Honolulu Marathon to hold race in Iraq
HONOLULU » When Jim O'Donnell signed up for the Honolulu Marathon earlier this year, he had no idea he would be running it in Iraq.
But a few weeks later, the Marine Reserve lieutenant colonel was informed that he was being sent to the war zone. He remembered that while he was waiting for the 2004 Honolulu Marathon to begin, there was an announcement of results of a satellite race in Afghanistan.
O'Donnell, who has run the Honolulu race five of the last six years, contacted the Honolulu Marathon Association, which pledged support for a run in Iraq if he could get military approval. He obtained that approval and began the planning.
Marathon officials in Honolulu have sent entry forms, finishers T-shirts, medals, shell leis and a large finish line banner to Iraq, according to Honolulu Marathon spokesman Pat Bigold.
The Iraq satellite race, planned for up to 250 runners, is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11, the same day as the Honolulu race which is expected to attract more than 25,000 runners. However, concerns about the proximity to the Iraqi national elections on Dec. 15 could lead to a one-week postponement, O'Donnell said.
"We are not making a political statement," said Jim Barahal, marathon association president. "It is just recognition of the troops there and a way of connecting them with home."
The Iraq race will be similar to the one in Afghanistan last year, which was "well-received and gratifying to the troops there," he said. "We have a large military presence in Hawaii and they are a big part of the Honolulu Marathon. This made them feel closer to home.
The satellite race will be held within Camp Victory, headquarters of the multinational corps, in southwest Baghdad near Baghdad International Airport.
It will include four laps around a 6.2-mile loop with an additional section to complete the 26.2-mile distance, said O'Donnell, who has spent most of the past seven years in Hawaii, where he was an environmental officer for the Pacific Marine Forces. The route will pass Al Faw Palace, one of the homes of former dictator Saddam Hussein now used as offices by the coalition forces.