30 October 2011 United States Marine Corps Marathon

United State Marine Corps Marathon ‘Forward’, Camp Leatherneck run by Mark Barker

As luck would have it I had a some ‘business’ to attend to with HQ Regional Command South-West (RC-SW) and was therefore able to combine a trip from HQ ISAF Joint Command, Kabul with the US Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) ‘Forward’ in Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The event took place on Sunday 30 Oct 2011, the same day as the main US MCM being held in Virginia and Washington D.C. Around the Globe there were a number of satellite or MCM ‘Forward’ events being held on the same day: HQ ISAF, Kabul; Iraq; FOB Sharana, Afghanistan; and even one on the USS GW Bush!
I’d been fairly fortunate in my preparation on account of a number of other running events held previously in Kabul. In September the US Embassy, Kabul hosted a marathon consisting of 20 laps of their compounds including a subway tunnel! Then earlier in October a satellite event of the Chicago Marathon was held at the North site of the Kabul International Airport of which I completed a half.
On the morning of the race, I surfaced at 0430h feasted on a selection of cereals, ‘Cliff Bars’ and Gatorade and headed off to registration. With our numbers pinned-on we assembled around the main stage for the opening ceremony which consisted of a prayer by a USMC chaplain, a very impressive ‘a capella’ rendition of the Stars and Stripes by a US Navy aviator Commander and some words of encouragement by Maj Gen John A. Toolan, USMC, Commanding General RC-SW. Supporting the event was a quartet of the Washington Redskins cheerleaders looking much better than most of us for 0530h in the morning!
With daylight breaking we were set on our way by the ‘starter’s gun’ – a 105mm artillery light gun! Masses of runners streamed pass me, leaving me to wonder whether US Marines were really uber-fit or hadn’t much experience of pacing themselves in marathons. Our route consisted of five laps of the perimeter of Camp Leatherneck – an improvement on the US Embassy route! Somewhat unexpectedly only one side of the square making up one lap was paved surface, the remaining three consisting of various grades of gravel/compacted rough ground. Having recently converted to running ‘barefoot’ in Vibram Five Fingers this did not bode well, but I needn’t have worried as by lap three both feet were numb!
Without distance markers I could only really check my pace on completion of each lap. Aiming for 3h 30mins I was slightly disappointed to finish in 3h 34mins. However there was some consolation in taking 4 mins off my previous best time and by some fluke finishing eighth overall – it seemed inconceivable that I could have passed so many of the runners who flew past me at the start!

Overall the event was very well run and supported by an army of volunteers who had massed at 0430h to man the various refreshment and control points along the course. As a Brit I had a wry smile when the overall winner was a REME captain attached the Queen’s Dragon Guards who beat the event organiser, a USMC 1stLt, in a time of 2 h 49 min. It was an honour and a privilege to run in aid of the Lt Dougie Dalzell MC Memorial Trust and I owe a debt of gratitude to all those who sponsored me, thank-you.