Dr. J on Running

6 Rocket City Marathon, Huntsville, AL

Saturday 11 December 2010

Here I sat alone at Huntsville International Airport. First to check in and first to go through security, I had the entire terminal to myself. I ordered a small cappuccino, a banana and a ham-egg-cheese croissant. I settled down to document my sixth Marathon.

The pre-race pasta dinner brought a statistical surprise. I found myself eating at the same table as two other New Yorkers – David from Saratoga Springs and Peter from Brooklyn. Everyone at my table qualified for Marathon Maniacs, setting out to run every Marathon on the planet.

Staying at the race hotel provided distinct advantages. After dumping the awful Starbucks cappuccino in the sink, I made hotel room coffee, ate a cinnamon raisin bagel with a banana, and watched the movie “At First Sight”. At 7:45am, when the organizers called the runners to the start line, I rolled out of bed, and walked the few feet to the start.

The weather forecast of cold, wind and snow did not materialize. It was sunny and 45 degrees at 8am. I wore a baby-blue New Balance long sleeve technical shirt, my favorite black shorts with a Powerbar in each pocket, mismatched blue and black dress socks in honor of Marla, my old faithful yellow New Balance 903, a red Nike headband, and a pair of white athletic socks to keep my hands warm. My Timex Ironman Global Trainer acted finicky at first, but found the satellites in time for the gun.

The decision to join the 4:30 pace group become obvious when I met the pacer. Jane, a 30-year old bubbly young woman, attracted a dozen hopefuls and pulled me along. I paid for my reckless abandon to “See Jane Run” three hours later. Jane crossed eventually the Finish line in 4:30:01. I did not.

We sang the national anthem, and took off at the sound of a gun. The wide staging area allowed us to cross the start line 50 seconds after the gun, much faster than Scranton and Manchester. I fooled around with 5+5 breathing the first half mile, then settled into 4+4 for the next 18 miles. I drank water and Powerade at every aid station, but skipped my minute walk every two miles to hang onto Jane.

The official race booklet mentioned 68 turns and 212 street intersections. The frequent turning allowed running the tangents and evened out the stress on my ITBs. My fortune ran out at Mile 9. The next five miles followed the right lane of a highway straight into the wind. I hopped onto the grass and sidewalk whenever possible, and twisted my ankle into a deep grassy hole. The ominous hill from Mile 14 to Mile 16 with a total elevation gain of 88 feet passed unnoticed. I must have been distracted. For all practical purposes, this was a flat course.

Many spectators carried boards with Biblical verses. Philipians 4:13 won in numbers "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Less seriously, a shirt sported the question "Your pace or mine?"

I reached Mile 18 in 3:13, slower than Steamtown’s 3:11 but faster than Mancheter’s 3:18. Jane must have been half-a-mile ahead at this point, and any illusion of 4:30 had dissipated. Yet, I felt good. I maintained 4+4 breathing, and I felt confident that I could walk the rest of the way in two hours if necessary. In retrospect, Mile 18 proved my fastest mile of the entire Marathon. Afterwards, I started walking a minute every few minutes to loosen cramps in my upper calves. My right knee became painful and stiff. My lower abdomen started cramping. My left butt tightened. Left toe number 4 started hurting.

I shuffled until Mile 22 alternating walking with running, yet I maintained a decent overall pace. The next three miles told a different story. I covered Miles 23 through 25 in 13, 14 and 15 minutes respectively. Yeah, yeah, I walked Mile 25, then I mustered the will to resume shuffling. I ran the final 1.2 mile at 11-minute pace, and crossed the Finish in 4:50:18 gun time, 4:49:29 chip time, my fastest Marathon since 1997. Completing three Marathons in 90 days qualified me as a Marathon Maniac.

An ice cream sandwich dipped in vegetable gumbo tasted good after the run, but it took a hearty sirloin steak with home fries to hit the spot. I soaked my sore body into the bathtub, and took a two-hour nap. I hung around the lobby with fellow warriors, then hit the sheets for an early flight home.

The words of Ray Charles haunt me. The road leads back to you, oh Georgia. Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Dr Kamal Jabbour completed six Marathons 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