1st FSSG Marine braves heat, rocket attack to finish 135-mile race in less than 38 hours

16 Jul 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright 1st Marine Logistics Group

What possesses a man to run 135 miles, in the middle of the blazing Iraqi summer, stopping the clock only for a rocket attack? Some say pride. Some say a sense of satisfaction. Many just say he's crazy -- and he doesn't bother to argue with them.

Maj. William C. Maples shattered his 40-hour goal for his foot race, completing it in 37 hours, 59 minutes, on July 14, 2004.

The 40-year-old Dallas native sprinted the last 100 feet to the makeshift, toilet paper finish line, carrying the Texas state flag that had been mounted on the back of his support vehicle that kept pace throughout the race.

He arrived amidst the cheers of more than 30 Marines from the 1st Force Service Support Group, including the commanding general, Brig. Gen. Richard S. Kramlich, who personally congratulated Maples on his accomplishment.

After standing around talking to well-wishers and downing a celebratory soda, Maples went to his desk, in the Group's command center, to e-mail his friends and family and let them know he had made it.

"I'm fine. I'm not even tired yet. But, I will be," he said, looking well for a man who had just finished the equivalent of more than five consecutive marathons.

Maples then went to his living quarters to soak his feet and take a nap. He was almost too stiff to move, but expected to recover quickly from his ordeal.

"I should be running again by this weekend," he said, adding that while many may think he simply has a screw loose, he finds such extreme activities rewarding. "I'm sore and I'm tired, but there are very few things that give this kind of a sense of accomplishment."

During the race, he mostly speed-walked during the day, when the temperature rose as high as 109 degrees and saved the running for the cooler evening and night hours.

Though he finished in the late-morning sun, he ran the last mile.

"I haven't run in hours, but I never walk across a finish line," he said shortly afterward.

Maples was forced to stop the clock once, but not through any fault of his own.

As the sun peeked over the horizon July 13, Maples was quickly approaching the 60-mile point of his run when he heard explosions in the distance.

"We're taking fire," he calmly stated.

The impacts from enemy rockets were not close to Maples, but he and his crew were still required to stop and don body armor for their safety, until the "all-clear" was called 2 hours and 40 minutes later.

"This has got to be the first ultramarathon course to come under fire," joked Maples, who is also the force protection officer for the 1st FSSG, which is headquartered here.

Maples decided to hold the "Iraqi Badwater" race when he found out that he would be deployed here during the California-based Badwater Ultramarathon, which stretches 135 miles from Death Valley to Mount Whitney.

The invitation-only race limits the field of runners to 90 each year. As a six-time participant, Maples did not want to miss the event this year.

When the race coordinators heard of Maples' plans to run his own race here, they made him an honorary entrant in this year's Badwater and even sent him his traditional number 13 placard.

They also kept track of his progress via e-mail.

Other than dealing with enemy fire, running the race in Iraq is actually easier in some ways, said Maples.

In past years he has had trouble putting together a large enough support crew, as it is difficult for many people to get the three-day vacation required to make the trip out for the race.

Here, Maples' fellow 1st FSSG Marines were lining up to take turns running with him for anywhere from 3 miles to more than 30 miles. They didn't have to take time off because they were able to return to work soon afterward.

"I think they just enjoy watching me abuse myself," Maples joked.

Several Marines were able to stay with him through the majority of the race as his volunteer support crew, driving the support vehicle, keeping track of his time and mileage and monitoring his food and fluid intake.

The entire cargo area of the sport-utility vehicle was filled with everything from chocolate milk and sports drinks, to graham crackers and applesauce. It was the crew's responsibility to make sure Maples was drinking enough to stay hydrated and refraining from eating too much food at one time.

"If you take too much solid food, you'll get sick," said Sgt. Jason N. Gravem, 26, who was also on Maples' support team for the California-based Badwater last year.

Maples has been running ultra-marathons, any race that stretches longer than 26.2 miles, since 1994. He trained for this year's race from the day he first arrived in Iraq, running about 10 miles a day, while wearing his flak jacket, with armored-plate inserts -- an added weight to his body of about 16 pounds.

He also spent the time leading up to the race trying to line up support in the United States, speaking to friends, family and fellow runners, as well as several organizations.

Most were anxious to have a part in what Maples believes to be the first ultramarathon in Iraq, though when people started to actually offer him money for his efforts, Maples asked his supporters to volunteer items for Iraqi children instead.

So far, he has received about seven 10- to 20-pound boxes of school supplies and has more on the way. When he gets enough stuff together, he plans to coordinate with one of the units on the camp to deliver the goods out in town.

Maples doesn't have an unusually competitive nature. He simply relishes the opportunity to challenge himself physically and mentally -- something he thinks more people should do.

"People reach the ripe, old age of 25, and they say 'I have arrived.' Then they stop challenging themselves," he said. "Before you know it they go from being a player to being a spectator. I don't see any reason to do that."
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