It's not Hawaii, but 200 conquer desert

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

"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.

Some of the course was gravel, but most of it was covered by a
powderlike dust mercifully damped down by a rare shower Saturday.
Its single hill was dubbed Diamond Head for the Honolulu landmark,
an extinct volcano whose base runners traverse twice during the

Defending champion Jimmy Muindi of Kenya won
the Honolulu Marathon in record time Sunday.

Muindi's time of 2 hours 11 minutes and 12 seconds, taking more
than 30 seconds off the previous record of 2:11:43 set by Ibrahim
Hussein in 1986.

Muindi also became the first man to win the race four times.

David Mutua of Kenya was second in 2:12:56. Three-time winner
Mbarak Hussein, brother of the former record holder, was third in

Lyubov Morgunova of Russia won the women's race in 2:27:32,
taking a minute off her record pace of 2:28:33 in 2000.

Defending champion Eri Hayakawa of Japan, running with a fever,
was second in 2:28:10.

The runners in Tirin Kot were to receive finisher's medals and
certificates as well as black sponsored T-shirts. Their times were
to be recorded and listed in a booklet with those of the runners in

About 20,000 people were competing in the Honolulu Marathon.