The Chicago Bank of America Marathon is a special event because every year some of the world's best runners compete in the same event as weekend warriors, mothers of five children, senior citizens trying to get in one more event, and a whole cast of characters who would never be considered elite. This year, it's a bit more special as the finishers list will also include a group of 70 troops stationed in Afghanistan who ran the race on Friday.
Capt. John Paul Zimmerman, who has already run Chicago 10 times, organized the run. A course was set up around the base in Kabul, and the director of the Chicago Marathon sounded an air horn through the phone. Raising money for charity is a motivation for several marathoners in Chicago. The troops joined in, raising $12,000 for St. Jude's. Finishers were given shirts and medals, just as if they had finished in Chicago.
The big difference is that 26.2 miles run in Kabul are slightly more difficult than in Chicago. Kabul is 6,000 feet above sea level, making it higher than Denver, and the air quality is suspect. Those two things make it difficult for anyone to run.
Consider how much more difficult that is while also on active duty. At the same time, this race gives the troops a taste of what they are missing at home. Zimmerman wants to run 50 Chicago marathons by 2050, and this race helps him to get closer to his goal while he still serves the country.
Chicago's event is an international affair. Sunday's race will host the elite from Kenya, Ireland, Japan, Russia and Brazil. The race in Kabul was no different, as troops from Italy, France and Poland joined in.
Like the elite will be, the troops were competitive over who crossed the finish line first. William Boland, an Air Force captain from Chicago, was hoping to best his fellow troops, which he did, winning with a time of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 2 seconds. He told the Chicago Tribune:
"I didn't really know what place I was in, but I figured I was pretty close to the lead and I didn't want to give that up, so I just kept trucking."
Finishing any marathon is impressive on its own. Doing it while also protecting the U.S.? The troops deserve as much applause as the marathon's winner on Sunday.