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JFK 50 Mile - Run

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Boonsboro, Maryland
United States
Cumberland Valley Athletic Club
19F / -7C
Total Time = 8h 48m 56s
Overall Rank = 165/912
Age Group =
Age Group Rank = 0/
Pre-race routine:

I've wanted to do an ultramarathon for quite some time. I love racing, training to get faster, and competing in general. I had a different intention when signing up for this race. In addition to challenging myself physically and mentally, I also enjoy exploring, hiking, and just a journey in general. I love to crest a hill just to see the other side, or climb a mountain to get a view of the country, or just get to the bend in the road ahead to see what is around the other side. This race is famous as far as ultramarathons go, and was point to point, and not too far from where I live, so it seemed like a good choice.

I ran the NYC marathon 3 weeks prior and figured I would carry over the fitness and would have enough time to recover. That was the plan at least. I dealt with an injury leading into NYC, then had a rough recovery topped off with a flu. My 6 weeks leading into this race was a disaster. I usually go into races confident and prepared. I always am aware that anything can happen, but feel content that I've done enough. This time I wasn't so sure.

I left straight from work early Friday afternoon. I figured 5 hours would be enough time to get to packet pickup, which ended at 7pm. I BARELY made it. I pulled into the parking lot at 6:52. On top of the expected traffic around Baltimore, there was an accident which made it worse.

I figured that since this wasn't a huge race that I could just find a local hotel in the area when I got there, so I didn't pre-book. I got nervous after I called the first two and they were sold out, but managed to find a nice room at a reasonable price only a mile from the host hotel.

I made myself my pre- race dinner in the hotel room. I have a hearty chicken noodle soup, with lots of noodles, potatoes, carrots, chicken leg quarters, and other stuff. My wife makes it, and I eat it the night before every race. It is awesome! As I moved around my hotel room I lamented the fact that in a mere 24 hours simply walking about would be a challenge.

I fell asleep at about 10pm and woke up at 3:30 am. I heated my pre-race breakfast, which is a rice, meat, and egg porridge. I left the hotel room at about 5:30. It was COLD. It was 18 degrees F, and perhaps in January or February I would be more acclimated to this, but I just wasn't ready! Luckily the high school was open to the runners and we were able to stay warm up until the walk to the start.
Event warmup:

I stayed nice and warm in the Boonsboro High School until the mass of runners started to head out, and I went with them shivering in the grey early morning hours. I didn't warm up at all. I knew I would start with a slow jog up a huge hill/mountain and would be warmed up plenty soon enough.
  • 8h 48m 56s
  • 50.2 miles
  • 10m 32s  min/mile

I had no competitive goals for this race. I just wanted to finish. So my plan was to take it easy and just keep going. I had planned to walk up any steep sections if I felt they weren't really runnable, and walk through the aid stations.

The first 2.5 miles were mostly uphill. I actually didn't ponder this too much, since at this point I was struggling with my fuel belt. I never usually load it up so much. Typically I'll go out with only two bottles and refill at a park I regularly pass, and I don't usually carry much in the pouch. So the first issue I had was that it was bouncing like crazy and I kept trying to tighten it up as I ran, but couldn't. My hands weren't working too good because it was freaking cold. I stopped at one point and fiddled with it a bit. I got frustrated and just started running again. I took out two of the bottles and just started carrying them figuring that I would drink them soon enough and could put them back in when they were empty and that would solve the bouncing issue.

Once I got up to the AT it was pretty rocky, and bounding along the trails the belt started bothering me again. So at one point I thought I would just wear it as a "bandoleer" until one of the aid stations where I would fix it. I thought I could just pull it up over my shoulder from my waist and got it up over my elbow to my upper arm and chest (I must have looked RIDICULOUS), when WHAM I ate the dirt.

Two skinned knees later I was up and ok and running along the trail. I had tied a knot in the belt. (Either the buckle was defective or I just lacked the brain power to use it) The belt was nice and tight, maybe a bit too tight, but at least it wasn't moving.

Now that my belt issue was out of the way, I started to enjoy the race. It was hard to look anywhere but my feet though. Jagged rocks poked up from leaves, some were hidden entirely in the pools of leaves, little stumps and roots protruded along the narrow single track trail as well. I just fell in with a line of runners, it wasn't really easy to pass if I wanted to, and I wasn't going to run hard anyhow so I just trotted along with the group. I saw many other runners hit the trail and a few of the falls looked painful! One guy hit the dirt about 4 times in about a minute. I have some experience running trails but not really like this. I wouldn't say it was highly technical, just deceiving. It looked very runnable at points, but then a little rock would catch your toe or roll your ankle and keep you in check.

I made my way through the trails to the final descent to the C&O canal. This part I would say was pretty technical. It was very rocky, with some rocks that were pretty slippery, especially with a thin layer of leaves over the top (I was wearing Hoka Cliftons, so not the best trail shoe anyhow), and the turns were pretty steep. The trail at this point drops over 1000 ft in about a mile and I took it easy and slow.

I came out to a nice crowd at the bottom, which was nice to see, but I was actually tired. That trail took more out of me that I would have liked. With 34 more miles of running I honestly thought that I may have made a mistake in running this race.

I used a lot of muscles that I don't typically use in training. I run hills but I don't bounce foot to foot as much, or have big step ups or drop downs. Once I got to flat running, my trained muscles kicked in and I was comfortable soon enough. I had no idea how to pace though, 30+ miles of additional running was just not something that my brain could comprehend. I just took it at an easy jog and asked myself if I could run this pace all day, I found a nice easy zone (about a 10 min/mi), and started my marathon on the C&O.

I ended up running with someone that I struck up a conversation with. He had a similar marathon time, a similar weekly volume, but had done this race last year, so I figured he was the perfect candidate to pace along with. We ran mostly between 10 and 10:30 min miles as we trotted along. There were lots of aid stations and I thought they were great. A lot of local high school XC runners and coaches were manning the tables (they were awesome), and there was some good stuff. The chicken noodle soup was heavenly.

I've heard from others, and from the guy I was running with said it gets hard at 30+ miles. I was tired in the 20s, but not destroyed, and frankly I felt overall much better with 26.2 miles to go (at the 24 mile mark) than I have in the two IMs that I raced at the start of the marathon. My "running legs" were already worn out a though and I knew I couldn't race at IM marathon pace even if I wanted to.

So I hit the dreaded 30s, and actually felt pretty good. I started drinking coke at the aid stations and got the noodle soup when they had it. I did take a handful of gummy bears at one point, which I think was my only nutrition error. Not really from a digestion standpoint, but there were like little rocks from the cold. I kept waiting for my body to just say STOP RUNNING, but that never really happened. At mile 34 or so the guy I had been running with for the last 15 miles or so started to have some issues and said he was going to walk off a hamstring issue he had and would "catch up." But it was one of those moments, like in a war movie, where someone says "go on without me, I will catch up," but they got that look in their eyes that also says "goodbye." I said good luck, good race and trotted off ahead. I still felt good in the mid to late 30s and the remaining distance was becoming more comprehensible so I decided to pick up the pace a bit. I dropped to about an even 10 min/mile pace to the end of the C&O section of the race.

As far as this section went, I've heard some people criticize it as monotonous. I would agree only to the extent of the actual running surface and terrain. But it was absolutely beautiful. The river ran over rocks and cut through the hills right along side of the tow path. The almost de-leaved trees lined both sides along the way. At points, ivy grew up along the trees as the boughs met from either side overhead creating a beautiful "tunnel effect." And unlike the first stretch of the race, I could actually look around without worrying about being flung face first into a bed of pointy rocks.

The hill coming off of the path while being a welcome change from the marathon of flatness that I had just run was pretty challenging. I had to wake up some muscles that thought they were done 26.3 miles ago. But once they got going I started cruising along pretty easily. The last 8.2 miles rolled along country roads to the town of Williamsport. I stopped walking the aid stations and just chugged 2 cups of cola as I passed. As my confidence grew about finishing I continued to pick up the pace down from 10 min/mi, through the 9s and finished the last 2 miles in the 8s. I was just happy.

I never thought I would run 50 miles, and as I saw the finishing arch ahead, I knew I had. It was amongst my most satisfying race finishes. There wasn't a huge crowd at the end, but the race crew was welcoming, attentive and smiling, there were some runners with their support and families, and I felt good!
What would you do differently?:

Not carry a fuel belt. There was plenty of on course support and enough choices for nutrition and hydration. In the end the belt made my waist and back pretty sore. I could have run faster. I was way more beat up at the end of my marathon 3 weeks ago. I could have kept running if I had to, I still had some miles in the tank. On the other hand, I met my race goals and finished strong, so I might not change a thing.
Post race
Warm down:

Went into the school at the finish and debated a massage. It would have been nice, but I still had a LONG drive home and didn't want to spend too much time there. I had a bit of food and stiffened up a bit as I sat. I hobbled to the front of the school and hopped on a bus that took me back to the start.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

My race plan. Injury, short recovery, and illness the week before the race.

Event comments:

This was a great first ultra choice, and I would recommend it to anyone. It was just challenging enough, and had great course support. I enjoyed the race so much that I am left with a huge dilemma.

I've learned that I love running Ultras just as I love racing triathlon. Do I have enough time to do both? I guess I will just have to make time =)

Last updated: 2014-11-24 12:00 AM
08:48:56 | 50.2 miles | 10m 32s  min/mile
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/912
Performance: Average
Course: From downtown Boonsboro, up South Mountain to the Appalachian Trail (AT) 2.5 mi, up and down the mountains with a few steep sections along the rocky trail to a final descent at 14.5 miles to Weaverton Cliffs where swtichbacks drop you over 1000 ft in about a mile. The next section is a very flat dirt and grass path along the Chesapeake & Ohio towpath along the Potomac for 26.3 miles to Dam #4 where you leave the towpath at 41.8 miles and rise up a nice hill to the roads which roll through the countryside to the finish in Williamsport.
Keeping cool Good Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Good
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race? Yes
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2014-11-24 10:01 AM

Subject: JFK 50 Mile

2014-11-25 8:22 AM
in reply to: #5069554

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Extreme Veteran
Subject: RE: JFK 50 Mile
Nice job!
2014-11-25 10:33 AM
in reply to: mrheathen

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Mastic Beach, NY
Subject: RE: JFK 50 Mile
Congrats Rich on completing your first Ultra! That's a great time especially considering everything you've done this season and having to deal with not feeling 100% leading up to this race. I had a couple of friends down there do the race as well and they both did great and really enjoyed it. I'm glad you did well and had a great time. You've had quite an amazing season with a IMMT, the NYC Marathon and now the JFK50. That's an awesome season, congrats again on everything you've accomplished this year.
2014-11-25 12:44 PM
in reply to: strikyr

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West Allis, Wisconsin
Subject: RE: JFK 50 Mile

Good work!!

2014-11-26 7:03 AM
in reply to: #5069554

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ann arbor, michigan
Subject: RE: JFK 50 Mile
Well done. Great report. Makes me want to do one soon......
2014-12-08 6:33 PM
in reply to: wannabefaster

Subject: ...
This user's post has been ignored.

2014-12-13 7:22 PM
in reply to: Fred D

Subject: RE: JFK 50 Mile

Thanks everyone, had an awesome year and am really looking forward to the next one. Still trying to work out the schedule, but it is shaping up to be challenging again, but fun!
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