afghan marathon two months ago, dozens of Hawai'i residents and people from around the country have sent donations of running clothes, energy bars and gels, water bottles, CDs and other goodies to be used as prizes for the winners and as raffle items.

"We just want to send a thousand mahalos to everybody who went to the trouble to send us something," Hurlburt said. "The response from people has been amazing."

Jeff Snicker of Davenport, Iowa, who learned about the race online, had 17 T-shirts specially made, each bearing a group photo of the 17 soldiers from the Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment "Bobcats" who have completed the Honolulu Marathon. Those shirts will be worn by 17 runners at tomorrow's Honolulu Marathon. Afterward, each runner will sign his or her shirt and send it to one of the runners in Afghanistan.

"That way, the soldiers in Afghanistan can say they ran both marathons this year," Snicker said.

The 45-year-old computer programmer is an avid marathon runner.

"It's my goal to do a marathon in all 50 states," said Snicker, who ran the Kona Marathon four years ago. "And maybe I'll eventually see one of those soldiers wearing that shirt at a race somewhere."

Tom Knoll, noted athlete, author, retired Marine and one of the original Ironmen, will be wearing one of Snicker's shirts when he runs tomorrow.

Knoll understands, as well as anyone on the course tomorrow, what the relationship between these two races means. He spent time in Afghanistan last year interviewing captured Taliban and al-Qaida members for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Reach Michael Tsai at 535-2461 or mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.