Deployed troops plan
Runners will complete six laps
around an airstrip in Afghanistan
The palm trees will be freshly planted and there will be no ocean view from atop "Diamond Head" for some 300 runners who turn out for the Honolulu Marathon -- in Afghanistan.
The runners will complete nearly six laps around a dusty airstrip at Firebase Ripley just outside Tarin Kowt, about 75 miles from Kandahar, to finish a regulation 26.2 miles on Dec. 12, the same day more than 20,000 people run the race in Honolulu.
"We collectively want to keep the tradition alive and run the Honolulu Marathon in Afghanistan," said Army Capt. Ivan Hurlburt, a signal officer for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, who has run the annual race in Honolulu for the past four years.
About 16 members of the 5th Infantry are Honolulu Marathon veterans who didn't want to be left out this year, said Hurlburt, who is serving as race director in Afghanistan.
The 5th Infantry "Bobcats" are part of the 25th Infantry Division based at Schofield Barracks .
Since last April, they have operated at the remote firebase in the central province of Uruzgan, a former stronghold of the Taliban and believed to be a hiding place of Osama bin Laden. Because the runners will not be carrying weapons, Hurlburt said he will have to arrange for extra security.
Hurlburt said he was talking to other soldiers, and one said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could go back to Honolulu for the marathon?"
"I said, 'Why don't we do it here?' and they all looked at me kind of funny," Hurlburt said Thursday in a telephone interview from Afghanistan.
Through e-mail, Hurlburt contacted marathon officials who were enthusiastic about his proposal.
"I just wanted a few free T-shirts and it blossomed from there," he said.
"I think it's a great idea," said Honolulu Marathon president Jim Barahal. "It looks like a lot of fun for the troops there and is a nice connection with Hawaii.
"To the best of our ability, we are helping them re-create the Honolulu Marathon experience," Barahal said.
"The week before the news of the marathon was released there were about 10 people in the whole camp running regularly," said 1st Lt. Ian Grimstad, who placed 19th in the 2003 Honolulu Marathon in just over three hours.
"The week after the posters started going up the number of runners at least quadrupled," he said.
The runners registering for the race are not only from Tarin Kowt, but also from bases in Kandahar and Bagram, according to the race office. Some are Afghan soldiers and civilians, and a few are Japanese troops, which race officials said is appropriate since Japanese annually make up the majority of the field in Honolulu.
Some of the course is gravel, but most of it is covered by a fine, powder-like dust, Hurlburt said.
Its single hill has been named Diamond Head for the Honolulu landmark, an extinct volcano whose base runners traverse twice during the marathon.
While the Honolulu race starts at 5 a.m., the Afghan run will start around 10:30 a.m. because of low temperatures at the earlier hour. However, with a 13 1/2 hour time difference, an afternoon conclusion would nearly coincide with the Honolulu start.
The runners at Tarin Kowt will receive finisher's medals, certificates and T-shirts, and their finish times will be recorded and listed in a booklet with those of the runners in Honolulu. Official Honolulu Marathon banners will mark the course.
"It's a unique thing," said Barahal, who is waiving the registration fee for the soldiers. "Knowing they are doing something that thousands of others are doing in Honolulu is a way for the troops to connect closer to home."
Microchips bearing the Honolulu Marathon logo that lace into runners' shoes and timing mats that record their progress and finish time are being sent to Afghanistan by ChampionChipˇUSA Computer Services, the Ann Arbor, Mich., company that has recorded finish times in Honolulu for 18 years.
"If everything goes well, we will have the ability to push data to family and friends of the runners," said Mike Burns, president of the company. "They can receive text messaging by e-mail, and this should occur within 20 seconds of a person's crossing."
However, the equipment must get there and be properly installed and distributed to the runners, Burns said.
"I am hopeful it will all come off," he said.
Asked why soldiers would want to run a marathon in a dangerous and primitive setting, Grimstad said, "I run because it is the essence of freedom."