Dribbling a basketball … for 26 miles


The 2010 Napa Valley marathon had begun. Hundreds of running shoes hitting pavement did their rubbery shuffle as the athletes moved out. Breathing, too soon to be labored, was probably still audible as hundreds of chests inhaled, then exhaled. A basketball made its presence known in the usual way.

Come again?

Pablo Aguilera, a 24-year-old history teacher at Woodside High School and a practiced long-distance runner, ran the marathon on March 7, but unlike everyone else, he did it with a personal companion: a basketball that he dribbled, mostly from hand to hand, for the entire 26.2 miles.

The current Guinness world record for a marathoner dribbling a basketball is 3 hours, 48 minutes and 23 seconds, set by Jerry Knox at the 2009 LA Marathon, according to a Guinness spokeswoman.

Mr. Aguilera, who wants to beat that, completed the race in 4 hours and 11 minutes, which included some walking and hobbling.

Around mile 14, he slipped at a water station and his knee buckled with a popping sound, apparently from a bruised ligament, he said. He jogged and dribbled for four miles, walked and dribbled for a mile, and at mile 22, his knee went numb again "so I was able to deal with the pain and jog the rest of the way," he said in an e-mail.

He will be back. "It all started off as a joke until I figured out that I could actually break (the record)," he said. "I'm confident that if I'm healthy, I'll be able to do it. I don't like quitting."

He also ran for a cause: to raise money for Stanford College Prep, a program that guides first-generation college-bound students into college, including students at Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools. He raised more than $7,000 from 30 to 40 donors, he said.

A practiced dribbler

A runner bouncing a basketball uses twice the energy of someone who is simply running, Mr. Aguilera said a trainer told him.

To prepare, he said his coach tried to get him as tired as possible, to push through that barrier and continue training. Cross-training, done to reduce the likelihood of injury, included swimming and cycling. He ran with a basketball twice a week, he said.

For the race, the ball had to be a regulation size and inflated to a specific pressure, he said. He could retrieve a wayward ball provided he restart his running from the spot where he lost control.

To minimize such incidents, the ambidextrous Mr. Aguilera said he aimed the ball in front of himself and used alternate hands, called a cross-over dribble. "It's a big challenge," he said.

He acquired no calluses or blisters, though by the end of the race, he said he "pretty much had no fingerprints." During the race, he and a friend estimated his rate at 500 dribbles per mile for a grand total of about 15,000.

What was that like? "It became kind of like a natural rhythm and it took my mind off everything else," he said. "It's almost like a song. It's a beat and it's a constant. As long as I kept the beat, I was relaxed and I had a constant pace."

One racer complained that he was giving her a headache, he said. "She dealt with it," he said.

Mr. Aguilera knows basketball, having played his whole life, usually as a point guard, and he is something of an artist. "I love basketball and I used to love dribbling all the time," he said. "I found different fancy ways to dribble just to entertain myself. I can dribble with my knees."

Go to this link for more information and a video on Pablo Aguilera and Stanford College Prep.

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