Dr. J on Running

Otter Creek Trail Marathon, Brandenburg, KY

21 December 2013

I flew to Louisville, KY, after three days of work in Albuquerque. I spent Thursday night across the Ohio River in Indiana, and drove back to Louisville on Friday morning. I picked up a nice long-sleeve race shirt and a bare bib number from Ken Combs Running Store, then continued south to Fort Knox.

I stopped first at the General George Patton Museum, and enjoyed seeing many of his personal effects. I reveled among the many posters displaying Patton quotes that I use in my leadership development summer boot camp. I felt the presence of the man who inspired me and shaped my career. However, I was horrified that PC crap ruined a perfectly good museum dedicated to a true leader.

After checking in at the IHG Army Hotel on post, I drove to Otter Creek Park. The stunning beauty of the park lifted my spirits, and I looked forward to a good run. I checked out the parking situation, and returned to Applebee’s for a steak and potatoes dinner. I looked at the weather forecast one more time, and I retired early.

Winter storm Gemini brought heavy rain, thunderstorms, flash flood warnings, tornado watches and temperatures in the 60s on race morning. I looked forward to running light in a Marathon Maniacs t-shirt and a pair of shorts. I arrived early to the campgrounds, and I met Maniacs Mary, Andrea and Jake, Danny, Harry and Vince. Rain stopped, and a calm before the storm reigned as a couple hundred runners gathered for an opening prayer and the start of the race.

The race web site described the course as “a wonderful trail to begin on”. The marathon consisted of running three times an 8.5-mile loop. I enjoyed the first couple of miles, and I held a slow steady pace as the field spread out. Then the sky opened up, and we endured an hour of thunderstorms, complete with wind gusts, downpours and bursts of lightning. My shoes and socks got wet early in the race, and the trail got progressively muddier. I managed initially to avoid slipping by walking the muddy parts, but my luck ran out half-way into the first loop.

My New Balance 789 trail shoes became less and less useful as mud turned into pea soup. I feared for my life at the switchback just before Mile 3, with minimal traction and a deep ravine. My fears got worse over the next 4 miles as we ran precariously close to the edge of the Otter Creek on banked muddy paths with little vegetation onto which to hold. As the rain fell harder, the trail turned into a stream and the stream crossings turned into flash floods. At one crossing, we formed a human chain to cross the water knee-deep.

Negative thoughts seeped into my psyche. Not only did I no longer enjoy the run, I feared for my life. I dreaded the prospects of running two more loops alone after the 8-mile folks finished. I realized that the trail would get only worse with more pounding, and I contemplated the persistent thunderstorms and the looming tornadoes and flash floods. As I inched my way along the creek, I knew that a slip into the raging waters may be fatal. I skidded repeatedly on the mud, and fell down three times on the fourth mile.

The last mile dissipated any lingering doubts about my defeat. Ankle-deep cold water turned the trail into a flowing stream. I splashed my way at full running speed, averaging a 19-minute pace while losing feeling in my toes. Although the rest of me felt warm in 62 degrees, wading in cold water was no fun. Finally, we came upon the end of the first loop, and I headed for the finish line. In 25 years of running, I experienced my first DNF ever, at any distance.

Dr Kamal Jabbour survived Kentucky, but he must return to run another marathon on another day. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2013 Dr Kamal Jabbour