When about 2,200 runners get on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk on Saturday, they will see colorful reminders of fallen soldiers who paid the ultimate price while serving their country.
Cecil Cheves, director of the 2016 Soldier Marathon, said a Memorial Mile will be set up at mile No. 9 of the 26.2-mile race near the waste treatment plant of the Columbus Water Works. It will be decorated with 150 American flags, and there will be billboards of about 350 fallen soldiers from Georgia and Alabama.
“They are our fallen heroes, and we want to pay tribute to them on this Memorial Mile,” Cheves said Thursday.
Heroes on the billboards include Army Spc. Jason K. Edens of Franklin, Tenn., and Pvt. John M. Henderson Jr. of Columbus. Edens died April 26, 2012, at Walter Reed Hospital in Maryland 11 days after his unit was attacked with small arms fire in Laghman Province, Afghanistan.
Henderson, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, was killed Aug. 4, 2005, when the vehicle he was traveling in ran off the road during a combat mission in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. He joined the Army in December 2004 and completed basic training and Airborne School at Fort Benning before volunteering for the Ranger Indoctrination Program.
This is the seventh year for the marathon, which starts at 8 a.m. at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center. It makes a loop to Fort Benning and returns north along the RiverWalk to downtown Columbus and Phenix City before returning to the museum. In addition to the marathon, there will be a soldier half-marathon of 13.1 miles, soldier relay marathon with four runners, soldier 5K race of 3.1 miles and a soldier kids marathon where runners accumulate 26.2 miles.
Since the organization started in 2010, Cheves said it has raised $150,000 and is expected to raise $40,000 this year. Money from the marathon goes to support the National Infantry Museum, House of Heroes, Team Red White and Blue and Fort Benning’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
The event is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. There are runners expected from 37 states, although 80 percent travel from within 100 miles of Columbus. Runners have seven hours to finish the race. “Some will take more,” Cheves said. “Most of them will take five hours.”
The fastest time for the race will be 2:30 or 2:45, with some running at a six-minute mile clip.
Cheves said about 400 volunteers will be stationed along the course to hand out cups of water. Among them are students from Northside, Smiths Station, Brookstone and Pacelli high schools.
Parking for the event is available at the National Infantry Museum, Oxbow Meadows and along South Lumpkin Road. Observation points are at Bull Dog Marina along Victory Drive and the Lumpkin Green downtown.
If You Go:
What: The 2016 Soldier Marathon
Where: Heritage Walk at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center
When: 8 a.m. Saturday
Cost: Cost varies for races