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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 13, 2004

Afghan version was showcase for a different kind of sacrifice

Making all those miles count
Hawai'i receiver sets own course
Run to perfection
Schabort wins 7th in a row
Photo gallery
Video of finishers

By Michael Tsai and Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writers

The first and many hope last "Honolulu Marathon in Afghanistan" wrapped up early yesterday morning a great numerical success: 188 participants, at least 128 finishers (including two bomb-sniffing dogs) and zero Taliban interference.

One hundred eighty-eight runners took off at the start yesterday of the Honolulu Marathon in Afghanistan on a course set up at Forward Operating Base Ripley in southern Afghanistan.

Photos by Sgt. Stephanie Carl

The marathon was the brainchild of Capt. Ivan Hurlburt and some fellow Honolulu Marathon veterans stationed at Forward Operating Base Ripley in remote Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, the so-called "cradle of the Taliban."

"It worked out really well," said race director Hurlburt, a battalion signal officer. "We were stressing for a while because half the field didn't arrive until just before the race. But it worked out and everyone had a lot of fun."

The Afghan National Olympic Committee said it was the first marathon in the war-ravaged country's history.

The race got under way around 9 p.m. Saturday (HST). Official timing ended after six hours, but runners continued to trickle in.

More than 300 U.S. soldiers and civilian contractors from around the country signed up for the marathon, but thundershowers the day before prevented some flights from landing at the base camp. Hurlburt said many runners who participated didn't arrive until three hours before the start of the race.

The race was staged at the base's airstrip, on a 5.24-mile course of rock and gravel. Participants ran more than five laps to complete the full 26.2-mile distance.

The 65th Engineer Battalion used bulldozers and steamrollers to restore the rain-damaged course.

"It was really wet — a lot of puddles," Hurlburt said.

The day got under way with a B-1 bomber doing a show-of-force flyover, 500 feet above the base, followed later by two A-10 jets firing celebratory flares.

"It was our version of the fireworks in Waikiki," Hurlburt said.

The temperature rose to a comfortable 52 degrees during the race, but the course was demanding — especially for the soldiers who had to squeeze in their training before and after their daily duties. (Hurlburt said some soldiers ran at night using headlamps.)

The course included five passes up and down a small hill, dubbed "Diamond Head" after the notorious Honolulu Marathon climb.

"Nobody set a P.R. (personal record)," Hurlburt said. "I guarantee you that."

Soldiers from Hawai'i did their stretching exercises before the start yesterday of the Honolulu Marathon in Afghanistan.
First Lt. Mike Baskin, 24, a California native, won the race in a time of 3 hours, 12 minutes and 16 seconds. He burst into tears at the finish line, remembering four comrades killed in recent fighting.

"I just thought about those four guys when I crossed, that they won't be going home with us, and it kind of hit me," Baskin said.

Spc. Jill Stevens, 21, from Utah, was the first female finisher with a time of 3:45:20. (See full results in the special marathon section in Sports.)

The sole Afghan who ran in the race pulled out after one lap, complaining that soccer games were no way to prepare.

"These people are very fit, but this is not for an Afghan who only gets tea and bread for breakfast," said Mohammed Anwar, sitting on the ground and looking with concern at his knees. Anwar works for the military.

Hurlburt finished No. 23 overall at 4:23:19, about an hour off his usual marathon time.

Hurlburt's wife, Anita, was tracking her husband's progress via the Internet at their Makiki studio apartment.

"He really wanted to run in this year's marathon," Anita Hurlburt said. "But then he said, 'Well we can't, so why don't we just run it here?' "

She cruised through the screen options on the marathon Web site, trying to get the hang of the information provided so she could check it periodically over the next several hours. Her geometrically shaped nails, each decorated with a tiny flower, moved quickly across the keys.

"They laughed at him at first," she said. "Then 300 signed up to run with him."

Thanks to an outpouring of support from home, nobody left the race empty-handed yesterday. The Honolulu Marathon Association donated official running numbers, finisher shirts, medals, certificates and, of course, the signature shell lei given to every finisher.

Private donors from Hawai'i and around the United States also contributed prizes for the winners and raffle items for all of the runners and volunteers. All of the participants were treated to a dinner of lobster and steak after the race.

While his first attempt at race directing proved to be a big success, Hurlburt was asked if he would consider doing it again.

"Maybe," he said. "I don't know. But definitely not in Afghanistan."

Associated Press reporter Amir Shah contributed to this report from Afghanistan. Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2461. Reach Karen Blakeman at kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2430.