Run and Remember: Marine Corps Marathon Forward

Author: Dustin Kazmar

Mission Complete for TAPS!

Editor’s Note: On October 26, 2008, more than 6,000 miles away from Washington DC, the site of the annual Marine Corps Marathon, hundreds of service members ran in the sands of Iraq to honor our Fallen Heroes. This is one Marine’s amazing report. 

Race day! I wake up at 0400 and jump in the shower to start my morning. While I am shaving I hear what sounds like thunder. Confused because it hasn't rained in Iraq for the last seven months, I poke my head outside and sure enough there is lightning in the sky and loud thunder to follow. I think, “There is no way it is going to RAIN!” 

Dustin Kazmar

I have to check in no later than 0530 so I plan to step out at 0500. This is when it all starts. Drops of rain sound on the roof of my room, then a good amount of rain follows. I hope that it will soon stop so I don't have to get wet and start a 26.2 mile race with wet feet. The rain continues and I have no choice but to go check in. I leave my room around 0515 to jog to the gym in the rain, and when I arrive I am wet from head to toe. I check in, and start to think of ways to get a dry pair of socks. The race was to start at 0600. This didn't happen! The thunder and lightning increased, and the rain came down like no other. The race director postponed the race until 0615 and then 0645. At 0700 the decision was made to start the race!

We leave the gym and head outside to line up on a 3-foot section of road. In the rain there is no need for dry socks! To our right the rest of the road is flooded with ten inches of water. We are all standing there waiting for the gun to sound, and POP we are off. I am soaked from head to toe before I even start! The crowd of runners is CRAZY! People are trying to stay out of the rivers of water that seem to come from everywhere. I am hopping over the streams, and then realize there is no way around all the water and begin to just run through it. I think to myself, “This is going to be a long day with all this water…”   

As we run down the streets of Camp Al Asad, Iraq, the rain intensifies and the water is out of control, seeming to come from every direction. Flash flooding starts. At every street intersection, I am in water that is at least ankle deep and sometimes knee deep. My socks fill with sand and sediment as I run through the rivers of water, and again I find myself thinking, “How will I finish this race with all this sand and debris in my socks and shoes”?

At just over two miles into the race I am running down a divided street where the street next to me doesn’t exist. It’s a river! The passenger buses trying to drive down this street are stalling out and becoming stranded. At times I try to run on the dirt next to the street, but what appeared to be dirt is soggy clay. It’s better just to run in the water. I spend the next 4 miles getting myself in a frame of mind to just finish. I throw out my goal time of 3.5 hours and think, “JUST FINISH!”

What comes next is completely crazy and something I will never forget! At mile 5.5, I come to a flooded intersection that turns and takes the runners to high ground. As I do at every other intersection, I slow down and high step my way through the water. But as I get closer to the corner I begin to walk because the water is too deep to run any further. As I round the corner there’s a gauntlet of Marines and Volunteers waiting to help us. The water is waist deep and the current is strong enough to wash you off your feet. The lines of Marines are there to catch us if we fall, so we don’t end up downstream of a flash flood! After I clear the gauntlet, the water is thigh deep; there are tree branches, rocks, and other debris that bang into my shins This is extreme, to say the least, and right up my alley!

I slow down to let my muscles stretch back out and to allow my body to come back to normal temperature. For a while I think I am going to be a hypothermia casualty, but that ends up not being the case. I complete miles 6, 7, and 8 with no problem overcoming whatever comes my way, and then we get the word that the race has been cancelled and every one is to return to the start/finish line for accountability. I am upset to say the least!   

The race was cancelled after 9.2 miles due to flash flooding and other safety concerns. I didn't finish the Marathon… officially!

I stood in the rain at the start/finish line: frustrated, mad, and disappointed. I couldn't believe that after all I had put into this I wouldn’t get the opportunity to finish. I thought to myself, “There is no way I am not going to finish what I have started,” so after a 25 minute intermission to turn in my race number and change my sand-filled socks, I step off on my own to FINISH what I started. I proceed to run the remaining 17 miles of the marathon. The rain continued to fall the entire time I was running.

Miles 10 through 17 go well. I still have a good amount of adrenaline. However, at mile 18 it starts to go downhill. No one is around to motivate me, and I struggle to find the drive I need. Pain is setting in and the weather still sucks. As I push through miles 19 to 22, the pain in my hips and quads increases with every step. This is where I hit the “wall” everyone talks about. I walk for the first time at mile 22! I think about throwing in the towel and calling it a day. The pain is intense, and cramping sets in as soon as I quit running. But then I think about our Fallen Warriors, all the people that have supported me in raising money for the TAPS organization, and what the organization stands for. The pain in my legs was nowhere near the pain of losing a loved one! I found the motivation I needed, and thirty seconds later I am on the move again, putting one foot in front of the other! IT HURT!

Over the next 4.2 miles, I walked seven more times for 30 seconds each time, reflecting on why I was out there in the rain, punishing myself. Although the marathon was canceled, I had a reason (Fallen warriors and TAPS) and that is why I was there and was going to finish. I finished my 26.2 mile run in 3 hours 47 minutes and 44 seconds! This was in remembrance of not one, but ALL fallen service members of the Armed Forces, and to provide assistance for those left behind.

In closing, I hope the amount of pain I felt on October 26th is equivalent to the help TAPS provides for the families of fallen Service Members. Thanks for your support and look for me next year, same time, hopefully different place, supporting a great cause! 

By GySgt Dustin R Kazmar, USMC Camp Fallujah Iraq