News

Marine to go the distance for Iraqis, self in extreme foot race

2 Apr 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright

Most people don't even like to drive 135 miles non-stop.

Yet, in hopes of raising donations for Iraqi communities, 1st Force Service Support Group's Maj. William C. Maples hopes to run the entire distance here -- in the midst of the hot Iraqi summer -- in less than 40 hours.

Maples' journey is set for July 12, 2004 to coincide with a stateside ultra-marathon called The Badwater, which stretches from the lowest point of Death Valley in California until the trail reaches Mount Whitney, 135 miles away. Since he's currently deployed to Iraq, he'll miss what would have been his seventh straight year running.

This year, he hopes the torturous test of fortitude will yield something more than blisters.

"I would like to see ... if I can get people to sponsor me by the mile and donate the money to a school or hospital," the Dallas native said. "I'm going to run anyway, but if my efforts can go to help other people, that's all that much better. There are a lot of impoverished people and schools here."

Maples, who serves as the Group's force protection officer here, said he's confident he can get organizations in the United States to match whatever he raises here.

Though already an accomplished runner, the 150-pound Maples daily dons a flak jacket (with armored-plate inserts) and puts in at least ten miles.

"He's been increasing his distance. Every time he runs, he goes a little bit farther and tries to do it a little bit faster," said 26-year-old Sgt. Jason N. Gravem, who works for Maples and will lead the support crew throughout the trek.

The other members of the support crew have yet to be selected though there have been numerous volunteers.

"I think they just want to come out and watch me abuse myself," Maples said.

Actually, Maples' ultra-marathon running mentality does center on the trials and tribulations of self-challenge, not about competition or guaranteed outcomes.

"If I wanted that, I would be running 5-Ks," said 5-foot, 7-inch, Maples.

The 40-year-old sees denying one's self from personal challenges as a major problem with today's society.

"People reach the ripe, old age of 25, and they say 'I have arrived.' Then they stop challenging themselves. Before you know it they go from being a player to being a spectator," he said.

Maples has been running ultra-marathons - any race that stretches longer than 26.2 miles - since 1994, when he talked his way into the 100-mile "Wasatch 100" in Wasatch, Utah.

"The race director is a former Marine, so he gave me a shot. I certainly didn't have the prerequisite experience to participate in such an event," he said.

Even without the necessary training - he had only competed in one regular marathon earlier that year - Maples still finished the race. Barely.

"It beat me to a pulp. I came out of it with a stress fracture and hypothermia," Maples said. "I learned from that."

Since then, he's competed in about 15 100-mile-or-longer events as well as the same number of 50-mile races.

The Badwater is one of the premier events in the world of ultra-marathons. It is an invitational race, sponsored by a health care products company, which only invites 90 runners from around the world each year. Maples has participated in the race the last six years.

"It's a very challenging race. I've finished three times, and it has just about done me in three times," he said.

With the actual course in the other hemisphere, Maples has mapped out a more-than-10-mile course around the perimeter of the camp and plans to run the more than 13 laps necessary to reach 135 miles. He is even adjusting for the time difference so he can start at the same time as the Badwater participants.

"They will be starting at six in the morning, California time, so I'll start that afternoon. I plan to go as far as I can, as fast as I can, at night. Obviously, when it gets hot, I'll have to slow down," Maples said.

Running solo, Maples isn't concerned about the lack of competitors in his own "Taqaddum 135."

"I don't participate in these events out of a desire to compete with anybody. It's more of a personal challenge. I wanted to pick something that was beyond my known abilities. I'm not going into this with a cocky or light-hearted attitude. 135 miles is a long way. A lot can happen," Maples said.
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