"It was bizarre how it worked out," Zimmermann said.
Planning and executing a marathon thousands of miles away from its origin wasn't easy. The Chicago Marathon has 24 full-time employees and 12,000 volunteers, and marathon planning is year-round. Coordinating the 2013 race is already underway. Zimmermann, though, had only three weeks to organize his race, and he did so largely with a committee of one. He had to receive clearance from several chains of command on base to even hold the race—including scheduling meetings with one- and two-star generals. Two days before the race, a main road for the route was shut down, forcing Zimmermann to create a detour.
He's not the only member of the military who's experienced the challenges and rewards of planning a marathon on a base. Hosting U.S.-sponsored marathons at military installations in the Middle East is actually commonplace. They're called satellite marathons or shadow races, and they're run out of sight and under heavy security throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, typically devoid of taken-for-granted luxuries one might find at a U.S.-run marathon: cheering fans, sponsored goods, picturesque scenery, and pleasant racing conditions. From the little-known Aspen Backcountry Marathon to the large-scale Boston Marathon, service men and women on deployment have been participating in these shadow races for years.
All it takes is some interest to get one started.
The Kaua'i Marathon, held in early September, recently had a shadow half-marathon in Afghanistan after a National Guard captain expressed interest through a post on the marathon's Facebook page; the captain had run in the previous two marathons before he was deployed. Each runner received a medal, jersey, and gift bag, while the top male and female finishers earned a two-night stay at the marathon's host resort and spa.
The Austin Marathon, which takes place each February, has sponsored satellite marathons in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2007 and generally sees military interest pick up each November, a marathon spokesperson said. The Honolulu Marathon has sponsored five satellite races since 2004, including the first ever in Afghanistan, and has provided banners, race bibs, medals, and leis for participants, although a marathon spokesperson recently said that plans for a shadow race this December in Kandahar, Afghanistan, have been scrapped. And the Boston Marathon has sponsored eight satellite marathons, including this past April's at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, with participation ranging from 400 to 800 service men and women throughout the years.
Boston Athletics Association Manager of Administration and Special Projects Pam Girouard works with those wanting to host a satellite marathon, and the first such marathon under her watch, in 2005, happened organically after a service member in Iraq reached out to the BAA. Boston Marathon's satellite races are organized differently each year, Girouard said, depending in large part on the communication. Typically, responsibilities from the military side are handed down from one deployed service member to another, from one generation to the next, but some years the planning has started from scratch because files have been misplaced.