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thedrifter
06-05-05, 08:07 AM
Camp Pendleton marine runs marathon in Iraq
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By Whitelaw Reid
UNION-TRIBUNE COMMUNITY SPORTS WRITER

June 5, 2005

OCEANSIDE Since the war in Iraq began, the city of Fallujah has been periodically under siege.

U.S. Marines have battled rebels with warplanes and tanks. Machine gun fire has been rampant.

Joe Cross, 37, a master sergeant at Camp Pendleton, was deployed to Fallujah in August. Just a few weeks after he arrived, one of his superiors was killed in a rocket attack.

"They were wild shots," said Cross, who worked as a technician installing communication links at the base. "Most of the time they were landing nowhere and hitting nothing, (but) they got one in and killed my future battalion commander. You didn't know what was going on."

Jenny Cross, Joe's wife, tried not to worry.

"I put my faith in the Lord," she said, "and knew the Lord would protect him."

Fortunately, things calmed down for her husband so much so that the Virginia native was able to make a bit of Marine history.

In March, Cross became the first person to run a marathon at the base, finishing a course inside the walls of Camp Fallujah in 4 hours, 15 minutes.

"I like to do things that nobody else has done before, and I can honestly say I don't think anybody else has been crazy enough to run it because it's not scenic," said Cross, who's been back at Camp Pendleton for a few months. "It's running around a concrete, cinder-block wall. It was very hard mentally to keep running that far."

Especially since Cross was running by himself.

The base had planned to host a marathon but canceled it. Cross, who had already been training for today's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, decided to run anyway. He tried to get other Marines to run with him but had no luck.

"I said, 'I know the route. I don't care whether you guys host it or not. I'm doing this,' " Cross said.

Cross, who had run in six other marathons, said the challenge was too great to pass up.

"When you line up for marathons you hear people talking, 'Oh, I've done the New York Marathon twice or whatever,' " Cross said. "I wanted to be able to say, 'I ran the Camp Fallujah Marathon. I'm the only person who ever ran it and the record holder of that race.' "

Cross excelled in cross country and track while in high school, which is where he met Jenny. Cross said he immediately took to long distance running.

"The first day of track practice I ran six miles," Cross recalled. "The coach looked at me and said, 'You're a distance runner.' I was like, 'OK, whatever that means.' I just did it."

Cross joined the Marines right out of high school. He continued running but didn't attempt a marathon until 1988.

Cross had a friend who was training for an Ironman triathlon. He began doing the running portion of the training with the friend just for fun.

Soon after, at the friend's suggestion, Cross entered the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. He finished the race in 3 hours, 18 minutes still a personal best.

Cross still remembers standing on the starting line of the race with two older women.

"They were easily in their 50s," Cross said. "They turned to me and said, 'Son, how many have you run?' I said it was my first. They said it was their 52nd.

"I told myself when I'm 50-something I want to (tell) some young kid this is my 52nd. I'm a little far off the goal, but I can still get there."

Cross, who plans on retiring next year after 20 years of service, has run two Marine Corps Marathons and four others in Japan including two 24-hour races. He's hoping to compete in the Los Angeles Marathon and the Country Music Marathon in the next couple of years.

He's been looking forward to today's race his eighth overall for a while.

"It's a well-known marathon," Cross said. "When I got orders to come out this way (to Camp Pendleton last April), one lieutenant colonel said, 'You get to run the Rock 'n' Roll.' I was like, 'I know, sir. It's been on the list of ones to do.' "

After running in Fallujah, the Rock 'n' Roll should seem relatively easy to Cross. He expects to improve on his time of 4:15.

"That was with no support, nobody out there, me having to fill my own water bottles," he said.

Cross isn't aiming for a personal record, though.

"I'm going for about a 3:35 this time because this is the Rock 'n' Roll," he said. "I want to enjoy all the bands as I go by each one."

Cross, whose son Joseph is a sophomore at Fallbrook High, said he'll never forget his time in Fallujah especially completing the marathon.

"I finished, leaned over on some sand bags, drank some water and smiled," Cross said. "I said, 'I just did that.' It was like the first guy to land on the moon in my opinion. It was cool."

Ellie