HOUSTON, Texas -- Three Marine runners from around the country qualified Feb. 15-16 in Houston, Texas,
for the Armed Forces World Cross Country Championship
Two men and one woman from three different locations ran well enough to earn a trip to France for the CISM Armed Forces World Cross Country Championship.
The first race up for the men was the short-course 4K race, which took place on Feb. 15. At the start, large pools of water greeted the runners at the end the opening straight as they became covered in mud inside a few minutes.
William Lake, Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan, surged to the front of the field followed closely by Eric Graham, a Marine reservist from Des Moines, Iowa. Several short, steep hills tested the runners each lap as the rain continued to come down.
"At the start line before the gun I looked at the other Marines with smile and said 'Whatever,'" said Graham. "On a day like this with the crazy conditions I knew anything could happen. When I passed the start-finish area someone told me I was in third place and after that I told myself I just have to hang on."
Graham would finish strong to take the Bronze medal in the Armed Forces Championship and earn a spot on the team that will compete in France.
Lake held onto 9th place after his quick start, to be the other Marine whose time counted in the final scoring.
The Women's 8K race was held next and though the rain had stopped, the race now resembled a swamp more than a course to run on.
Sarah Fullwood, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., stepped in a hole on the second loop of the four lap course and still continued on, slogging through inches-thick mud that made footing unsure on the uphills and treacherous on the downhills.
Despite the ankle, Fullwood would hold her place in the race and qualify for the Armed Forces World Championship team.
Jennifer Ledford, The Basic School, Va., was the next Marine across the line in 9th for the military women, an excellent finish, made all the more amazing by the fact that she spent the early part of the week in the field doing Military Operations in Urban Terrain training.
"I'll bet none of the other runners can say they spent their week climbing through windows and dodging paint pellets," said Ledford, who had several visible welts from the MOUT training with paint pellets.
Ginger Beals, Officer Candidates School, was the final scorer for the Marines in the women's race that saw the sun peek out over the final laps of the course.
At the end of the day's races, the warm sun would serve to dry out the mud covering the athletes from head to toe leaving them looking more like mud wrestlers than runners.
After the warm sun of Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning dawned cold and windy as the Men's Long Course athletes warmed up for their race.
The 12K race was contested over six loops of the same course as the previous day's races and the grassy surfaces had been mashed into muddy paste by seven other events.
Matthew Limbert, MCB Camp Pendleton, and Lake, the only Marine to run both days, were the early leaders for the Marines.
Limbert, on his third cross-country team, would run a consistent race to finish as the 6th military athlete and qualify for the world's team. Lake would hold onto second place, earning himself the "Tough-guy award" for finishing well in both of the weekend races.
Aaron Nichols, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Az., would place third for the Marines and Delbert Marriot, Camp Lejeune, N.C. would round out the scoring.
The Army took the top place in the team competition followed by the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy.