We came, we saw, we ran.
Diaa and I met up in Cairo last week and set out at 1 a.m. to be part of the mini-bus caravan to the start of the Pharoanic 100K. With us were our own hand-picked support crew: Laurel Anderson, Ismail Fahmy, Mohammad, and our driver. They would be our lifeline during our adventure.
The goals that Diaa and I agreed upon when we began working together in July were to strengthen his core, heal his hamstring injury, and deepen his cardio base. In the following months we worked diligently towards achieving those goals. By the time the start line structure was assembled in the desert outside Cairo, we knew we had done everything we could to prepare for this challenge.
We sent out with workmanlike purpose, running the early miles mostly in studied silence. Our surroundings were severe: we passed several prisons, and encountered packs of wild dogs who were picking though garbage and who barked at us as we passed.
Soon we were out in open desert, which suited both of us perfectly. It was starting to feel like a true adventure. The miles brought us within sight of our first massive pyramid, and led us onto a road paralleling a canal.
Farmers worked their fields as we ran by, and at the first village we entered, children swarmed to us and ran on our heels, calling out, “Hallo! What’s your name?” We also passed men bearing automatic weapons and rifles, presumably confiscated from the police or obtained on the black market from Iraq. Destpite the menace of the firearms, the locals — even the armed ones — were generally supportive and friendly.
We passed the 40K mark — just short of a full marathon — in under 4 hours, with plenty of gas left in the tank, thanks to the food and hydration offered by our support team. At 55K, Diaa surged ahead. We were on a solid pace at just under 9 minutes per mile. My job as a pacer for the first half of Diaa’s journey was done, but I kept running anyway for the joy of it (or out of stubbornness; sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference).
Farther up the road, past 70K, I saw Diaa pausing at the support van. When I caught up to him, he reported that his IT band,which had been bothering him in the early miles, was causing severe pain to his outer knee. He had been taking ibuprofen, and had stretched early on, but now we added more stretches, iced the knee, and massaged him to get him running again. At first it worked, and he made it a few more miles before the pain returned. Soon, Diaa came to a stop. The pain had become too much to bear. He decided to drop out of the race.
This wasn’t a decision that Diaa wanted to make, but it was the right one.
It could have been a somber moment, but it wasn’t. Diaa had achieved so much during his four months of training. He had lost 35 pounds, built a strong core, developed good funtional strength, and had created a powerful endurance engine, all while gaining the strength and cooperation of his hamstrings. Ultimately, he ended up running a longer distance in the Pharoanic 100K that he had ever achieved before (48 miles) at a pace that was actually slightly faster than our goal (just under a 9 minute pace).
Perhaps most importantly, though, he had displayed deep reserves of courage — not just the kind that can compel you to continue, but the kind that knows when the tough decision to stop has to be made.
While it is disappointing that Diaa was not able to cross a finish line, he was able to accept that he had run a great, smart race. Diaa knows that his IT band will respond to hip strengthening and flexibility training, and he’s looking ahead to training and racing in 2012.