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For relief in Iraq, a soldier marathon

More than 200 troops will join Boston Marathoners in spirit Monday to run in the desert.

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Cpl. Justin Lutz was relaxing on his bed inside the barracks, his legs still recovering from a run, when a huge explosion shook the building. Glancing outside he saw that a rocket had smashed the place where he had been stretching just 10 minutes earlier.

It was the sort of thing this soldier- athlete endured on a daily basis while stationed in Iraq - along with straining to breathe in the heavy desert air and having to carry a three-pound pistol as he ran endless interval loops inside the walls of the palace compound once controlled by Uday Hussein.

Sports enthusiasts like Corporal Lutz are known to shrug off all sorts of disturbances - foul weather, tired muscles, and, in some cases, a war - to do what they love.

Whether stationed in the United States or deployed overseas, soldiers who are also runners find that keeping up their sport is a way to stay connected to life back home. It can be an excuse to escape the close quarters of barracks and ease some of the mental and physical stress brought on by unexpected explosions in otherwise monotonous routines. Sometimes that means risking their lives to lace up running shoes, and sometimes that means running 26.2 miles through a desert.

Monday on Patriot's Day, as 20,400 runners tackle America's oldest marathon, in Boston, 265 soldiers in southern Iraq will be joining them in spirit to run the first-ever "Iraq/Boston Marathon."

"The [Iraq/Boston Marathon] is helping to distract these young kids who risk their lives," says Capt. Rodney Freeman, who organized the marathon at Base Camp Adder near the ancient city of Ur. "For six hours or so, they are going be home. They aren't going to be running up Heartbreak Hill, but it will be close enough."

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