BLOUNT ISLAND COMMAND JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Marines and veteran Marines of Jacksonville, Fla. provided the city of Jacksonville with a landmark event - playing host to the inaugural Jacksonville Marine Corps Half Marathon and Freedom 5K, Oct. 2, in the city's Metropolitan Park.
Race day registration began at 5:30 a.m. with 1,250 runners set for the 7 a.m. start, at the Veteran's Memorial Wall next to Alltel Stadium. Prior to the start, Marines lined the race course to provide support and pass out water. The course took runners along the St. Johns River, and through scenic and historic Riverside, and ending at Metropolitan Park.
According to Lyle Layher, operations assistant, BICmd, and race committee member, "the race provided a way for the city of Jacksonville and the military community to promote and support The Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund."
Funds after race expenses were contributed to the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to the dependent children of all branches of the military services who have been killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.
"We (committee members) used this event to lay the foundation for future events, and wanted to acknowledge the large mass of Marines within the Jacksonville area," Layher said. "Everyone thinks of Jacksonville as a Navy town, but it is actually very heavily populated with Marines and veteran Marines."
Crossing the finish line first was Jacksonville Beach resident, Paul McRae. The 31-year-old completed the half marathon in 1:10:45. McRae is a University of North Florida graduate assistant cross country coach originally from New Zealand.
McRae said the humidity made the last half of the race tough after a headwind had kept the runners cooled off starting out. But, he got some motivation from the Marines. "The lead truck was playing Marine marching songs the whole time. It just got me going," McRae said.
The first Marine to finish the half marathon was Rufus J. Patterson II. The 47-year-old, Philadelphia, Pa. native, crossed the finish line in 1:49:51.
"It was a great race," Patterson said. "I was in no way prepared to run a half marathon, but I wanted to come out and show my support for the event."
Symbols of pride and patriotism were everywhere near the finish line. Greeting runners making the turn into Metropolitan Park were M-198 howitzers, and amphibious assault vehicles. The finish line, draped with camouflage netting topped by a pair of American flags provided the setting for runners who completed the race, receiving a commemorative race medal awarded by a U.S. Marine.
"The Marines and Sailors from BICmd and Kings Bay, did an exceptional job supporting this event, and had a great time doing it," said Carl D. Matter, commanding officer, BICmd.
In more than 20 race victories, McRae had never won by running under a pair of M-198 howitzers.
For further information on the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund go to www.freedomalliance.org.