Mountain Division runs Boston ‘Shadow’ Marathon

by Maj. Josh Jacques

Mountain Division runs Boston ‘Shadow’ Marathon

Credit: Master Sgt. Kap Kim
Combined Joint Task Force-10 Commander Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Aide-to-Camp Capt. Jayson Williams, and Protective Services Officer Sgt. 1st Class Michael Duque, finish the Boston Marathon Shadow Run together at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, April 18, 2014. More than 500 service members and civilians deployed to Afghanistan competed in this year’s marathon. The Shadow Run is the only sanctioned Boston Marathon overseas.

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, 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 finisher categories, while U.S. Army 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 at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, located in Parwan province, April 18, 2014.

Peterson, from Plymouth, Minn., was able to set his personal record. The PR is what every runner attempts to do every time they start a new marathon. He 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, a Houston native, running in just her second marathon, ran in memory of fallen heroes she had served with during the Global war on Terrorism. Ten Soldiers were lost on May 26, 2011, during her last deployment.

“Really with Boston, it was kind of poetic,” said Mestyanek. “I just want to dedicate it to them and this is why I do this.”

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Townsend, Combined Joint Task Force-10 and 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) commander, addressed the runners prior to 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,” said Townsend. “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 the other conditions for the race were ideal, with a starting temperature of 58 degrees with very little wind as the runners began the race and only increased five degrees as the final runner crossed the finish line.

“Weather-wise, we had near perfect conditions for the marathon, but the 5,000 foot elevation still made things a real challenge,” said U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Lukasz Willenberg, the chaplain for Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mtn. Div. “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. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rodney Freeman, who founded the first shadow version of the Boston Marathon in Iraq, held the race for armed forces personnel stationed overseas in 2005. He currently serves in the New Hampshire Army National Guard in the Adjutant General’s Executive Staff.

“When we deployed to Iraq in 2004, I was training to run Boston in 2005,” said Freeman. “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,” said Willenberg, “I had an idea to bring Boston to Afghanistan.”

Willenberg contacted the BAA and the administration was again very helpful in establishing the only 2014 Official Boston Marathon Shadow Run. The entire 10th Mtn. Div. chain of command was also 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 finisher certificates for participants. Runners lucky enough to sign up before the 600 runner cap was reached received the same medal as the runners who will cross the finish line in Boston, April 21.

From 2005 on, the Boston Athletic Association has helped co-sponsor the shadow runs. This year, the 10th Mtn. Div.’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, 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.” said Freeman. “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, U.S. Army Maj. Jeremy Smith, the support Operations Officer for the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Campbell, Ky., was one of these runners who went right back to work following the race.

“I still gotta be able to go to work,” said Smith. “I am expected to be back at work.”

This was originally published on the DVIDS military website.

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