Earlier this year I thought it would be “fun” to run a 100k, 50 miler, and marathon within an 8 week period. Alyssa was on board, and I guess I was delirious, and I went ahead and registered for the JFK 50 Mile, which touts itself as the country’s oldest ultramarathon. You can read more about the history of the race here: http://www.jfk50mile.org/history/
JFK would be 5 weeks post-Cloudsplitter and in my mind that would be more than enough time to recover and get ready to go again. However, I struggled to recover from Cloudsplitter. The most unexpected part for me was that the recovery was hard not only physically, but also mentally. I definitely underestimated how much that kind of effort would take out of me. I didn’t do much in the month after the race and my quality efforts were few and far between. I can recall one solid swim and one decent outside ride and a couple of good treadmill efforts, but really that was it.
In light of that, a week or so before the race, I emailed Alyssa saying I presumed I wasn’t doing JFK. In what comes as a shock to no one who knows her, Alyssa replied that she presumed I *WAS.* She told me to just go out and “cruise” for 50 miles. Mind you, I couldn’t even remember the last time I did a long run, between taper and recovery from Cloudsplitter. JFK has some strict time cut offs throughout the course and you have to finish in 13 hours. That seemed fairly aggressive to me, but Alyssa was convinced that so long as I kept moving, those cut offs wouldn’t be an issue.
I was so uncertain about what I would be able to do that I told Jennifer (who would be spectating) and Megan (who would be running) not to mention anything about me running on social media. I had told a couple of friends that I wasn’t sure I would do it, but basically no one knew I was going for it except for Alyssa, my husband, my boss, and the girls.
I drove up to Hagerstown on Friday night and didn’t buy any swag because I thought the chances of me not finishing were pretty damn high (although I did buy Megan the cutest Maryland pom-pom hat).
If you’re thinking about doing this race, there are a couple of items to note from race morning. First, packet pick-up is a solid 20 minute drive from the race start, so if you stay by packet pick-up account for that when you’re planning your race morning schedule. Second, parking at the start is a total shit show. They really should have people there directing traffic. That is one of my few criticisms of the race.
In any case, after I finally found parking, I met up with Megan in the school parking lot and we went inside for the athlete briefing. It was nice to be inside for this, although the bathroom lines were too long to even attempt a final pit stop before the race start. After the briefing, everyone walked together to the race start, which is maybe a quarter to half mile from the school.
Start and AT (15.5 miles)
Just like at Cloudsplitter, you start the course running uphill on the roads. Lots of people were walking this but I really didn’t want to get stuck behind a bunch of slowpokes on the trail, so I wasn’t sprinting or anything, but tried to keep moving. Megan and I stuck together, even thought it was semi-crowded.
We got on the Appalachian Trail (AT) together, and fairly early on we started talking to two woman we had been running with. This is when I met “H” who I ended up running the majority of the race with.
The AT section was fairly uneventful. It was muddy and I did fall into the snow once (I was totally fine), but other than that, there isn’t much to report. What’s funny is that after Cloudsplitter, the AT section didn’t feel technical AT ALL until the very end. I think Cloudsplitter has forever changed my perception of what constitutes a “technical” trail.
You exit the AT and there is a big crowd waiting for you and cheering. A man said “Welcome to Waverton!” as we were descending to the road and it felt like I was in a movie. It was very cool!
Towpath (through mile 42)
The second part of the race is on the C&O Canal Towpath. H and I ran this entire thing together. Although calling it “running” might be generous. We “ran” 13 minute miles. We were slow and steady. We stopped at the aid stations to eat and drink, grab nutrition, refill packs, etc., but otherwise jogged the whole way.
Stopping and starting again at the aid stations was so painful (we would actually countdown “3-2-1” and then start running it was so bad getting started again) that we decided that walking was actually going to be worse than just maintaining a steady trot (lots of people were doing run/walk intervals and I honestly have no idea how their legs were handling that).
Through this entire section, I was SO good about my fueling. I learned my lesson from Cloudsplitter: no matter how tired, cranky, hurting, etc. you are in a race, you need to EAT.
Somewhere along the towpath, we started doing some math and figured out that we might be able to break 12 hours, which was both an unexpected surprise and a great motivator to keep on chugging along!
Pavement (to the finish at 50+ miles)
By the end of the Towpath, H was really hurting. I gave her some ibuprofen (even thought she had been anti taking pain killers earlier in the race). I waited while she used the bathroom and then held back with her on the pavement for a time, but ultimately it was pretty clear I was feeling stronger than her and she told me I could go ahead. I felt bad since we had spent the entire day together, but I didn’t want to let the sub-12:00 finish slip through my grasp.
This section had been described to me as “rollers” but I actually didn’t think it was that bad (I always think “rollers” is a euphemism for big hills). I tried to continue with my slow and steady effort and slowly count down the miles one by one.
As in any race, these last few miles started to feel *very* long. A lot of people were run walking and it was getting a little annoying for me to pass them only to have them pass me and then walk again. But, I tried to focus on my own race. I kept doing the math, and realizing I would be well-under the 12 hour mark, which was quite unexpected, particularly in light of how I felt heading into the race.
I ended up crossing the line in 11:33, surpassing my expectations by a long shot!
I saw Jennifer and Megan at the finish and it was hilarious because Jennifer was very animated and clearly annoyed at herself for not having her phone out to take a picture of me crossing the line. That image will be in my brain forever when I think about this race.
In the end, while I liked this race, I’m not sure if it is one I will do again, just because the towpath is so monotonous, but I am glad I did it.
Now, I have to rest up for the Rehoboth marathon on December 8! If nothing else, I know I should be able to “cruise” for 26 miles!