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Dr. J. on Running

Steamtown Marathon

First on the Internet

Published November 8, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The alarm went off at 4am. A sleepy crowd of runners and supporters packed the Suburban. The dogs protested the change in their morning routine. Light drizzle beaded on the dirty windshield. I drove in the quiet of the night as sleepy heads around me rested on pillows.

The drizzle soon turned into a steady rain. The forecast called for showers all day long. The morning temperature of 55 degrees made it a beautiful day to run a marathon. My favorite runner drank a ritual pre-race cup of coffee, leading to several stops at all-night gas stations. Finally, after navigating through beautiful northeast Pennsylvania country roads, we reached Forest City, 26 miles northeast of Scranton.

Some two thousand runners gathered at the high school for the race. An overhead banner and a blue line across a narrow two-lane road marked the star. Runners talked, stretched, and jogged around to stay warm. Busses unloaded runners who parked near the Finish Line.

The loud discharge of a Civil War cannon sent the runners on their way. A narrow start and a wet downhill pavement slowed the runners in the early going. Everybody cleared the starting line within 3 minutes of the cannon.

Manlius resident Jeffrey Morganti came to Steamtown with one goal, to qualify for the US Olympic Trials. He had to run the marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes to receive an expense-paid invitation to Pittsburgh, the site of the trials in May 2000. A time of 2:22 would still earn him a spot in Pittsburgh, at his own expense.

My favorite runner planned this marathon to celebrate the end of her formal college education. Lighter and faster, she had a personal record in mind.

Besides supporting my wife's quest for a second marathon, my trip to Pennsylvania had a second motive. With a team of interns from Syracuse University, we sought to videotape the marathon and post it on the world-wide web.

The first 6 miles of the race were closed to traffic, and followed downhill winding country roads. We took a long detour, and met the runners at the 8-mile mark. Traffic control at every intersection kept cars and runners apart. Noisy spectators lined the streets and cheered on the runners.

Morganti was in second place at 8 miles and on pace for an Olympic Trails berth. My wife passed 8 miles well ahead of personal record pace. The interns captured 40 minutes of video footage.

A navigation error placed us on the wrong side of the runners, and grounded us at 8 miles much longer than planned. Our plans to meet the runners at 20 miles were quickly revised, and we took the highway to the Finish.

Sympathetic to our plight, race officials allowed us access to the finish line. Cameras in hand, we ran the last quarter-mile and set up in the chute in time for the first runner. Twenty-three year-old John Kirwa of Chapel Hill, NC, won the marathon in 2:17:40.

The wait for Morganti was agonizing. He had slowed down on the hills in the last few miles. The crowd erupted in loud cheer when he appeared in the distance. The time on the clock was too close for comfort. He crossed the finish line in fourth place in 2:22:05.

Beaten by the early downhills, my wife lost ground in the second half of the race, but managed a narrow personal record. My team recorded several hours of additional video footage.

The return trip home was a lot noisier than the morning ride, punctuated by references to a Spring marathon. We stopped for lunch at a small diner where everything tasted good. Upon arrival in Syracuse, we encoded the video footage onto http://TrackMeets.com, giving Steamtown a place in history as the world's first marathon shown on the world-wide web in streaming video.

Kamal Jabbour enjoyed his support role in the Steamtown Marathon so much that he is already planning his wife's Spring marathon. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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