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FREDERICKSBURG, VA. — Coast Guard Lt. Patrick Fernandez ran away from a field of more than 10,000 runners to win the sixth annual Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon on a grey and drizzly morning in Fredricksburg, Va.
Not only was Fernandez overall winner at 1 hour, 11 minutes and 5 seconds, he was also the top finisher of more than 2,600 military members from all services to complete the race.
Marine Corps Reserve Capt. Amanda Burke, an Individual Mobilization Augmentee from Quantico’s Marine Corps Systems Command, was the top female military military finisher — and the second female overall, crossing the finish line in 1 hour, 29 minutes and 12 seconds.
But it was actor Sean Astin, star of the movies “Rudy” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, who stole the show.
Wearing the ceremonial race bib No. 1, he fired the starter’s pistol to kick off the race. Then, he jumped into the fray and ran the 13.1-mile course, finishing in 2 hours and 11 minutes and 58 seconds.
Being the featured star in a military sponsored event, he said was an honor for him as it gave him a chance to spend some time with members of the military.
“I was trained early on to look a Marine, soldier, sailor or airman in the eye and thank them for their service and mean it,” Astin said. “I’m a very patriotic American and this gives me a chance to prove it.”
What he wasn’t expecting was for the race to renew patriotism.
“This is very special — a military event in a historic place and I won’t forget it — standing in the middle of the street and the [national and Marine Corps] colors are presented and there’s a cannon being set off by a unit of Marines and you’re singing the national anthem with them — it reawakens in you a spirit of pride in our country and those who serve her.”
On the course, Fernandez took the lead early in the half marathon and didn’t let go. A 2009 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, he has been a competitive runner for years and even finished third last year in the 26.2-mile Marine Corps Marathon. He’s currently the operations officer for the Coast Guard Ceremonial Guard in Washington, D.C.
Though well in command of the race, Fernandez said he never felt alone as the city turned out in what was sometimes light rain to cheer the runners on. He was also buoyed by those running the 5K and 10K races on the same course. Those races started at separate points along the course though all finished at the same point near the Fredericksburg Exposition Center.
Active-duty Marines took top overall honors in both of the the shorter races, with Christopher White taking the 5K with a time of 17 minutes and 44 seconds, and Jack Sutter winning the 10K in 37 minutes and 5 seconds.
“Having three races on the same course wasn’t an issue at all and it really helped me not feel so alone out there,” Fernandez said. “This is really a beautiful course, to run, but it’s got some tough hills as well.”
For Burke, the top military honor was a surprise.
“It is really one of the best courses I’ve ran and I felt really good the whole way,” she said. “But I really didn’t expect to finish as well as I did.”
Astin, meanwhile didn’t run his fastest half marathon, but that didn’t seem to bother him as he graciously posed for pictures with many runners and their families around the finish line after the race.
Being among service members, Astin said, reminds him of what’s important.
“I’m a 42-year old man now and I look around and see these young Marines, in their early- to mid-20s, many of whom have already deployed overseas four times, and you just are in awe of them,” he said.
“Regardless of what you think about what we’re doing around the world, at some time or other we depend on these people to protect our freedom, our way of life by doing a tough job that most people would hesitate to do.”