Dr. J on Running

40 Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon

26 April 2014

An on-time arrival to Detroit could have allowed me to catch an earlier flight to Indianapolis, but the Delta gate agent insisted on charging me a $50 flight change fee. So, I stayed in Detroit, walked the length of Terminal A and back – at 1-mile long, it is the second longest airport terminal in the world, and enjoyed steak-and-eggs at the Online Café.

While boarding the DTW-IND flight, the first officer Mark pulled me aside to discuss marathons. Once I settled in my seat, he walked down the aisle to discuss minimalist running shoes. As we prepared for take-off, he welcomed the passengers onto this flight, then “extended a special welcome to J in seat 5C who is on his way to Illinois to run his 40th marathon on Saturday” and asked the passengers to wish me luck. Sporadic, polite applause dotted the aircraft, and we were on our way. In the row behind me sat the Chief Scientist of the Air Force who did not recognize me – or avoided me – in my marathon travel attire.

The Illinois Marathon weekend coincided with the NRA convention in Indianapolis. Many passengers were on their way there, and I enjoyed the chatter about competing state restrictions on guns. The convention may explain the empty lots of car rental companies and the minivan that I ended up driving.

Once I crossed the border into Illinois, I rolled back my watch and stopped in Danville for the night. I noticed a highway sign for the Beef House that claimed it was voted the number 1 steakhouse in Indiana. I set my sights on it for my post-race meal.

I resumed my road trip in the morning, and reached Champaign-Urbana in time for the race expo. I enjoyed seeing race director Jan, the publisher of Marathon & Beyond and benefactor to the Ed Stabler National Distance Running Library in Syracuse. I picked up my packet – a very nice duffle bag and a lousy short-sleeve shirt.

A fancy machine took my vitals and proclaimed me 156 pounds, 5-foot 11 inches tall, 22 BMI and 22 percent body fat. I agreed with all but one of the readings – all other measurements put me below 15 percent in body fat. Anyway, I walked around the expo, chatted with exhibitors, and bought a 2013 long-sleeve neon race shirt.

I checked early into the Holiday Inn and took a long nap before meeting Maniac Joe for dinner at Cracker Barrel. I enjoyed the company, and ate my traditional steak, baked sweet potato and steamed broccoli dinner, before retiring for an early bedtime.

Race morning promised temperatures in the upper forties, rising into the sixties. I drove early to campus, parked near the I Hotel, and stayed inside with a Starbucks cappuccino in hand. At 6:45, we took the Maniacs group photo with Tammy, Joe and me. An a capella rendition of the National Anthem ushered the start of the race at 7am. With 8,000 entries in the half-marathon and 3,000 in the marathon, our corral reached the start line at 7:20.

I ran comfortably the first 6 miles amongst hundreds of runners that clogged the road. I noticed that the roads were made of poured concrete, and felt gradually the pounding taking a toll on my feet, knees and hips. After passing mile 6 in 63 minutes, my legs were trashed. I walked a few minutes, then tried to resume running to no avail. I walked much of the next 2 miles, and lowered my expectations from a sub-5-hour marathon to a sub-7-hour goal.

At mile 8, I channeled Jeff Galloway and alternated running a tenth-of-a-mile with walking a tenth-of-a-mile. This tactic brought me to 10 mile in 1:57, but exhaustion set in. I walked to the half-way point, which I reached in 2:42, then summoned my energy to run a couple of minutes. Confident that I could finish the race, I used the mile markers as goals. I walked to the next mile marker, then resumed running as far as I could before walking again. I increased gradually my runs from a 0.1 mile to 0.8 mile by the end of the race.

The pavement never changed throughout the course, alternating hard concrete with broken-up concrete. Even the bike path through the botanical gardens was poured concrete. I ran on the grass whenever possible, but runnable shoulders were few and far in between. In the meantime, the sun came out and the temperature crept into the seventies, reaching 83 degrees eventually. As emergency vehicles removed collapsed runners off the course, I switched into survival mode and abandoned time goals.

Drinking Gatorade and water at every aid station and pouring water on the back of my neck kept me reasonably cool. My calves cramped repeatedly, and my quads tightened. Nevertheless, my last 6 miles ended up my second fastest stretch since the first 6 miles of the race. I entered the stadium feeling giddy, and crossed the finish line in 5:43.

I loitered around the stadium for a few minutes, brought bananas to a runner crouched in the tunnel, then walked back to my minivan next to the I Hotel. After changing into dry clothes, I drove east to the Beef House. The rib eye tasted like the best piece of cow I have ever eaten, and the endless salad bar supplied coleslaw and beets. Back in Indianapolis, I spent the night at the Towneplace suites, then caught an early morning flight home.

Dr Kamal Jabbour completed Illinois to make it 40 marathons in 40 states. Dr. J's RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever endorphins call.

© 2014 Dr Kamal Jabbour