BOSTON — Lt. Col. Rodney Freeman was training for the 2005 Boston Marathon when his New Hampshire Army National Guard unit shipped out to Iraq.
Goodbye, Heartbreak Hill.
Hello, Ziggurat of Ur.
“I was planning to run, and the government had a different idea,” said Freeman, who gathered some friends together for a “shadow marathon” at their military base outside Nasiriyah, Iraq.
“At that time, Iraq wasn’t a very friendly place. Everything coming out of Iraq was negative,” Freeman said this week. “It’s not the T-shirt. It’s not the medal. It’s not the marathon. It’s the fact that Mom and Dad could see something back home that’s positive.”
The plans for that first race grew from a handful of buddies following a Humvee with a cooler of water to more than 350 runners, escorted by gun trucks, through the dusty Iraqi streets. The Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the marathon, has supported a shadow race for members of the military each year since then. For inspiring a new tradition in the world’s most traditional road race, the B.A.A. presented Freeman with its Patriots’ Award on Thursday night during the annual marathon kickoff party.
A high school athlete while growing up in Maine, Freeman wasn’t willing to give up on his dream of running Boston after he was deployed overseas. He gathered a few friends for a 26.2-mile run on Marathon Monday and sent off an email to the B.A.A. to let them know his plan.
The marathon organizers promised support, but they also encouraged Freeman to see if he could get more people involved. Soon, he had enlisted hundreds of runners and arranged for a course that took them off the base and to the Ziggurat of Ur, a 4,000-year-old pyramidal platform built by the Mesopotamians.