Dr. J on Running

23 Freedom's Run Marathon, Harpers Ferry, WV

13 October 2012

The ride to Shepherdstown gave my A4 a good hill workout and 32 mpg. Bingham’s provided a familiar first break. Marla kept count into double digits of the roadwork zones that we tackled. We reached the expo at Shepherd University late afternoon, and we picked up bibs and shirts for five Jabbours. I liked the green long-sleeve marathon shirt made from 10 recycled water bottles.

We checked out the marathon start at the Harpers Ferry visitor center, walked around for a few minutes, tested the port-a-potties, and programmed the GPS for the return trip in the dark. Then off to John’s Family Restaurant for a family reunion and pre-race dinner of (salty) steak and potatoes. There, we met Emily who attends church with our kids. She ran the half-marathon.

I slept eight hours, made cappuccino on the espresso machine that we brought from home, and ate a thick slice of raisin bread with a banana. The thermometer read 32F, but the forecast promised sunshine and sixties by noon. Since I planned to walk the entire 26.2 miles, I wore an extra layer of disposable clothes. A new moon greeted us on the dark ride from Virginia to Harpers Ferry.

A solo rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and an informal two-command start sent us on our way. In no time, the runners put distance on the five walkers. By mile 2, Marc and I dropped the other three walkers, and braced for a long and lonely marathon. I attempted to run a few steps at Mile 4, but acute pain at the fracture site of my right fifth metatarsal returned me to reality. The stroll through Harpers Ferry took us over a sunlit railroad bridge and down slippery stairs to the C&O canal.

The next 10 miles brought cold, melancholy and despair. Wet leaves and gravel made the already-poor footing borderline dangerous. The overgrown trees blocked the sun and trapped the dampness. Marc wore no gloves and no hat. Around mile 7, we contemplated our exit strategy. Our pace remained at 16 min/mile, and the two-minute buffer from the early miles evaporated in subsequent pit stops or to remove stones from my shoes.

Despite the cold weather, I maintained my hydration routine of eight ounces every two miles – half water, half Gatorade. Since we did not run, we did not sweat. The loneliness of the long distance walk afforded us plenty of solitude for improvised pit stops. I ate half a Powerbar every five miles, and Marc stuck to a hunter-gatherer diet – he ate whatever he could find on the trail from a discarded goo packet to donuts and gummy bears.

We exited the C&O canal just after 14 miles, and embarked on the hilly portion of the course through the Antietam Battlefield. We hit the 15-mile mark in exactly four hours, as plans for a sub-seven-hour marathon evaporated. Then came the turnaround. Once we left the gloom of the C&O canal trail, a bright sun cheered us on and warmed our bodies and souls. We shed more clothes, and felt sweat on our foreheads for the first time.

The sight of two runners way ahead gave us incentive to attack the hills with depraved recklessness in an effort to catch them. As 16-minute miles gave way to 14-minute miles, we passed the struggling couple around Mile 18, and deposited four minutes in the bank. The brisk pace up and down the hills felt good, so we pushed harder when we spotted another pair of struggling runners ahead of us. By Mile 20, they read the Philippians 4:13 verse on the back of my shirt.

To my surprise, Marc and I maintained the crazy pace until the 50-yard line on the Shepherd University stadium, crossing the finish line in 6:48:11 – a PR for Marc and a PW for me. We had walked the second half 12 minutes faster than the first half. The entire family and warm pizza awaited us at the finish.

Dr Kamal Jabbour walked 26.2 miles to finish his 23nd marathon in 23 states in West Virginia, his first marathon since fracturing his right foot 12 weeks ago. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2012 Dr Kamal Jabbour