The 48th (2010) edition of the JFK 50 Miler was my third time running the point to point course from Boonsboro to Williamport, Maryland, the bulk of which traces the contours of the C & O Towpath. It would have been my fourth JFK if I had gotten accepted into the 2008 edition - instead my lottery entry for that year was rejected. Thanks guaranteed entry because of my time at the Caumsett Park 50K, I signed up for JFK over the summer. At that time I didn’t think I’d be line up for the race undertrained and unprepared for the distance. But, be that as it may, I was still glad to be there!
My major concern centered on the drop off in mileage over the past month and a half. I had logged over 200 miles a month for the entire year heading into October. Then, sidetracked for a week of no running because of the Flu that kicked off the month, my weekly mileage dropped over the ensuing weeks. When I returned from an extended trip to Bangkok, I found myself unexpectedly lining up for the Bimbler’s Bluff 50K! While not a great way to taper for the NYC Marathon two week ahead, it was still a great event, despite my slowest 50K performance to date.
I didn’t fair much better at the NYC Marathon - an annual event on my race calendar. Whether it was too slow a recovery from the 50K, low mileage, or a combination therefrom, the 3:51 finish was my second slowest NYC Marathon. The following week I traveled to Berlin, and managed to log just over 6 miles on that trip. I arrived back home on Wednesday, and drove down to Maryland with Emmy on Friday! Hardly much time to recover from the jet lag - but I was still game for the race.
While those were my pre-race concerns, I’ve run enough races to know whatever pre-occupations dog you going into an event - banish them once the gun goes off. The JFK 50 Miler is basically 3 separate races - 15 miles on the trail (with some roads mixed in), 26 miles on the towpath, and a final 8 miles on the roads. My target was 3/5/2 - 3 hours on the trail, 5 hours on the towpath, and 2 hours on the last stretch - for a 10 hour finish. It seemed doable - but certainly ambitious under circumstances (that’s what I ran in 2007, but slower than my 2006 performance).
I ran the entire distance in trail shoes because the race organizers don’t provide for drop bags. My biggest gripe about this race is not having the opportunity to switch out of trail, and into road, shoes before starting off on the towpath section. If you have a crew, or club support, that becomes a moot point. For everyone else it’s a issue. In 2006 I ran with trail shoes. In 2007 I ran the course in road shoes - and that was a big mistake. Trail shoes the entire way is the lesser evil.
Weather-wise we had great conditions. I wore way too much (two long-sleeved tech shirts and a vest) and suffered for that decision. Even so, I really can’t remember any point during the day that I would have ditched more than one of the tech shirts. It was pretty windy on the towpath - and it did get a little chilly when it got dark out. That said, it was outstanding running weather! I just wasn’t in a position to really take advantage of it.
There were a lot of friends at this edition. Friday night, after a 5 and a half hour drive, Emmy and I went straight to packet pick-up (in 2008 she arrived too late and had to get her stuff race morning). Marge, Susan, Laura, and Tammy (swimming in hotel pool) were there at the time. We ran into Lucimar on the way out. After some Chinese food for dinner, it was an early night. A 5:15 wake-up call, then out the door just after 6 - with two glazed donuts in my belly for a pre-race breakfast! At the start we met up with Elaine - but didn’t catch sight of anyone else (Marge, Susan, and Lucimar opted for the 5 AM start).
I ran the first 2 and a half mile up the trail head with Emmy and Elaine. That road stretch took just over 28 minutes. Elaine went on ahead and then Emmy and I ran with Mat and Joe for a good stretch of the trail (walking together up to the cell tower). Our little group broke up heading down to the Gaitherton Gap (I wouldn’t see Emmy again until I was exiting the towpath at 42 miles!). I climbed out of the Gap with Mat, and then he eventually went on ahead.
I reached the Weaverton Cliffs at 3 hours - slightly behind schedule since I still had to descend the switchbacks! Unfortunately, I was stuck behind a line of runner (not that I had any intention of sprinting along the switchbacks). I reached the start of the towpath in 3:16 - slightly behind schedule. The towpath itself has individual mile markers - a mixed blessing. We start at roughly marker 59 and exit the towpath just beyond marker 84. I learned later, that there is an 8 foot elevation gain between each lock on the canal - which explained why it seemed that I was constantly staring uphill along the towpath!
The towpath was my toughest stretch - mentally. After the half way point I kept imaging myself in time trouble (“omg, I don’t think I finish this thing in 12 hours!” kept playing in my head). Along the towpath I would see Mat, Elaine, and Joe here and there. Later, approaching the “38 Special” aid station (mile 38) I ran into Bob, a fellow B.U.S. member. That was the extent of my socializing for the middle section of the race. I had reached the half way point (mile 24.8 aid station) in 4:57:45 - just shy of a sub 10 hour pace.
I spent most of the second half of the towpath counting mile markers. The high point was the “38 special” aid station - where my appetite finally returned. I ate, in no particular order, jelly bellies, gummie bears, red orange slices (that I at first thought were grapefruit), pretzel sticks, downed some mountain dew, and finished up some chicken soup! My somewhat full stomach slowed me down for a mile or so, but I was very excited to reach end of the towpath! I had promised myself that once I exited the towpath, I’d let myself walk - as long as I felt like it!!
So much for expectations! Just as I had my reflecting vest put on by a volunteer and was leaving the aid station, Emmy surprised me! I was already elated to be done w/the towpath - and have only 8 miles left - but this was an added bonus. Little did I know that she had no intention of walking. It took 5:23 to finish the towpath. Cumulatively, I was 8:39 into the race (39 minutes off pace). If I hit the 2 hour target I would finish in 10:39 - which, given my strong desire to start walking, didn’t seem likely at that point.
Amazingly, by hook or crook, I found myself continuing to run - mostly because Emmy kept insisting we could run it in at a 12 minute pace by then. I was almost incredulous as we continued to knock off the miles. At this point in the race the markers are reversed, noting how many more miles are left to go (8, 7, 6, and so on). When it started to get dark, I actually knocked off a sub 10 minute mile (mainly because I wanted get off the unlit country road before it got too dark to see). It was funny get some grief from Emmy at that point because I was running too fast. And we sped up again at the last aid station, with 1.5 miles to go, knocking off that remaining distance in 16 minutes! We finished the last stretch in 1:58 - 2 minutes faster than targeted!
Even the last quarter mile was interesting because a volunteer attempted to direct Emmy in the final turn, crossing an intersection in the process. They actually got into a mild shouting match! Hard to imagine Emmy losing her temper - however briefly - and yelling at a volunteer. Aside from that bit of excitement, we crossed the finish in 10:37! Although in my rush to get inside and change out of my wet clothes, I forgot to give back my chip. I had to revisit the finish to have it clipped off before taking the bus back to Boonsboro.
Post-race was fun. Inside the gym was Joe (who had finished his 10th JFK - woo hoo!), Mat, Elaine, and Lucimar. In an interesting twist on the post-race food, they added burritos to the menu. So I had a slice of pizza and a burrito before calling it a day. All in all, a successful day at the races :D
here are my race photos.