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Soldier braves Boston’s bitter chill to finish seventh marathon

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By SUZAN HOLL
U.S. Army

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Botonians may have been expecting spring-like weather on the third Monday in April this year, but weather conditions at the 2018 Boston Marathon didn’t reflect it.

Thirty-degree temperatures and 30 to 40 mile-per-hour winds pommeled racegoers attempting to run the 26.2 miles to the finish. Despite the cold, wind, rain and periodic snow, Lt. Col. Roberto R. Sanchez of 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, finished race.

“The conditions were not the best for running a marathon,” said Sanchez a future operations planner for the 20th. “It down-poured the entire day for all the runners and the temperatures were in the 30s with 30 to 40 mph winds at different portions of the course. But I was able to ‘embrace the suck’ and earn my finisher’s medal.”

Initially, Sanchez wanted to beat his best time of 4:38, but after experiencing a bout with Achilles tendonitis while training, he said he was happy to just finish within a four hour time frame. 

Crossing the finish line at 4:54, the New York City native was happy to achieve his goal of running in one of the world’s oldest, most prestigious marathons.

“It was my slowest marathon,” said Sanchez. “However, considering the weather, I’ll take it.”

Although he’s been running throughout his Army career, it wasn’t until 2012 when a classmate at the Air Command and Staff College got him interested in running long distance. 

In 2014, while serving as the Headquarters Battalion operations officer for Combined Joint Task Force-10 at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Sanchez was approached by a good friend, Capt. Lukasz Willenberg, with the idea of hosting a Boston Marathon shadow run in Bagram.

According to the Boston Athletic Association, since 2005 thousands of U.S. armed forces personnel stationed overseas have participated in “shadow” versions of the Boston Marathon, running the marathon distance on or around Patriots’ Day.

“Knowing I was a runner as well, Capt. Willenberg approached me with the idea and I thought it was great,” said Sanchez.

Willenberg had competed in the 2013 Boston Marathon and qualified to run again in 2014 but wasn’t able to because he was deployed. So he reached out to the Boston Athletic Association and asked if the command could host a shadow run in Bagram.

“Of course, they gave us the green light, and that’s how it got started,” said Sanchez.

The BAA sent bibs, tee shirts, start and finish banners, finisher certificates for participants, and the exact medals that were handed out in Boston.

Sanchez said the two put their heads together and thought about races they had run in the past. Based off the better organized events, they developed a plan for hosting the Boston Marathon shadow run at Bagram.

“I never organized a marathon let alone a race, so that in itself was the biggest challenge,” said Sanchez. They eventually brought in support from other units including a planning team.

Since they were in a combat zone, they had to take potential threats into consideration as part of their planning, according to Sanchez, so they had to have a well thought-out security plan as well as medical support on hand during the race in the event something did happen. 

The shadow run in Afghanistan was Sanchez’s first full marathon. While he had the opportunity to not only plan the race but participate in it, he said if he had a preference, he would rather have run in Boston rather than Afghanistan. 

“Considering that the Bagram race took place a year after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, running in Boston in 2014 would have been an unreal moment,” he said. “We ran the marathon in Bagram in memory of those who lost their lives in the face of the enemy, to include those that lost their lives in Boston and all the victims, due to the bombing in 2013.”

Sanchez competed in another shadow run at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, while deployed with 71st Ordnance Group (EOD) and WMD Coordination Team 2 in 2017. The biggest challenge for him then was to compete in the race after being hospitalized for five days due to pneumonia.

After leaving the hospital, he had four weeks to the day to prepare for the 2017 Boston Marathon Shadow Run at Camp Arifjan.

“My goal was to complete that race,” said Sanchez. He did.

This year’s Boston Marathon was Sanchez’s seventh marathon, and he’s not yet done. In fact, he plans to run two more marathons later this year.

“I’m doing the Chicago Marathon in October and then New York City in November,” he said. “It’s home and it’s an amazing race.”