By Paul Danzer | Columbian News | Columbian.com | November 29, 2011
Getting more than 300 military personnel moved 26 miles in less than seven hours might seem like a straightforward task.
But for Marine 1st Lt. Andrew Lee, it was an exercise in determination and cooperation.
Lee was the race director for a version of the Marine Corps Marathon held recently at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.
Not only did the 2005 Columbia River High School graduate organize the event, he also ran the 26.2 miles in 3 hours and 7 minutes and was second fastest among the 331 participants.
At 3,000 feet elevation, in dusty 90-degree conditions without the scenery of Arlington, Va., Lee said the Camp Leatherneck version of the race offered challenges unique to a military base.
“There is a lot of traffic on a base. It was windy and pretty warm still,” Lee said.
From a runner’s perspective, one of the unique challenges was the boredom of running laps at a base, which limits the sense of progress and offers no scenery.
Those challenges added to the sense of accomplishment at the finish line, Lee said. But he was far more proud of the success of his fellow runners, which included Americans and their allies.
“Everything really came together,” Lee said during a phone interview. “I was very impressed and in awe of the way everybody stepped forward to provide support.”
Lee said the logistical challenges in planning the race ranged from recruiting medical personnel and others to man the course to details as small as making sure he ordered enough cups to hand out water to runners.
The event was scheduled to run in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon, which for the 36th year this October took place in Arlington, Va. The Marine Corps Marathon is among the 10 largest in the world in terms of participation.
The Afghanistan race was won by British soldier Frazer Alexander with a time of 2 hours, 49 minutes, 20 seconds. Lee said he lost sight of Frazer early in the race.
Lee finished the marathon in 3:07, 80 seconds in front of Estonian Army Capt. Andre Silver.
Race entry fees raised more than $2,000 to aid injured Marines.
“Other than raising money for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, the event was also conducted to raise morale, camaraderie, and demonstrate the outstanding physical fitness of our service members,” Lee said.
Lee grew up in Vancouver after his parents, Karen and Sunny, emigrated from Hong Kong. The 9/11 attacks happened on one of his first days as a high school freshman. After college at Tufts University in Boston, Lee joined the Marines — he said both to forge his own future and to carry on a family tradition of military service.
“I love serving,” he said.
Lee ran college cross country for Tufts. The race in Afghanistan was his sixth marathon. He has run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. as a member of the Marine Corps running team. His fastest marathon was completed in 2:45 in February at Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he finished fourth overall.
But the marathon at Camp Leatherneck was perhaps Lee’s best run yet.
Upon crossing the finish line, Lee said he felt “a sense of relief, accomplishment, and gratitude for all of the support” he received both on race day and in preparing for the event.