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Marathon Debut

Runner Achieves 4-Hour Milestone

Published November 03, 1997, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The ride to Washington was peaceful. Traffic into the city was stressful. I went to bed early because I had to run the Marine Corps Marathon in the morning.

The night was longer than usual. I got up at six. I followed the same routine that I had practiced on training runs. I started the coffee, flossed, brushed and shaved. I ate a bagel and a banana. I drank a cup of coffee and a glass of XLR8.

The temperature was 48 degrees. The forecast called for rain. I dressed in nylon. I wore an extra shirt for the wait. I left the hotel early, and walked to the start. I carried a second cup of coffee and a bottle of water.

Rain started as a Marine band played "America the Beautiful." Miss District of Columbia led the crowd in singing the national anthem - she is no Vanessa Williams.

Rain came down harder, as the race director delivered a lengthy speech. Anxious runners jeered. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was the official starter. A diplomat with a gun, she skipped the talk and fired the gun. A wave of eighteen thousand runners roared down the Jefferson Davis Highway toward the Pentagon.

For every footrace, I establish a set of three goals. For this marathon, my conservative goal was to finish 26.2 miles. My realistic goal was to run it in less than 4 hours. My optimistic goal was to run under 3:30 and qualify for the Boston Marathon. Since my main goal was to finish, I resolved to run the marathon without a watch. My body would be my guide.

The first few miles took us around Pentagon City and back toward the start. I ran quickly to stay warm. I walked at the first water station. I drank a cup of XLR8 and a cup of water. Then, I ran to the next station, and repeated the routine. This way I divided the marathon into 13 runs, each two miles long.

I passed seven miles in one hour. I felt very good. I wondered if my body was lying to me. I crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown. The 10-mile mark was at the Kennedy Center. I was still on pace for a sub-four-hour marathon.

The course went past the Lincoln Memorial on to Constitution Avenue. It followed The Mall toward the halfway point in front of the Capitol. The clock showed 1:56, keeping the sub-four hope alive. I caught up with two Marines running with the U.S. and Marine flags. I ran with them for a few minutes, soaking in the energy that surrounded them.

The return trip to the Lincoln Memorial was uneventful. Crowds lined the roads. Many recognized my singlet and cheered "Go Syracuse." My legs felt heavy. My pace faltered. My knee ached.

At mile 18, the course entered the East Potomac Park. The next four miles were a test of will. The run to Haines Point and back was boring and painful. Rain fell steadily. Cold wind blew off the river. Spectators were scarce. I ran on the grass to relieve my aching knee and cramping calves. My foot found a hole. I twisted my ankle. My shoes were soaked, creating a blister on every toe. The clock at mile 20 read 2:53. I had 10 kilometers to go.

When I crossed the 14th Street Bridge back into Arlington, I knew I could finish. With 5K remaining, I picked up my pace. The course passed the Pentagon again, and followed the highway toward the Iwo Jima monument. Around mile 25, my breathing increased, and my pace decreased. I hit the wall. I walked a little bit, then resumed the final push.

The last steps around the Iwo Jima monument felt like an all-out sprint. In reality, it was a shuffle for survival. The finish-line clock read 3:52:10. I did it. I completed my first marathon. I broke four hours. I choked with emotions. My eyes filled with tears. My muscles filled with lactic acid. Marines removed my timing chip, put a finisher's medal around my neck, and wrapped me with a thermal blanket.

Kamal Jabbour dedicated his first marathon to the memory of his father, who had recently triumphed in his own marathon. Kamal's RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at

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