Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Turning 44

A New Challenge in a Race with Time

Published August 6, 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

I woke up at 4:44 a.m., one year older yet full of energy.

The jet lag of the transcontinental trip upset my inner clock. I put on shorts and shirt, laced my running shoes, and headed out of the dorms. I celebrated my 44th birthday with a 44-minute, 44-second run through the quiet university neighborhood in Sacramento, as the roosters that breed on campus serenaded me along the trails of the American River.

As my running partner and I glided quietly, I wondered about the significance of turning 44. Besides putting me at the rear end of an age group, with no hope for trophies or medals, 44 made me a middle-aged man in my family of octogenarians. My daughter's matter-of-fact greeting of "You are old now, Dad" did not cheer me much, either.

The forties were supposed to bring me healthy running, prolific racing and bountiful winning. I had set numerous personal records in my late thirties, and primed myself to taking on the world of masters competition. I had made plans to compete in the world masters championship in South Africa, the home of Zola Budd. I had set my eyes on running a sub-5-minute mile and on qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

Alas, the forties brought warts and sinus infections, plantar fasciatis and illiotobial band friction, kidney stones and a long commute, cappuccino and tiramisu. My weekly mileage dropped precipitously, and my weight rose correspondingly. I gradually acquired a new wardrobe, and saved my old pants for memories sake. I ran sporadically, and raced infrequently.

As I loosened my stride in the cool Sacramento dusk, I resolved to change. I proclaimed the next 12 months a year of rebuilding, a year of base training, a year of preparation for a new age group. When I turn 45 in a year, I will be the youngest in my age group. I will race against older runners. I will win trophies and medals.

The challenge is one of elementary physics. I need to get from here to there, from age 44 to 45, from a 38-inch waist to 32, from 8-minute miles to 6, from sleeping 6 hours each night to 8, from running 10 miles per week to 45, from lifting weights once a month to three times a week, and from racing annually to bi-weekly.

I have traveled this road before. I have faced the same challenge when I first started running 12 years ago. I have experienced the pain and enjoyed the rewards. Twelve years ago, running saved my life. I must do it again. I must set aside one hour each day for myself. I must listen to the call of the road, and answer it when she screams.

As I picked up the pace on the home stretch, the rooster crowed once more, holding me true to my promises.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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