Dr. J on Running

15 Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon, Ft Oglethorpe, GA, 5:04:35

Saturday 12 November 2011

A thick fog blanketed the eastern seaboard on Thursday morning, and shut down air travel through Philadelphia, Washington and New York. US Airways cancelled my flight from Reagan to Chattanooga, and booked me on Delta through Atlanta for Friday morning. I returned home to weigh my options.

Friday travel proved uneventful. As I kissed my wife goodbye, a sharp pain gripped the inside of my right knee. I limped to the car, and drove in pain to the airport, I flew first class from Syracuse to Atlanta, and savored the customary coffee and Bailey’s. I reached Chattanooga late morning, took a nap, ate a light lunch, then drove south to the Chickamauga Battlefield. I located the start line, visited the 6th Cavalry Museum and the Chickamauga visitor center, then toured the battlefield to get a feel for the course. The lady at the museum gave me a banana to go with the Dunkin Donuts raisin bagel for breakfast.

Packet pick-up went smoothly. The black long-sleeve technical shirt pleased me. The pasta dinner did not disappoint either. I met Maniac Heidi from Illinois, with whom I ran on-and-off during the race. I ate a salad, pasta with Italian chicken, and a slice of lemon meringue pie. I drove back across the Georgia-Tennessee state line to my hotel in Chattanooga.

I pinned my race number onto my shirt, and I threaded the timing chip to my shoe. I lined up my gear and checked it twice- Band Aids, Phil 4:13 T-shirt, New Balance shorts, mismatched socks, headband, New Balance 903s, two 23g protein Powerbars, four Ibuprofen pills in a zip-lock bag, a pair of old socks for my hands and a throw-away sweatshirt. The weather forecast called for a frosty morning. I added an extra long-sleeve shirt for good measure. My right knee hurt like mad. I iced it, took an Aleve, retired to bed, and contemplated the morning.

I rose early. Knee pain persisted. It hurt to walk. It hurt to jog. It hurt to go down stairs. It hurt to go up stairs. I drank a cup of coffee, and ate my bagel and banana. I iced my knee, and drove into the darkness back to Georgia. I parked near the start line, and limbered in the dark towards the port-a-potties. I felt the crispy grass crackle under my feet. I returned quickly to the car, and stayed warm. An accidental spill ushered a chilly run in wet shorts.

The race director delayed the start by 15 minutes to accommodate runners stuck in traffic at the park entrance. I spotted a young lady wearing a “Team 4:13” on her back. We compared shirts, and cheered each other. A civil war cannon sent us on our way at 7:45. Some 700 Marathon runners and twice as many half runners crowded the first mile. I weaved around amateurs and premature stragglers before settling into a four-and-four breathing pattern. My knee pain went away as suddenly as it came on a day earlier.

I passed mile 1 in 12:02, and took inventory of my aches and pains. Right shoulder – check. Left hip – check. Right knee – check. Left ankle – check. Right foot – check. Wet shorts – frozen. All systems go.

The cold temperature brought out a plethora of assintights that ranged from negative tens to a few perfect tens. The two-loop course enchanted at first, but turned eventually tedious – one can see only so many monuments and markers in one day, let alone twice each. Well-stocked and cheerfully-manned water stops broke the monotony of the spectator-less two-lap journey. Unfortunately, the port-a-potties were few and far apart. I ruled out a detour into the woods out of respect for the hallow grounds of the battlefield – adding unwelcome discomfort half-way into the race.

I ran 1.6 miles, walked 0.4 mile, and repeated the process ad nauseum – literally. I covered just over five miles each hour. I ingested a protein Powerbar and two Ibuprofen tablets at 10 miles. I saw 50-stater Fran and remembered her from Missoula. I reached the half-way in 2:33 – my slowest first half ever. I felt tired. I braced myself for the eventual long walk to the finish line, and kept slugging along. My right calf signaled its intent to cramp. My left hip hurt ever so slightly.

The second lap got lonely when we lost the half runners. I passed slower competitors when I ran, and they passed me back when I walked. I hopped on the grass whenever possible. The field gradually turned into a huddle of suffering marchers. I hit 15 miles 2:56 and 20 miles in 3:55. I ate a second protein Powerbar and swallowed two more Ibuprofens. My hip pain went away. My calf never cramped. Reaching 25 miles in 4:52, possibly my fastest five miles of the race, I entertained – and abandoned quickly – the fantasy of running the rest of the way. I walked the last 0,4 of the 26th mile. Ashley caught up with me at 26, and we ran together the last 0.2 mile. I crossed the finish line in 5:06:03 gun time – 5:04:35 chip time, and my GPS indicated exactly 26.20 miles. We received an oval bronze medal featuring the Pennsylvania monument on the Battlefield.

My slow first half turned into negative splits and the fastest Marathon of 2011. I felt just fine after the run, devoured three slices of pizza, and drove back across the border one last time. I took a hot shower, and lay still for an hour. I walked across the parking lot to Applebee’s where I savored a nine-ounce sirloin steak with baked potato and steamed vegetables. I was ready to go home.

Dr Kamal Jabbour ran a perfect race at Chickamauga, and made it 15 Marathons in 15 states. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2011 Dr Kamal Jabbour