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In Iraq, Race Brings Touch of the Familiar

Peril Never Far From Minds During 'Shadow' Ten-Miler

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2004; Page B03

Marine Capt. Edna Rodriguez has been stationed in Iraq since June, and already the budget officer says she has grown accustomed to the sound of mortar fire.

Still, it's not something Rodriguez, a competitive runner, is used to worrying about during a race.


More than 1,300 runners hit the bunker-lined streets of Logistic Support Area Anaconda in Iraq as other runners raced in Washington yesterday. (Sgt. Annette Andrews -- U.s. Army)


Yesterday, she and 1,300 other runners -- troops and civilians -- spent the early morning staging their own version of the Army Ten-Miler, a popular annual road race held yesterday in Washington. The race has been ongoing since 1985.

As runners in the District hoofed it up and down the Mall braving drizzle and a temperature that dipped into the mid-40s, Rodriguez and her fellow runners in Iraq had more to think about, specifically their safety. Before the race, organizers warned that a loud horn would sound if trouble erupted along the bunker-lined course near Balad. Their instructions: Seek cover.

"I was like, 'Oh, shoot!' " recalled Rodriguez, 28, who was interviewed by telephone after the race. "But nothing like that happened. It ended up being a great run with no intermission."

"Great run" is perhaps an understatement by Rodriguez, of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, who was the top women's finisher with a time of 1:15:02.

This is the second year Army organizers have hosted the "shadow race" at Logistic Support Area Anaconda, a sprawling U.S. military base about 60 miles northwest of Baghdad. Once an Iraqi air base, Anaconda reportedly has earned the nickname "Mortaritaville" among troops because of the frequency of mortar and rocket attacks there.

Last year the race, known as the Anaconda Ten-Miler, drew about 1,500 competitors. Officials said many runners came seeking a slice of normalcy.

"It takes them away from the everyday grind and gives them something to look forward to," said Army Maj. Willie Rios, who coordinated the event. The race ended yesterday at 2 a.m. Eastern time, and winners were awarded trophies. "It does wonders for them mentally."

Army National Guard Cpl. Curtis Persinger, 23, was running for the University of Louisville when he was deployed to Iraq.

His camp, about three hours south of Balad, is only about 2 1/2 miles wide. To stay in shape, Persinger runs what he calls "laps." When he learned of the Anaconda Ten-Miler two weeks ago, he stepped up his training and persuaded his colonel to allow him to make the trip to compete.

"I knew I could win if I got up here," Persinger said.

He did. Persinger won with a time of 56:02.

The unique road-racing experience was not lost on him.


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