"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wrapping Up the Year - JFK 50 Miles

PSA: Oh boy! Could this report take any longer to come out. I have no one but myself to blame. As the year wears on, my desire to jump on the computer post race and write wears on and on as well. Apologies for this race report coming out almost a month after the race. 

At the start
While planning my race schedule in late 2014, I knew that I didn't want to run the Philadelphia Marathon again. I had a great time racing my local race, but I just wanted a change. I looked around, and lo and behold, the JFK 50 was taking place that same weekend. After consulting with Amy, I decided that JFK 50 would be my final race for the year instead of the marathon. 2015 has been full of ups and downs, and I was anxious to wrap it up with a good race. I had no crazy goals in mind going into this race, other than I really wanted to break 10 hours. On paper, JFK seemed like a great race to accomplish this goal, easily?
Ready at the start
JFK 50 has a long history, and it is on the bucket list of many ultra runners. Looking at the race results from years past, you will see many names that are well known in the ultra world. It is also a family of runners that get together, year after year to retrace their footsteps through Maryland trails and roads. The race starts in the little town of Boonsboro, it goes onto the Appalachian trail for about 15 miles, you drop onto the C&O Canal for another 26 miles, and then it is short 8 miles or so on bumpy country roads to Williamsport High School. According to the official website, race description is given as:
The JFK 50 Mile is the nations oldest and largest ultramarathon.  It was first held in the spring of 1963. It is the only remaining 50 mile event of several held around the country as part of President John F. Kennedy's push to bring the country back to physical fitness. The military personnel that take part in the JFK 50 Mile are extremely well-prepared, disciplined and (even when greatly fatigued) always courteous to everyone involved with organizing and/or supporting the event. It is always a true honor --and pleasure-- to host U.S. Military personnel at the JFK 50 Mile.
With Amy running the Philadelphia Marathon, I would be flying solo for this adventure. I packed up my stuff and drove about 3 hours to Maryland to grab my bib and hang out in the hotel. By ultramarathon standards, this race starts kind of late at 7 am, but I still had to get there early for the briefing and to make my way to the start line. I found a nice little local pub that night, and got some great food and beer. The drive next morning was quick. I dropped off my finish line bag and found a nice cozy spot in the gym. It was an honor to be in the presence of many JFK veterans, US military veterans, and many other great runners new and old. It definitely had an old school vibe. You could tell that some of these folks have known each other for many years. After a brief race intro, the RD gave the signal for everyone to make their way to the start line. It was a good 15-20 minute walk, and I was glad that I walked up right away, rather than waiting to use the bathroom one more time. At exactly 7am we were given a go signal, and over 1000 runners started heading up the hill. As we started there was still a large group of people making their way to the start from the gym.
Appalachian Trail
The race starts uphill, right away, and it stays uphill for several miles, before it crests on top of the hill and runners step onto the Appalachian trail. I was looking forward to the trail, and while it was very rocky and technical, it was not impossible after all the crazy terrain I was in this summer. On the other hand, I could see how this terrain would be very difficult for trail running newbies, and road runners. Sure enough, while I didn't see it, there was a medical emergency on the trail with runner falling and breaking a leg. I saw many bloody faces that day as well. I kept an easy steady pace through the whole trail on the way to the switchbacks that would spit us out onto the C&O canal. The switchbacks were fun. I wish I could have went down a little bit faster, but it was impossible and dangerous to do it in a big group of people that formed by the time I got there.
Man on a mission
Soon enough, I was crossing the train tracks and running on the flat C&O Canal for the next 26 miles. I knew these miles would suck, but I wanted to make the best of it. The sun was bouncing of the Potomac and the views were great. I concentrated on my pace and the views and tried to take it easy yet steady. I was making good time. There are numerous aid stations on the canal, with many of them being hard cutoff points for the race. I tried not to worry at all about the cutoffs, as I was confident that I would make them all. They are very strict and from what I heard many people do not make them. The volunteers and crowds at these aid stations were just great. Very encouraging and supporting. JFK 50 is a great race for spectators and families to see their runner. Alas, I was alone so I just kept going, which was probably a good thing. It limits on your typical aid station time wasting.
Cramping after the race sucks
At some point, some 25 miles into the race, I was starting to feel some fatigue and had to take short walking breaks mixed in with running after mile 30. I was trying to make these as short as possible, being very mindful of the time on the clock and my goal. By the time I was reaching the end of the canal, I realized that I would be getting the infamous reflective vest for the duration. I missed that "cutoff" by 15-20 minutes. I am not sure why people make such a big deal about the vest, as the country roads are very narrow and you are running with traffic for the most part. They are very necessary. People need to get over it. By the time I got off the canal, I had a bit over 8 miles to go, and about 1:15 left on the clock, before my goal. Those last 8 miles were a major struggle. At times, I didn't think that I could run any more and would break into a fast hike, especially on many uphills (rolling hills are very annoying). I kept repeating to myself, You got this, Just run, go go go, you will rest tomorrow. I sucked it up, and ran. I ran until I saw the finish line, and I ran until I crossed it in 9:57 (333/826). Goal achieved!
I was overcome with major emotions of joy, with slight tears in my eyes. The effort I put in to cross that finish line took me to another level. I was overjoyed that I was able to make it under my imaginary goal. I don't know why 10 hours was so important to me, but I could just tell it was and that I would have been very disappointed if I didn't make that time goal. The JFK 50 did not disappoint. I was in awe learning how fast the front guys finished, but more in awe of the veterans, and others that started the race at 5 am and were still going when I passed them on the road and the C&O canal. Those people deserve the real credit. JFK 50 is definitely a race you should put on your list. It is one of those iconic races that everyone should do at least once. While I probably will not go back next year, I would most likely do it again at some point.
As the shuttle bus was driving me back to the start line to get my car, I was able to reflect on such a great race, and be grateful and thankful to be able to run healthy all year. I was happy to finish my racing year on a high note, and head into some much needed rest to recharge and get ready for new adventures in 2016.

Go forth and run.

I was able to run the entire race in a great combination of new Altra Olympus 2 and Injinji trail socks. They handled the entire race and 3 different terrains incredibly well. My feet were so happy. Great improvement on the already great Olympus line.


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