Dr. J on Running

11 Missoula Marathon, Missoula, MT, 5:08:04

Sunday 10 July 2011

Last year, Runner’s World magazine ranked the Missoula Marathon as the best overall Marathon in the country. I traveled to Missoula, Montana, to run my eleventh Marathon in eleven states and to assess this ranking. Angela came along to run her first Marathon and to visit family.

I made my travel plans for Missoula last December. They proved exceptionally complicated. The Syracuse-Chicago flight departed an hour-and-a-half late: the crew needed their beauty sleep. We landed the farthest possible from my connection to Denver. I ran from Gate F11 to Gate C11 in under 12 minutes, and boarded the 767 seconds before door closing.

The flight from Denver to Helena brought back memories of the Poughkeepsie commute on 6-seaters. Winds tossed us around in every direction, before landing safely. The 114-mile drive to Missoula proved awesome. I stopped at every rest area to soak in the beauty around me and stretch my legs. The 12-minute Chicago run on concrete did a trick on my feet.

I dined at The Pearl Café. The menu featured dishes with 14 different animals including quail, bison, elk, rabbit and duckling. I stayed with beef, and enjoyed a seasoning-less Tuscan-style flat iron steak. I topped it off with a strawberry dessert. I returned to the Pearl Café with Angela for the last supper on Saturday.

We rode the 4:30am bus to the starting line in Frenchtown. We arrived a few minutes before the 5:00am send-off to 100+ walkers. It felt dry and cold. The temperature dropped steadily into the low forties. Amateurs who heard the 86F forecast shivered in tank tops and shorts. I stayed warm in a long sleeve shirt, wind pants and socks-on-hands.

An Army canon sent us off at 6am. A subsequent analysis of my Timex GPS confirmed that the canon went off at exactly 06:00:00. The sun stayed behind the mountains, allowing just enough light to see the road, and enough darkness to enjoy the fireworks. I crossed the Start Line at 1:45, and I settled into 4-and-4 breathing. I planned to run 1.5 miles, walk 0.5 mile and repeat 13 times for a target finish around 5:14. I had no basis to predict the effects of the 3,000-3,400-ft altitude.

I felt good the first run-walk cycle down Mullan Road. I discarded my winter gear when the sun broke over the mountains around Mile 4. I reached Mile 5 in 1:00:15. I ran a mile with Michelle from Texas, whom I met on the Denver-Helena flight. Michelle was a veteran of 114 Marathons in 20 states.

By Mile 9, I felt soreness and tiredness in the back of both legs behind the knees. At 9.5 miles, I enjoyed a Harvest Powerbar. Although my left hip felt well, I downed two Ibuprofens with a cup of water as the course turned onto Kona Road towards the mountains. I passed Mile 10 in 2:00:08, and prepared for the climb.

The gradual incline from 3,150 feet at the start to 3,250 feet at Mile 12 turned steep at the half-way point. I reached 13.1 miles in 2:36:15 – 2:34:30 chip time. I ran the first half-mile of the hill, and walked to Mile 14. I resumed running and peaked at 3,330 feet at Mile 15. My watch read 2:57:30. I ran my last 5 miles 30 seconds per mile faster than the first ten miles. The hills loosened my legs and the soreness went away. I felt good.

Orange traffic cones separated the runners from the cars the entire way. Traffic varied from light to very light. The Montana Highway Patrol was out in force patrolling the roads. Local triathletes biked back and forth the entire course. The scenery went from beautiful the first half to absolutely gorgeous on Big Flat Road along the Clark Fork River. Around Mile 16, a man dressed in Tuxedo played a piano under a white canopy.

After indulging on Clif Bar goo at the end of the hill at Mile 16, we entered the city of Missoula for the final ten miles. I skipped my second Powerbar, and I took two more Ibuprofens as I reached 20 miles in 3:55:05. My left hip remained asymptomatic. Running through the city was uneventful, as we turned left and right from street to street. I repeated the run-walk routine, and reached 24 miles feeling good.

A quick calculation deterred me from attempting to break five hours. At 24.7 miles, I hit the wall, so I walked until Mile 26. I ran the last 0.2 mile over the bridge and onto the Finish Line. Angela awaited me all showered and dressed, a medal around her neck and a drink in her hand. My watch showed 5:09:50. The official results reported my chip time as 5:08:04, definitely under my 5:14 target. Angela finished in 4:13.

I agree with Runner’s World in their ranking of the Missoula Marathon. The course was gorgeous. The organization was impeccable. The execution was flawless. The weather was perfect. The volunteers were fabulous. So, I called my wife and told her I planned to stay in Montana. I asked her to sell the house, and bring the dogs and cats so we can retire here.

Dr Kamal Jabbour missed running the Utah Valley Marathon in June due to a strategic cancellation of his flight by the airline. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2011 Dr Kamal Jabbour