Dr. J on Running

21 Cox Rhode Marathon, Providence, RI

6 May 2012

My last long run before the marathon turned tragic. In perfect weather at Onondaga Lake Park, my right knee started hurting a quarter-mile into the run, and the pain became unbearable at half-mile. I walked a bit to no avail. I hobbled back to the car, and waited for Marla to finish her run.

Preparations for Providence had gone flawlessly – a week off after Knoxville, 10K Fort-to-Fort race, March Road at Maxwell, 10-mile and 18-mile long runs, and a handful of 6 milers. I felt good. Thrice-a-week I did push-ups, sit-ups and biceps curls. My right hand numbness that started in Ohio had disappeared. My left hip pain was gone. My right knee felt well. My left foot was asymptomatic. My weight reached 170 pounds.

Sunday morning brought swelling to the inside of my right knee. I started immediately on a recovery regimen of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, combined with Ibuprofen, rest, Ibuprofen, ice, Ibuprofen, compression, Ibuprofen and elevation. I also took some Ibuprofen.

I alternated between denial and bargaining in the countdown to Rhode Island. I promised never to run 18 miles again and to avoid the concrete bridges of Washington. Every day, I walked a mile from the office to the coffee shop and back, but I did not run at all. The forecast called for perfect running weather on Sunday. I packed extra Ibuprofen in my running bag. The race was on.

Marla rode with me to Providence. Some cheerleading championship took over the convention center and the city. Tweens wore more make-up than fabric. Mothers with sun-scarred skins smoked like chimneys on every street corner. We grabbed my packet, fretted at the ugly T-shirt, and returned to the Courtyard for a nap – the most sleep we would get that week-end. In the late afternoon, we visited a used bookstore to search for material on eighteenth century Rhode Island that Marla’s ancestors inhabited. We ate dinner at McCormick and Schmick’s, and retired to the sounds of the elevator next to our room and cheerleaders running up and down the hallway. We fell asleep just in time to get up.

We had met a couple of old runners on Saturday who mentioned a 6am early start. I snuck quietly from the room at 5:30 to check out the start line. An official-looking race official gave me permission to start with the Dream Far runners – a group of high school students and teachers from Brookline and Newton, MA. I left Marla asleep, and faced my fate alone.

The early start afforded me the luxury of walking the marathon. I carried a bottle of water in anticipation of no water stations that early. The sea of bright orange shirts disappeared quickly around street corners, and I fumbled my way to stay on the course. I walked the first 6 miles without right knee pain, but my left hamstring felt tighter with every step. The Port-a-Potties were still locked, so I used the bushes.

Around mile 7, Amy and her student passed me – they had started the race at 6:30am. On a whim, I decided to run with them. My hamstring loosened instantly, then my cell phone rang. Marla called to tell me that she stopped being angry at my sneaking out of the room without kissing her goodbye. She must like me!

I ran with Amy and her student until mile 10 without pain. The race leaders passed me at 10.4 miles, and my knee started aching. I reached into my pocket for my stash of Ibuprofen, but found none. The bag must have fallen out when I pulled the phone to answer Marla. I ate a Powerbar Protein Plus – the 30 grams of protein chocolate brownie flavor, and walked until my hamstring hurt. Over the next six miles, I alternated walking until my left hamstring became painful, with running until my right knee got painful. I noticed that pain came on after about 0.8 mile, so I settled for a pain-free mix of half-mile runs with half-mile walks.

Hordes of speedsters passed me as the day progressed. Commander Jim caught up with me around mile 16, and we ran together for a few minutes. Jim went on to run a sub 3:40 PR. The course remained non-descript – a mix of paved trails and badly broken-up pavement. Rolling hills spiced up an otherwise dull course. Although the course followed the river, I saw water only once.

I crossed the finish line at 5:41:50, and felt surprisingly well. I donned the pewter medal around my neck, and grabbed a slice of pizza in each hand. I walked back to the hotel, showered, laid still for an hour, waited for Marla to return from her tour of four churches, and sped out of town. After several stops at rest areas to stretch my legs, we reached Quacks in Madison for a long-awaited dinner. I ate New England clam chowder, bread rolls, prime rib, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole, then topped it off with deluxe strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream.

Dr Kamal Jabbour ran his 21st marathon in 21 states in Rhode Island, his 18th marathon in 19 months in his 50-state quest. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2012 Dr Kamal Jabbour