Syracuse Online

Seven Stages of Marathon

From Shock to Renewal

Published April 7, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The creativity of running shoe commercials has always fascinated me. I remember the Nike commercial showcasing Suzie Hamilton in her new running shoes, and nothing else. I recall the adidas "runners, yeah, we're different" ads with Jenn Rhines blowing her nose and her husband Terrence Mahon wiping off the mud.

The latest adidas running ad gave me cause for thought. In a twist to the six stages of mourning -shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance- the ad introduced the seven stages of a marathon: ritual, shock, denial, isolation, despair, affirmation and renewal. As an accomplished marathon runner - I have competed the marathon that I started, I feel qualified to interpret these stages.

According to Webster's new universal unabridged dictionary, a ritual is a "specific act performed repetitively to a pathological degree, occurring as a common symptom of obsessive-compulsive neurosis". Of course we are talking about the pre-race ritual of carbo-loading, stretching (left leg before right leg) and drinking coffee.

Shock: "a sudden or violent disturbance of the mind or body". Shock set in one mile into the race, when my pace translated into a sub-2 hour marathon. I wondered whether to slow down or pick up the pace.

Denial: "an unconscious defense mechanism used to reduce anxiety by denying thoughts, feelings and facts that are consciously intolerable". Denial occurred around mile six with the thought that the finish line is farther than my longest training run.

Isolation: "a process whereby an idea or memory is divested of its emotional component". What sounded like a brilliant idea on New Year.s day lost its emotional component around mile 18. I stopped talking to fellow wanna-bees, and started developing unpleasant thoughts towards my children who were warm and dry at the hotel.

Despair: "state of mind caused by circumstances that seem too much to cope with". I despaired when I learned that the next meat wagon is not due for another hour, and that I could walk faster to the finish line. Any illusions of a sub-two-hour marathon were long gone by now.

Affirmation: "ratification of the truth or validity of a prior judgment or decision". I knew I had made the right decision as soon as I crossed the finish line, a cute cadet with warm hands unlaced my timing chip, and I learned that Al Gore was still at mile 20.

Renewal: "restoration or replenishment". At first, I renewed with cappuccino and lots of food. Afterwards, I renewed my support for my wife's marathon training.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

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