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Staff Sgt. James Haunty, an instructor at Marine Corps Communications-Electronics School, makes his way up the 13.3-mile path, which winds its way through Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado Aug. 15. Haunty was one of six Marines who took part in the half-marathon where they encountered severe weather changes which made the trek much more challenging.

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Six MCCES instructors complete 13-mile Pikes Peak Ascent

15 Aug 2009 | Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Thorburn

Six instructors from the Marine Corps Communications-Electronics School went above and beyond Saturday and completed a 13.3-mile half-marathon at Pikes Peak, Colo.

Master Sgt. Robert Mielish, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Radar Maintenance Training Section, decided to run the mountain half-marathon as his last big event before retiring. Five Marines jumped at the chance to run with him one last time.

The uphill trek, boasting an elevation gain of 7,815 feet with an 11 percent grade,  provided a challenge the hard-charging Marines could not ignore.

“Our master sergeant is a huge mentor to us,” said Staff Sgt. Kristy Franco, a radar instructor for MCCES. “Once we got in the group we told ourselves, ‘we started this, so we are going to finish this.’”

The group began training for the event in April, waking up as early as 4 a.m. some days, said Sgt. Justin Lucker, an instructor with MCCES.  Tuesdays they worked on their speed at the track.  Wednesdays found them on trails in the local area working on elevation training.   Every other Sunday, the Marines went to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on Mount San Jacinto to practice running in the mountains.

“The event was a culmination of all the training we have done,” said Lucker, a Saint Joseph, Mich., native. “It made the run a lot easier than what it would have been.”

According to their Web site,, the Pikes Peak Ascent is considered a difficult and dangerous course due to the rapid weather changes which occur such as unexpected lightning from blue skies, and temperature shifts of up to 50 degrees during the course of the run.

The Marines said they experienced extreme weather on the trail.  The start of the race met with blue skies but by the end, thunderstorms rolled in and the search and rescue crews were urging the runners to get down the mountain as fast as possible.

“When we started the run it was beautiful and sunny with a nice breeze,” said Franco, a Milford, Ind., native. “Once we broke the tree line it started hailing. Then it started raining, then hailing again.

“At the top of the mountain it started snowing. It was like going from summer to winter,” she said.

The change in weather created hazardous conditions like slippery trails and low visibility.

As the run progressed, it became more of a race against the clock for the Marines and other competitors or they would be eliminated.  Runners who did not reach a specific cutoff point in the allotted amount of time had to head back the way they came.

“When we started off, we were confident. But by the time we hit mile three, we realized it was not getting any easier,” Franco said. “It just became harder and harder. I was exhausted, but it helped looking around and seeing how beautiful the mountain was.”

As the race gained elevation and left the tree-line, the instructors said they saw some runners passed out and others getting sick.

“All I wanted was to get off that mountain,” Franco said. “Knowing that the rest of my team was in front of me and waiting for me kept me motivated—it kept me moving.”

As the Marines crossed the finish line, they sought out their fellow teammates to find out who had already completed it, and their friends and coworkers who attended the event to cheer them on.

Their months of training paid off and each of the runners returned to the Combat Center knowing they had accepted Pikes Peak’s challenge and emerged victorious.

The Marines who participated in the event included:

•           Master Sgt. Robert Mielish: 4:13:36

•           Sgt. Jack Linke: 4:27:40

•           Staff Sgt. James Haunty: 4:45:09

•           Sgt. Christopher Apodaca: 5:58:50

•           Sgt. Justin Lucker: 5:58:52

•           Staff Sgt. Kristy Franco:  6:17:49

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