Racing in Afghanistan – A Humbling Experience

If you have been reading my posts there usually not the diary type but figured I’d change it up. I am currently in Manas, Kysygstan en route home.

I ran a 5K race the morning of September 11th on Bagram Air Base at 5000ft surrounded by the ancient Kush Mountains.

I have raced in every condition you can think of from hail storms, blizzards, 8 inches of snow on the pavement, high winds, you name it, Ive trained in it willingly.

In 2003 I ran and won a 5K at Camp Arifjhan, Kuwait in a blinding sand storm.

The only thing I could see while leading the race was the break lights of the pace truck but never have I run a race where I was in harms way.

This race was different. We were being attacked by insurgents shooting indirect artillery rounds into the base causing nearly an hour delay to the race.

I nearly called it a morning and turns out we never got an ‘all clear’ until about an hour after the race finished from the loud speakers on the base.

The more artillery rounds hit, the more pissed I got and wanted to run. I absolutely refuse to let anyone, any weapon stop me from living freely.

They could have taken me out that morning while leading the race and had not won. No human being can take away love from your heart (unless you let them) or derail your passion and zest for life.

He who lives in me is greater then he who is on the earth who is temporarily in control of it.


The race was just a fun run and I only held 5.29 pace for the 3.1 miles barely breaking 17 minutes (easy jogging everyday is no way to prepare to run under 5.30 pace by the way).

It wasn’t about time or winning, it was to represent my deployment team and for those who lost their lives on September 11th.

I will not display my true feelings on what happened that day (911) but I was not going to let insurgents stop me from running freely or remembering those who lost their lives that day.

I had a guy come up to me after the race who asked me if I had won and that he was ‘going to have to get on my buddy who finished behind you for not beating you’…

I stared blankly at him when he said that to me…

Listen, running should not constantly be about the times you run, how when you were in high school you ran this or that time. A bragging right.

You won a marathon. You ran such and such a time..so frickin what! Have you made an impact on someone’s life by what you do?

Who really cares what you can run. Have you helped someone by your skill?

Have you stopped to think of how your running skill really compares to a sick child in Africa or a homeless person in Afghanistan or the family member of a Soldier or even your enemies loss of their loved one on account of war, yes, even them?

Enjoy running for running sake but the moment you get so caught up in having to run fast to impress someone, you have lost.

I have held 5.19 pace for 26 miles before and you know what else, there are countless men around the world who have run just as fast and faster.

People are always going to make small talk after races, times they ran, paces they held, people they knew who ran such and such a time, I could have went out, ran a 20 minute 5K and been fine with it that day.

I have learned after many years of competing that talk like this is simply that, talk. It is like complaining, gives you something to do but gets you nowhere.

It wasn’t about trying to run a fast time. I have held a faster pace for over 26 miles, heck, I’ve done a 30-mile run at nearly the same pace that I ran the 5K in Bagram in, but a guy talking to me after the race, telling me how he was pissed his buddy didn’t beat me made me just wonder ‘are you kidding me’?

Is this race really that meaningful to you to tell me you wished your friend beat me? Did you not just see what was going on?

Your friend not being able to outrun me running at 5.30 pace doesn’t tell me much either. Run 3 miles at 4.30 pace and you will have my attention, then we can talk.

I politely stopped his rant and introduced him to my team commander and 3 other members of my team as I have little use for talkers, if you have something to teach me, you will have my attention but considering we were getting attacked prior to the races start… c’mon now.

I was thankful no one got hurt and that my teammates had a good time, the runners participated were safe.

I really didn’t have interest in talking about running or how his friend who finished behind me ran a 15 minute+ 5K before.

I ran 15′s in high school and have trained with men who have run close to 13.00 for the distance. This guy could not possibly impress me.

I’ve trained with, outrun and been totally devasted on the roads by the very big boys.

Who cares. I ran a 2.19 (a faster pace for 26 miles, let alone 3 miles), who cares!!!

Folks, simply appreciate you have the health to go out and run.

In addition, be thankful you can run a race most places in the world safely, not at the risk of having an artillery round blowing you off the face of the earth.

We take far too many things for granted. I needed to experience what I did prior to the start of that 5K in Bagram to put things in perspective.

I am 36 years young now, not the 20-something I once was and I had perspective prior to this experience but even moreso now.

Will I train and put in 120 mile weeks when I get back to the states to make an attempt at my long term goal of breaking 2.15.00 at next years Boston or London Marathon?

Absolutely, but I have nothing to prove to anyone and neither do you.

Simply go out and compete, run as fast as you can on that day, whether your ready or not.

A ‘fun’ run from time to time is important. Never lose sight of the passion you have for the sport and don’t let other people derail you in anyway.

If you get caught up too much in timing, placing and not measuring up you will lose the zest for what you do. This is important to avoid.

..I am looking forward to being back in the beloved United States of America and I pray for an end to wars, that one day there will be no more teaching of wars, military history.

I am proud to serve and to do something dangerous but I also value peace, safety and love over anything else.

I pray for the day when an Iranian can sit down and have tea with an American freely, when a Palestinian can sit and talk with an Israeli as friends and not as enemies, an innocent Lybian is not killed by a confused and troubled insurgent, when military forces around the world will be at peace, can sit down with one another and talk about family, their children, not about how many ‘savages’ they took out.

When a Taliban or Al-Queida member will not know what it is to hate an American and vice versa. They all know what love is. They have families as do we.

When all the weapons man has formed against another are no more is the day I long for.

I once heard this phrase which makes me proud to serve in uniform. There are only two defining forces who ever died for you.

Jesus died for your soul, the Soldier died for your freedom.

Next time someone tells you are not capable of running a certain time or feels the need to know why you won a race and their buddy down the street didn’t, tell them something of more meaning like this quote.


Life is more important than a damn race time!

Life is fleeting, spend every moment you can with your family, love more, hate less, value your racing for what it is, a display of your character and hard work and be happy with it.

About Nathan Pennington

Nathan Pennington

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