Dr. J on Running

27 The Arizona Marathon, Phoenix, AZ

17 February 2013

General Lance invited me to run the IMS Arizona Marathon, which his wife Debra directed. I had planned originally to run Tucson as my Arizona marathon. So, I changed my flight and hotel reservations, and flew to sunny Phoenix. The Phoenix urban sprawl became apparent during final approach to Sky Harbor. It became more evident every time the GPS directed me to follow a street for ten miles. The terrain lent itself naturally to a point-to-point course.

Race expo and packet pick-up were a pleasant surprise, except for the short-sleeve race T-shirt. I met Debra, an 8-time marathoner, and gained an appreciation for runner comforts in her race. She planned the expo in conjunction with a farmers market and a craft show, and secured a variety of sponsors and exhibitors. I enjoyed a stroll around the expo, talked to runners and volunteers, soaked some sun on a comfortable couch with cappuccino in hand, and bought a huge cinnamon raisin bagel for pre-race breakfast.

Race morning brought pleasant surprises. The National Weather Service revised the forecast from a high of 78F down to 74F. The drive to the Finish Line was uneventful, and there was plenty of parking. I saw Debra, wished each other a good day, used a real bathroom, and boarded the school bus to the Start Line in Buckeye. There, we rested indoors on comfortable couches at Verrado Realty, and used real bathrooms. I mingled with half-a-dozen Marathon Maniacs, and reviewed my race strategy.

An 11-year old girl sang the National Anthem, and a verbal command started us at exactly 7:00:00. I took off my warm clothes, and ran in shorts and my Psalms 26:2 T-shirt. I settled into breathing 4-and-4, and ran the first mile. My broken metatarsal ached – too early for that. I walked half a mile, and repeated one-mile run, half-mile walk. Traffic cones marked the course and separated us from cars. I was surprised to see a cone every 100 feet the entire length of the course, some 15,000 cones.

Aid stations were positioned at odd mile markers. I drank half-a-cup of water and half-a-cup of Gatorade at each stop. At 8 miles, I made a mental note of how amazingly well I felt. Nothing hurt. I glided effortlessly on my tippy toes, breathed slowly, and soaked in the sun. My pace put me on track for a 5:14 finish. I passed the half-way point in 2:37.

The second half turned into a different story. My left piriformis started hurting – aka pain in the ass (PITA). My left hip bursa complained next. I took two Ibuprofen pills, and walked a lot. Soon, my entire left leg was angry, followed by a sympathetic right leg. Every muscle hurt. My throat felt sore. I remembered that my wife came down with flu-like symptoms the day I left for Phoenix. I walked some more. Walking hurt. I tried running but failed after a few steps. I pondered my fate relative to a strict six-hour cut-off.

I passed Kerri and Tiffany around mile 16. Tiffany keeled over the curb trying to puke, and Kerri egged her on. Soon, I was walking with Kerri and Tiffany: Kerri a 30-something stay-home mother of two and Arizona marathon veteran, and Tiffany a newcomer to the distance. A few minutes later, Kerri pushed us to resume running. We ran a bit, and walked a bit. I walked faster and separated myself from them on the walks, then joined them on the runs whenever they caught up with me.

I felt nauseous so I stopped drinking Gatorade and relied on water to settle my stomach. The sun scorched us as the temperature rose. I poured water on my head and neck at every water stop. My muscles hurt a lot. I took my last two Ibuprofen pills. I recalled the verse on the back of my shirt “Test me Lord and prove me, try my heart and my mind” and dialogued with my Lord on the extent of this test.

Kerri carried us through the next six miles, but I lost them for good around mile 23. The last three miles accentuated my plight. New aches and pains surfaced every few steps, making this marathon an equal opportunity stressor. Fortunately, none of the pains foretold an injury, so I pushed through and revised upwards my projected finish at every split. I maintained hope in a sub-six hour finish barring a total collapse, and I kept faith that my heart and mind would pass this trial, and they did.

I ran the last fifth-mile and crossed the Finish Line in 5:46:46. Medal around my neck and water bottle in my hand, I walked to the awaiting Fiat 500 rental car for the 14-mile ride back to the Courtyard. There, I showered, laid flat for an hour, checked out, ate a steak at Outback, and drove to Sky Harbor Airport for the red-eye flight home.

Dr Kamal Jabbour flashed and crashed his way from Buckeye to Glendale to finish the Arizona Marathon. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2013 Dr Kamal Jabbour