Dr. J on Running

10 Capital City Marathon, Olympia, WA, 5:12:23

Sunday 15 May 2011

One word describes best the day – rainy. It rained non-stop from Saturday evening until Sunday evening, setting a new record rainfall for the area. The temperature hovered around 50 degrees the whole day. The clouds were thick and low. The sky was gloomy. We were treated to an authentic Pacific Northwest experience.

The start and finish lines sat conveniently outside the Governor’s Hotel, my home for the weekend. Built probably by the original settlers, the hotel featured an old elevator seen only in silent movies. I debated whether to trust my luck to the old elevator on race morning, or to go down eight flights of stairs.

I waited inside the hotel until 6:50, then walked the few steps to the start. My Timex GPS found quickly enough satellites to provide a lock. I took off my poncho and long-sleeve throw-away shirt, and seized the day in shorts and shirt-sleeve T-shirt. An air horn started the race at 7:02, and we shuffled gloomily into the gray.

I settled quickly into four-and-four breathing, and covered the first two miles in 21:37. I walked half-a-mile, and repeated the dance several times. I aimed to cover every five-mile segment in a couple of minutes under an hour, for a target finish around five hours. I reached five miles in 58:08.

Volunteers handed out water and Ultima at the aid stations. Unaccustomed to Ultima, I developed stomach cramps within minutes of the first aid stations. My discomfort eased with the repeated abuse of a half-cup of Ultima every two miles.

No sooner did I resume running after mile 5 than my left foot cramped and stopped me in my tracks. It hurt to the point where I could not put any weight on it. I stood perplexed, and managed slowly to walk. The pain subsided several seconds later, and I resumed running. Left foot cramps returned repeatedly in the second half of the Marathon, and reduced my race into a survival march.

The steady rain and 100 percent humidity disrupted normal sweating and diverted excess fluid to the bladder, resulting in long lines at the port-a-potties. Fortunately, the rain also negated the need to stop at port-a-potties. However, the wet clothes and moving parts caused severe chafing in sensitive areas, rendered excruciatingly painful by salty secretions.

Left butt pain made its entry around mile 8. A dull localized discomfort at first, it increased gradually to a level 5 diffuse pain across the entire butt-hip-thigh region. I took a pair of Ibuprofen pills with my Harvest Powerbar at miles 10 and 20 to reign in the inflammation.

I reached 10 miles in 1:56:32. I felt cold but good. My fingers swelled either from the rain or the sports drink. I could no longer close my fist or open my palm. A volunteer helped retrieve the Ibuprofen from my zip-lock bag, and another volunteer cleared my shoe of gravel.

The roads featured a pronounced camber and lacked a grassy shoulder, so I never got to run on a soft surface, not even for a few steps. Fortunately, the course alternated shoulders, evening out the stress on the iliotibial bands. However, the first downhill around mile 13 did a trick on my right knee. My ITB screamed of pain, and I screeched to a halt. Walking felt bearable, so I walked to the bottom of the hill, then resumed running.

I hit 15 miles in 2:54:24, maintaining a sub-12-minute pace. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery, and noticed the Japanese runners snapping pictures of even remotely-interesting views. Yet, my reprieve proved short-lived.

My left foot cramped up badly around mile 18, and forced me to walk. A quick calculation projected a finishing time around 5:45 hours if I walked the rest of the way. Yet, dressed inadequately as I was, the risk of hypothermia would become real if I had walked in the cold rain for two hours.

With no choice but to run whenever I could, the last eight miles turned into running spurts interrupted by severe foot cramps. I reached 20 miles in 3:52:27 – well under 4 hours. An eternity later, I passed 25 miles in 4:57:55, and held it together to cross the finish line in 5:12:48.

Finishers received a colorful ceramic coaster in lieu of medals, in addition to the 30th anniversary women’s jackets for all marathon runners. The cold Hawaiian pizza at the post-race party did not go down well in an already irritated stomach, so I retired to a warm bath to help me thaw.

Capital City Marathon was my tenth marathon in ten states. No sooner had I rested for an hour, I completed the application form for membership in the 50 States Marathon Club and dropped it in a mailbox. My left foot got worse as the afternoon progressed, and I could no longer put weight on it by nightfall.

My wealth of painful experiences on this day forced me to reexamine my overall strategy, and put under the microscope my plan to run a marathon a month. The next four weeks leading to the Utah Valley Marathon will provide me ample opportunity for soul-searching and spreadsheet sorting. In the meantime,

Dr Kamal Jabbour plans to enjoy his new jacket before gifting it to a special woman. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2011 Dr Kamal Jabbour