TIRIN KOT, Afghanistan -- A U.S. soldier burst into tears after winning Afghanistan's first marathon Sunday -- his thoughts on four comrades killed in recent fighting.
Lt. Mike Baskin of Santiago, Calif., ran in the country's thin mountain air for more than three hours before crossing the finish line.
"I just thought about those four guys when I crossed, that they won't be going home with us, and it kind of hit me," he told an Associated Press reporter at the race.
About 200 soldiers and civilians working for the U.S. military competed in the 26.2-mile race at Firebase Ripley, a remote military camp near Tirin Kot in central Uruzgan province.
The Afghan National Olympic Committee said the race was the first marathon in the history of this war-ravaged country.
The soldiers may be in Afghanistan but they were thinking of Hawaii. Plastic palm trees decorated the course, an airstrip lined with gun stores and bunkers.
Baskin completed five long laps of the airstrip to cheers and handshakes in 3 hours, 12 minutes, 15 seconds -- an impressive time considering the conditions. Runners had to contend with a bumpy track and the threat of attack in addition to the high altitude.
The race coincided with the Honolulu Marathon and was the idea of Hawaii-based soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Members of the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, based at Schofield Barracks near Honolulu, didn't want to miss out on the marathon during their deployment in Afghanistan.
The unit, part of the 25th Infantry Division, is operating in one of Afghanistan's most hostile areas. It was hit with its latest casualties when a bomb ripped through a patrol near Deh Rawood, another town in Uruzgan, on Nov. 24, killing two soldiers. A similar attack killed two other soldiers in October.
Helicopters had flown troops in from other bases across Afghanistan for the race. Two jet fighters roared low over the base and into the surrounding mountains just before the start to the cheers of the assembled runners.
One competitor was a young Afghan working for the military, apparently the first to compete in such a race on Afghan soil, but he pulled up after just one lap, complaining that regular soccer games were no way to prepare for such a test.
"These people are very fit, but this is not for an Afghan who only gets tea and bread for breakfast," Mohammed Anwar said, sitting on the ground and looking with concern at his knees.