Dr. J on Running

35 Duke City Marathon, Albuquerque, NM

20 October 2013

So, as Ed starts many sentences, I flew first class to Albuquerque on Delta via MSP, and I enjoyed a hot cup of Bailey’s in coffee and a cold chicken salad for lunch. I landed in the ABQ Sunport filled with anticipation and apprehension – anticipation that I will follow a good run at Bismarck with a sub-5 run here, and apprehension that the high altitude will upset my anticipation. The airport was quiet, the bus ride to car rental swift, and car pickup efficient.

I drove directly to Big 5 Sporting Goods to pick up my race packet. As an early registrant, I qualified for an extra race shirt. The long-sleeve yellow shirt of mid-quality technical fabric sported a large sponsor logo on the front. A small re-USA-able plastic bag held the bib number and the goodies. I walked around the store for a few minutes, found nothing that I needed or wanted, and departed for the hotel.

I stayed at the TownePlace Suites near the airport, a few miles from downtown. After check-in and a short nap, I drove downtown for dinner with Gabe-and-Stacey, Simone, Sam-wife-and-baby, and Kurt-and-wife. This gathering included ACE alumni spanning a decade. Stacey planned to run the half, while Gabe and Sam formed a marathon relay team. The Standard Diner received a high rating from Guy Fieri, but its anti-Paleo menu left me wanting. I ended up with fish and chips in a fake newspaper in a basket.

I enjoyed a good night’s sleep, and topped it with a hearty breakfast. As I prepared to leave the lobby for the race expo, a hotel guest noticed my 50-states hat and called me. A 50-stater and Maniac, Minnesotan Julie was running Duke City for her 40th state. She aimed to run all 50 states in Boston qualifiers, and had run a double in New England the previous weekend. She entered Duke City on a whim to join Maniac friends Karen and Cade.

Armed with the zBoost app on my Motorola Defy XT, I went cell tower wardriving on my way to the Convention Center. I found seven towers and the Wells Fargo parking lot without difficulty. I walked around the expo, and noted with mild disappointment the exclusive focus on local health and fitness services. I checked out the race start line in front of Starbucks, indulged in a grande cappuccino, and returned to my room for a nap.

I joined the three Maniacs for dinner at Scalo Northern Italian Grill. The beef tenderloin tasted very good, but the three tooth-picks of asparagus disappointed as did the tiramisu. Conversation over dinner focused on marathon stories. Cade aimed to run all 50 states under 3:30, and NM was his 49th state. Karen sought 50 states under 4 hours and was well on her way. Julie was running them under 3:45. I felt a little bit out of my league, but I enjoyed thoroughly the company of these road warriors.

I traveled early – very early – to downtown on race morning listening to K-Love. I parked in the Wells Fargo parking lot, and walked the short block to the start line. I chatted with a Maniac and a few volunteers, then sought warmth in the lobby of the Hyatt and awaited the opening of Starbucks.

The trumpet played the national anthem, and the clock sent us off at 0730. I wore an old wind jacket and covered my fists with a pair of old socks. I settled into a 4-and-4 shuffle, and felt good running an 11-minute pace. Junior ROTC cadets manned the water stations at every mile, and I planned to hydrate at even miles. I resolved to restrain my early speed to 5.5 mph by walking and eating half a Powerbar every hour.

After a short run on city streets to thin out the 600-runner field, we joined a paved bike trail than ran north-east along the Rio Grande River all the way to the turnaround. The wide dirt shoulder offered an opportunity for easy on-off to change gait and ease the pounding. A handful of hot air balloons greeted us in the rising sun. The dry air evaporated instantly my sweat and left a thin layer of salt on my skin. I ditched the hand-socks and jacket in time for my first walking meal.

I ran with Maniac Allison early and often throughout the race. Sporting a new Berlin Marathon shirt, she had just run four marathons in two weeks. We passed the miles comparing notes and common race experiences, until she took leave from me to listen to a podcast. I also ran briefly with a Harvard PhD in mathematics from the University of New Mexico.

I reached 11 miles in under two hours, so I walked to the top of the hour while eating the second half of a Powerbar. I felt good, and maintained a 4-and-4 breathing pattern. The next segment included the only hills on the course. I hit the halfway mark at the highest point on the course in 2:27, right on target, 9 minutes slower than Bismarck. All I had to do was run downhill towards the finish line. I passed 16 miles in 3 hours and ate another half-Powerbar.

The water stations situated a mile apart, I stopped at alternated stations to drink half-a-cup each of water and Gatorade. The water stations that appeared well-stocked on the way out started running out of fluids on the way back. With a hundred runners behind me, I was horrified to find the water station at mile 16 totally out of fluids, except for a cup of water for an overheated pooch. The next two stations fared no better. Fortunately, the race organizers rushed small-portion water bottles that provided ample hydration.

The thin air at 5,000 feet caught up with me around mile 18, and I felt overcome by overall tiredness. I did not feel any shortness of breath or muscle pain, nor did I get cramps or joint aches. I felt just tired – very tired – so I turned to my tested-and-proven quarter shuffle. I walked a quarter mile and jogged a quarter mile, and with every iteration, I ran a bit farther. An uncommon toe blister threatened to upset my gait. My head raced with distance, pace and time computations, in an attempt to predict a meaningful finish and justify the defeatist tactics for the miles ahead.

Stacey ran the half-marathon in 2:06 and doubled back to escort me in. We met around 21.25 miles, and we ran at a good clip to the next mile marker. We alternated a quarter mile walks with ran 3 quarter-mile runs until 23.8 miles when we came upon a 72-year-old runner in distress. A 50-stater unaccustomed to altitude running, he suffered from dehydration and fatigue, and showed signs of disorientation. Stacey stayed with him while I pushed ahead to find help.

I latched onto anyone who passed me to muscle through the last few miles. I ran briefly with Beth, a member of the 50-states board of directors, whom I had met earlier at the North Shore Marathon in O’ahu where she finished running all 50 states for the second time. Five hours out of reach, I excused myself from any further hard work to expedite recovery for Oklahoma.

Gabe and Sam met me around mile 26 for a proper escort towards the chute. I crossed the finish line in 5:14:03, a 12-minute average for the day. After a 2:27 first half, I ran the second half in 2:47, a solid performance at altitude. Cade finished in 3:29, Julie won her age group in 3:42, and Karen won hers in 3:59 – all three achieving their goals.

There was still no sign of Stacey. Later that evening, I learned that Stacey stayed with the old guy while medical personnel attended to him. At his insistence, they cleared him to continue, and Stacey walked with him the rest of the way. She gave him the necessary support to check off New Mexico.

I found nothing edible in the post-race refreshments area, so I drove back to the hotel. The IHOP next-door kicked off my recovery with the necessary protein in the form of steak and eggs. A shower and a nap later, I would have been ready for the return trip home, but my cell phone brought me back to reality. In a rare Sunday afternoon phone call, and after inquiring about my marathon, my boss tasked me with an emergency trip to Florida.

Dr. Kamal Jabbour substituted a call to duty for his post-race massage therapy. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2013 Dr Kamal Jabbour