Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Army Marathon - Camp Arifjan Shadow Race

Kuwait Running Mafia
Photo courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
I collect states that I’ve run marathons in. . . and fronts in the Global War on Terror (or GWOT,for those in the know). In Iraq I ran a shadow race of the Honolulu Marathon, in Afghanistan the Marine Corps Marathon. About two months into this deployment I had sent one or two emails to race directors, but I did not pursue the matter that hard. I worried that I had started planning a bit late. It was late November when I started to consider the idea and I wanted to get any race advertised, planned and run before late March. For a while I thought I might just have to do my own personal marathon or a self-supported one with a few friends.

Finishing the Honolulu Marathon in Victory Base Complex, Baghdad, Iraq.
Then MAJ Joe Odorizzi contacted the Kuwait Running Mafia (KRM). We met at a coffee shop on our base on Christmas Day. He had a contact back at Ft. Hood who really wanted to do a shadow marathon with soldiers overseas. The Army Marathon was on 1 March – a little over two months away. I was a little nervous about such a short time to plan and advertise, but I also realized that the opportunity that I’d secretly been hoping for had just fallen into my lap.

Christmas Day Run just before meeting up with MAJ Odorizzi

Fortunately, it was not just my secret hope. A couple of fellow soldiers within the Kuwait Running Mafia had expressed interest in running a marathon and eventually a core committee of about six of us emerged. We met weekly and hashed out the necessary details of advertising, road closures, supplies and volunteers.

Our Facebook Banner for the Marathon
From the KRM records we predicted that we could get around 200 participants. Through a bit of good luck, the MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) folks on the camp were putting on a half-marathon for MLK weekend. We got our sponsor back at Ft Hood to get the registration site up in time and printed off some fliers which we handed out at the end of the race. After this we put up a few posters around camp and in work areas. With a week to go before the race we hit 200 participants – 130 in the half-marathon and 70 in the full marathon.

Two days before the race we did our volunteer training. We found an officer and senior NCO who were willing to come on as senior volunteer coordinators. The Red Cross also put out a call for volunteers. Many service members sign up outside of their normal duties to man water stations, hand out gifts on Christmas and do other good deeds.

Some of our awesome volunteers.
Photos courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
The day before the race we gathered at the MWR warehouse to sign out the tables, cones, a clock, sound system, coolers and other items that we would need for the race. I lead a convoy of volunteers to pre-position tables, water and ice around the course. Other volunteers and organizers positioned equipment at the finish area and went to set up the pre-race dinner and packet pick-up. Finally one other organizer and I drove around the course setting out the mile markers and turn signs. At 1900 I rolled into dinner and packet pick-up.

Two runners get their shirts and bibs for the next day
Photo courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
The nice thing about a small race is that you do not have to go through the buses and huddling around at the start. Unfortunately, much of this was negated by organizing the race. The volunteers and organizers were in a flurry getting out to their water stations when I showed up. I helped set up the start and finish line. We finished with enough time to ourselves to the start and do the pageantry of speeches and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Our flag bearer for the Star Spangled Banner considers what he's about to do

Kuwait Running Mafia shot pre-marathon
Photos courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
At 0500 we began. The course was three loops around the camp. This allowed us to get away with six aid stations that were no more than 1.2 miles apart (generally closer). The one national caliber athlete who could leave me in the dust had just gone home so I had the lead from the start. I was racing my own PR which I felt confident I had a shot at getting.

Moments before the start
Photo courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
For this race I set my GPS watch to do kilometer splits which I was aiming to hit in 3:45. I have come to like kilometers over here. They give me better feedback and it’s just nice to tick of milestones (or kilometerstones I guess) faster. The 42.2 kilometer marathon also breaks fairly nicely into (roughly) 10k chunks.

Chief Bolan hitting his stride for the KRM
Photo courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
The first few clicks I ran a few seconds slow – something that I have noticed consistently about myself racing on dirt roads in the dark. Once the sun came up though I got a mental boost and got back on pace. I realized that a benefit of a loop course was that I got to see friends as I doubled back on sections of the course.

Vergil showing who he's with
Photos courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
My wheels did not fall off in the last few miles, but my legs did lose their ability to surge on command. I finished in 2:41:31 – almost 4 minutes faster than my previous PR of 2:45:16. I stayed to watch all of the finishers. One of the other organizers and I broke away at one point to get some more fruit from the DFAC for the last few finishers. We had managed a decent spread, but runners at the end of a race eat like locusts.

Sam finishes her first marathon
Photo courtesy of the 13th Theater Sustainment Brigade
The last finisher was Sgt. Gabriel Castelo in 6:05:50. It was his first marathon and seeing him stick with the race through to the finish was one of the things that makes running so amazing and inspiring.

Sgt. Castelo closes out the Army Marathon at Camp Arifjan
The KRM members who were left helped to clean up. By noon we had the equipment turned in and we staggered to the DFAC to replenish ourselves and go over the fond memories of the day. I am not sure that I will organize and run a race again, but in this particular time and place it was immensely rewarding and I am most grateful to our sponsors back in Texas, MAJ Odorizzi (for bringing us together and helping to organize) and the KRM members and volunteers (who made the race possible). This will be one of the high points of the deployment.

Finishing strong

Fellow mafia don Chris Cruse


  1. I sincerely never would have considered running a marathon without the support and knowledge of KRM. Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of something great. I admire you more than you know!

  2. This is really cool! Proud of you!
    -The Ducheks :-)