I remember after my 2nd marathon (first ever destination race) cruising around the web looking at different races around North America and happened upon a report from the JFK50. Reading about these people running 50miles, finishing in the dark wearing reflective vests mesmerized me and boggled my mind. I just could not imagine doing this and that thought stuck with me for a couple of years. I decided this year would be the year that I ran it, and based on last year’s qualifications I would need to run a sub-9:00 50 miler to get in the early entries. I set my sites on Sulphur Springs in May and managed to pull off a nice 8:22. I sent my application into JFK the first day I could and was happy to make the cutoff as it seemed like it sold out in 7 days.
Heading into the fall and this race it was supposed to be just a relaxed, end of season race. My original goal was to aim for a sub 3:15 marathon at Wine Glass and that is where my summer training focused. However, all of that got sidelined with Kim’s pleurisy, so it ended as a false start. Since I had done the training and not the race, I decided to continue with the build and change my JFK goal from a fun run to a more ambitious goal of sub-8:00. I knew it was lofty, but I also figured I should try, after all I was in great shape and there was no reason not to at least try.
Kim and I drove down on Thursday so we had Friday to pre-drive the check points (where she would meet me as my handler) before the race. It was a good thing we did because a couple of the check points were pretty remote and it made her task a little easier on race day.
Race pickup was pretty simple as it was in the Hotel where we stayed and we just headed down in our PJ pants and Flip Flops. Love that.
As with most races, weather obsession became a big part of my life for the two weeks leading up. JFK can have quite the swing in temperatures and I was rehearsing for everything. Fortunately, the day turned out to be almost ideal with a starting low of -1C and a high of 10C with a slight SE wind. I went with shorts and three different tops as the day progressed, thank goodness for my handler. J Now, JFK50 has three distinct and different sections to it, and can be broken down like a triathlon; The Appalachian Trail (15.5miles), The Tow Path (26.5miles), The Rolling Country Road (8Miles). After reading a few reports and descriptions of the trail section, I decided it was best for me to run the first section in trail shoes and then take the time to switch to a road shoe for the final 34.5 miles. The only issue was that that section also included about 3.5 miles of road/pavement and really 12 miles of trail, but that trail was supposed to be a rocky road. I settled on using the new Lasportiva Syklites, a perfect hybrid trail and road shoe that I have fallen in love with and my trusty Mizuno Precisions for the remainder of the race. Fuel wise, I stayed with my trusty EFS Gel flasks with a side of Gu’s, S!Caps, and whatever I felt like at the aid stations (which ended up not being much).
Kim and I arrived at the High School in Boonsboro in plenty of time to hear the pre-race speech and chat with a few of the runners from the Burlington crew.
We made our way to the start line taking our time with a brief stop for the ceremonial picture in front of the Colombia Bank sign.
Then crap, we hear an announcement that there is one minute to the start, and we were not even close. We hustle to the start, I work my way in, take a breath, and the gun goes off. No waiting for this one to start.
As mentioned, the race starts on paved roads, it progresses over a couple of rolling hills for about the first mile, and then climbs straight for 1.5 miles. It was the beginning of a long day so I just kept my effort easy and plodded up the hill. I was keeping around the same group of runners, so I knew it was pretty relaxed and everyone was just getting into the race. At the top of the first climb, we then turned on to the trail for about 1 mile. This was a great taste for what laid ahead. You read that it is rocky, and it is! There are rocks everywhere and you are either running on them or around them. They are not massive, but aren’t pebbles either. Thank goodness for trail races and training that I had done under similar conditions as I just let instinct take over and do my best mountain goat impersonation. Out of that short trail section, a brief aid station stop to refill my flask with water and then we were on pavement again. For this part you are on what seems to be a single lane road that ends at a communication tower at the top of the road. I say top of the road, because this was another section of continuous climbing. I like most others, ran most sections and just walked the steeper parts just grinding it to the top. Finally we were done and back on to the trail. I knew most of the climbing was over with at this point, and let myself open up the pace a bit, passing some less experienced on the trails, finally getting into race mentality (the warm up was over).
I wasn’t really too worried about pace at this time, I was trying to get close to a 6 min/km pace knowing that is what I needed to hit my 8:00 goal, but I was really trying to be off the trail by 2:30 into the race. With 3 different sections of the course, even pacing (like for a marathon) was out the window; I had found a pacing chart on the Reston Runners JFK50 site and that was the goal time for that section.
I was really enjoying the trail once I got into the groove of it, kept on top of my hydration and nutrition and just enjoyed the time in the woods; soon the trail started descending - slowly first and then quite steep through a series of very rocky switch backs and we descended the Weaverton Cliffs, exiting to the cheers of the crowd at the bottom. I exited at 2:27, right on schedule.
Kim was waiting for me just after the exit, so I jumped out of the way of the other runners and started my “transition”. Shoes and timing chip (that was a bit of a pain) shirt change, gloves, new fuel and water, Garmin back on and I was off running again in 4mins.
For the time lost here, it paid many times over for the security and comfort on the first section and for the next 34.5 miles.
Leaving the base of the cliff, you are not on the tow path just yet, there was about .5km of some fun single track before you finally exit to the Weaverton aid station, cross a set of railway tracks and you are on the tow path; 26.2 miles to go on this section.
This was the section of the race I was really most worried about. It was the least technical/challenging, but it was also the easiest to lose time on. Goal was simply to stay focused for the tow path marathon and run a solid even pace. Again with the first section, I stayed on top of my nutrition and hydration, even taking a couple of brief walking breaks to make sure I took care of the little things, so they wouldn’t become big things.
I was pacing fairly steady and on target hitting the 25 mile mark on my Garmin just before the 4hr mark. However, about 5 minutes later, I hit an aid station that was at 24.8 miles. Oops, my Garmin was tracking long, first time ever for a trail race. I wasn’t too worried because I had the easier section(s) ahead, but also the more tired legs as well. Again, focus on keeping steady.
Kim was waiting for me at the Antietam Aqueduct aid station (27.1 miles).
I did my second shirt change of the day, it was a beautiful day and the bare arms felt refreshing, but stayed with gloves.
Quick swap of bottles and taking on more nutrition and I was out in a couple of minutes; still a long way to go.
Pace stayed fairly constant, and I checked every once and a while, but I was running a pretty even pace so stayed with what felt right. Just before my next meeting with Kim at Taylor’s Landing, I passed a spectator who told me I looked good, I responded that I felt like crap. She responded, you’ve just run 38 miles, how do you expect to feel? That summarized it well. I was getting tired, and pulling in at 38.5 miles, Kim knew it. I was tired.
But the best thing I could do was not linger, so I got moving again after a quick swap of things. Key thing with Ultras that way, you can’t waste too much time at aid stations as you get too comfortable and you can lose too much time. So I took off, running a little harder to get the body moving.
Again I passed another spectator who said the same as the previous and I responded the same. Their response was just what I needed. They said ‘You sure don’t look it’. This was the little boost I needed, because to me even though I was running tired, I was still running strong and that was most important. Stay on pace and stay on form.
Leaving Taylor’s Landing, I only had 3.5 miles until Damn #4 and the end of the tow path, just over 5km left, so the end was near and I started pushing as best I could. Then, with about 1km to go, I could see the Damn in the distance and then the tow path was over. I made as quick stop at the aid station and then onto the final 8.2 miles.
So leaving the tow path was the first time I really had a feel for what my finishing time could be. I had run 46 miles in 6:30, just another 8.2miles in 1:30 to run sub-8 hours. Very possible, but I would have to keep it strong. Knowing full well of how tough the last 10km of a marathon can be, where when you start walking, you bleed minutes; nothing was for sure.
The first .2 miles of the last section are uphill. I had read that it is runnable on fresh legs, but best to walk it at this point in the race, so that is what I did, taking in water and gels while I had the chance. The top of the hill is the 8 miles to go mark and the countdown started.
The rest of the race course is roiling, paved country roads, a refreshing change from the tow path, but offering its own challenge as any sort of uphill at this point is tough. There were a few of us on this section within sight and I could tell we were all just in our own world, pushing to the finish. I thought of the early morning intervals and tempo runs, the races, and progression runs I had done to get me here and fed off those feelings. Dig deep, and keep pushing it will be over soon enough. I met Kim for the last time at the 46.0 mile mark where I dumped my Speed Belt, shoved a gel in my gloves and made for the finish.
I had been counting down in all seriousness since the 5mile (8km) mark and now with 6km to go, I was starting to smile inside.
At 5kms to go, it should hurt like Carleton Place 5km race last July, and it did. Reached the water station at 1.2 miles to go, grabbed a cup of water and took off for home. Then sooner than expected, the final turn for home and I saw the glorious finish line off in the distance.
I felt I had a little left in the tank to push harder to the end, but really what was the point? I enjoyed every moment of the final run to the finish of the JKF50, smiling and still feeling strong.
Time: 7:45:14, way under my 8:00 goal time and not one faltered step all day.
As I have stated many times in the past, this is not a journey I could make alone. Kim was there for me through all the training and spot on, at every station doing everything I asked. My life partner is also my race partner and I carried her on my shoulder the whole way. This one was for you sweetie. Thank you for all you do.
And Coach Derrick, I hate it when you are right, but you were in everything you made me do for this! There is no way that I would have come close by myself. Now let’s go after that 100 miler. J
Some Final Stats
Time 7:45:14. Distance: 50.2 Miles. 71st Overall. 3rd AG. 2nd Canadian.
Paces – 6:05/km, 5:29/km, 5:34/km