Dr. J on Running

4 Steamtown Marathon, Scranton, PA

Sunday 10/10/10

The choice of Steamtown set me on a course to run a Marathon in each of the 50 states. I planned originally to run Wineglass, my second Marathon in New York, but changed to Steamtown when my partners in training fizzled out. Marla had run Steamtown in 1999, and she agreed cheerfully to accompany me and watch me suffer.

We rose at 3am, took the dogs out, then in, then out, then in. We ate breakfast. I enjoyed my traditional pre-race meal of cappuccino with skim milk, two slices of raisin bread and a banana. We left home at 4am for an uneventful drive down I-81. We reached Forrest City School shortly before 7am. Frost covered the lawn around the school. The mercury hovered around freezing. We picked up my packet, I bid Marla goodbye, and sat in wait in the school gym.

I disposed bravely of my wind pants and sweatshirt before the start. I wore my favorite gray shorts with four Powerbars in my pockets, a technical shirt – as sweat-wicking shirts are known, sports socks on my hands and a headband to keep the sweat out of my Bell’s Palsy weakened left eye. The field of about 2,000 gathered shortly before 8am for the start.

A hearty a cappella rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and routine announcements about thanking the mayor, keeping seatbelts fastened while seated and using seat cushions as floatation devices in the unlikely event of a water landing gave way to a short countdown and a civil war canon send-off. The steep downhill jolted my quads in the first mile, and I shuffled awkwardly my gate between heel striking and toe striking. Church bells rang throughout the valley lifting higher our already lifted spirits.

The course lived up to its reputation of fast downhill the first eight miles. I disciplined myself to walk a minute every two miles and to drink water and All-Sports at every aid station. I ate my first Powerbar at Mile 6. I chatted with various runners. I answered repeatedly the same questions – no, it is not my first Marathon; I am from Pompey, and everybody has an accent in Pompey.

I ran some of the early part of the race with Holy, a 20-something personal trainer from Virginia pacing a friend to a first Marathon, and Kim-and-dad from New Jersey. Kim’s running form bore an uncanny resemblance to that of Patti Ford. The conversation remained running-centric and insole-deep, but it helped pass the miles.

I passed 18 miles in 3:11. This marked a psychological milestone – I could always walk the last 8 miles in two hours. Marathon #4 was within reach. I felt comfortable and in control. In training, I had completed 18, 20, 22 and 24-mile long runs.

At around mile 22, I felt every muscle in my body cramp up at once. I froze. I could not move. I could not breathe. I stood still in excruciating pain. I gasped for air. I resigned myself to the inevitable – dropping out. I sought a witness to affirm my decision. No runner appeared in sight. I tried moving forward my right foot forward. I stopped. Then my left foot. Stopped. Then again my right foot. My chest muscles loosened gradually and let shallow breathing. Left foot. Right foot. A shuffle evolved.

A 17-minute mile restored my faith in completing the Marathon. I projected a 5:30 finish. I saw a father-son pair walking ahead of me. I reeled them in and walked with them. Around mile 24, Holly and friend pulled up next to me. Holy convinced to start running again with the promise of a sub-5 finish. To my surprise, my legs broke into a jog then a run, and my form returned.

Just past the 25-mile marker, we turned onto the home stretch. Course marshals promised that somewhere beyond that final hill is the finish line. I powered up the hill to the cheers of high school kids looking for that elusive finish line. Then, there it was, far in the distance. Several minutes later, I crossed the finish waving to the crowds. My Timex Ironman Global Trainer GPS watch indicated 26.6 miles. I got certainly my money’s worth.

Medal around my neck and body wrapped in foil, I leaned on Marla all the way to the Terrain, and we exited Scranton with neither post-race food nor massage. Marla drove north to Great Bend, PA, where we stopped for a well-earned steak without eggs at a local diner.

Dr Kamal Jabbour looks forward to the Manchester City Marathon in four weeks, in his quest to run a Marathon in each of the 50 United States. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphines call.

© 2010 Dr Kamal Jabbour