Matt Simms: Running with the crowd in Iraq

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matt Simms of Langley is currently serving a one-year tour in Iraq. But the well-known local runner will continue to compete in long-distance events. - Photo courtesy of Erin Simms
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matt Simms of Langley is currently serving a one-year tour in Iraq. But the well-known local runner will continue to compete in long-distance events.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Erin Simms

It’s gonna be hot today — 95 degrees Fahrenheit according to the BBC weather service.

Unfortunately, not on Whidbey, but rather at latitude 32.44N, longitude 43.23E in the southern Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah. That’s where Langley resident Lt. Cmdr. Matt Simms will be running the second annual Boston/Iraq marathon.

“It’s cool here at night but by mid-day it gets warm,” Simms said via e-mail from Baghdad. “There’s lots of sun. Bright, almost blinding sun which accounts for the race starting at 6 a.m.”

Patriot’s Day, every third Monday in April, not only marks the annual running of the prestigious Boston Marathon but also honors the anniversary of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War, a holiday that commemorates one of the defining moments of America’s pursuit of freedom.

That being the case, why not combine the marathon in Boston with an event for the troops in Iraq?

This year’s Iraq/Boston Marathon will take place on Base Camp Adder, the former Tallil Airbase, located southwest of the city of An Nasiriyah where last year’s race was held.

The base is home to many coalition forces and every branch of the U.S. military, who all have representatives in the race. The 26-mile, 385-yard route will be run near one of Iraq’s most famous archeological and religious sites, the Ziggurat of Ur.

An estimated 150 individual runners and 150 four-person relay teams will compete in the marathon, for a total of 750 troops — more than 100 volunteers will staff the event.

Simms, an intelligence specialist in the Navy Reserve who is assigned to Fort Lewis, was sent to Iraq in February to start a one-year tour. He left his wife, Erin, and two sons at home but made sure to pack his running shoes.

Simms is a guiding member of Whidbey Island’s Down Sound Racing team consisting of runners, swimmers and cyclists all dedicated to their sport — mostly triathlon.

This is his eleventh personal marathon. He’s run in Seattle, Las Vegas, Austin, Whidbey Island, Idaho and Hawaii — and he’s happy to get the chance to add Iraq to the list.

“This will certainly be a unique addition to the list,” he said.

The course at the old Iraqi air base is surrounded by sand and fairly level. Simms expects several hundred runners from several countries, both military and civilian. “Our coalition partners and, most likely, our Iraqi partners as well,” he added.

Simms said he lives in Baghdad on a coalition base located on the grounds of one of Saddam Hussein’s many palaces. There isn’t much spare time for training as he works 18-hour days, seven days a week.

“I’m able to work in a run of some sort, even if only for 15 minutes, every day. Sometimes I trade sleep for it, but that’s a fair trade in my book.”

Simms noted the race can be tracked at

What’s a Navy officer doing in the desert, far from the bounding main?

“I’m a small part of the effort to build a stable, secure, democratic Iraq,” Simms said via e-mail. “It isn’t just an Army thing. The joint U.S. contingent here comprises forces from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.”

Simms added there are all sorts of governmental and non-governmental organizations there, including the Red Cross and U.S. State Department.

“It really isn’t just a U.S. thing, either. The multi-national coalition includes representatives of 29 countries, all aligned in support of the new, democratically-elected Iraqi government.

“I’m surrounded by Brits, Australians and folks from all over the Middle East. Next week, I’m spending the day with a contingent of my new local Iraqi counterparts,” Simms said.

But first, the Big Race.

“I’ll be wearing the Navy colors with pride.”

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