Wednesday, December 17, 2014

JFK 50 Miler

JFK 50 Miler November 22, 2014  Boonsboro to Williamsport Maryland

This was my second time running this race, four years after my first time.  My training leading to the race was primarily marathon training.  I had run the Air Force Marathon in September and the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October (as a training run).  I had one other similar distance training day 2 weeks before the JFK. I thought that I could probably finish the 50 miles in about 10 hours if things went well.  My main goal was to run comfortably and finish without hating that I had entered.

Me in blue, Ralph black over red, Erica & Misti in pink
I lined up for the start at about the middle of the nearly 1000 starters. I was next to my friend and long time training partner Ralph.  Ralph planned to run the early part with a friend Erica and another mutual friend Misti was with us there.  As we headed up the road from downtown Boonsboro toward South Mountain and the Appalachian Trail(AT) there was friendly chatter and teasing in our little group.  We ran almost all of this 3 mile steep uphill on pavement and then we joined the mostly single file conga line on the AT.  It felt like a bit too strong of an effort this soon, but staying together seemed good.

As the trail section continued and runners spread out we got separated and reconnected several times.  There was a lot of chatter as runners got acquainted and shared their 'race resumes' and experiences.  There were some foreign accents and languages mixed in which add to the fun while listening.  By 5 or 6 miles into the race I had decided keeping up with Ralph and Erica would cost me too much later.  As I fell off their pace it turned out that Misti and ran together off and on through the rest of the trail section. 
My fueling plan was to take gels about every hour, eat from the aid stations and drink to thirst.  I was pretty much on track with that throught the trail section.  My energy level was good but my legs gradually felt some muscular fatigue.  That probably was due to little training on trails and hills.
It seemed many runners were not so confident on trails and were being really careful picking their way over/under/through the rocks, roots, etc.  And they were going slower than I found comfortable, so I was often looking for opportunities to put on a little spurt to pass.  And some others were passing me, as well.
As I continued what mostly seemed a comfortable pace, my left ankle was getting sore with all of the extra flexing required on the rocks and roots.  With about a mile of the AT remaining, I rolled that ankle.  Surprisingly it didn't hurt much, but it did renew my visual focus on where to place my feet.  Soon the trail became crowded and clogged again as the AT followed a series of steep switchbacks that descend about 1000 feet.

Coming off the trail at Weverton I was looking for my son Matt who had my gear bag with various things I might need. A local acquaintance called out my name and the unexpected greeting brought a big smile to my face. I soon came to where Matt waited and went about changing from trail to road shoes. He was real good at helping and asking what I wanted/needed. I refilled my gel supply and drank down a small chocolate milk. I also changed to a lighter top long sleeve layer and from a beenie hat to an ear warmer headband. Then I was off and running again continuing the downhill to an aid station just before crossing railroad tracks to the C & O Canal towpath.


The race had started at 7 am with a temperature in the low 20s.  The forcast called for mostly sunny with a high in the 40s before giving way to cloud cover and temps in the lower 30s 10 to 12 hours after the start.

Fifteen and a half miles were completed, with 26 flat miles of towpath ahead, followed by 8 miles of rooling paved roads.  I got some food at the aid station and walked a bit to eat.  I was feeling full having dumped the chocolate milk on top of a gel taken coming down the switchbacks.  I had guessed I would come off the trail at about 3:15 to 3:30 on the race clock.  I was leaving this place right about 3:30.  I had opted to wear a regular chronograph watch rather than my GPS watch.  My thinking was to run by feel and not feel any pressure to run a certain pace that the GPS would tell me about.
About 20 minutes after getting onto the towpath, Misti passed me and we exchanged best wishes for a good day. Around the same time trains went by on the tracks next to the C & O.  One train each direction.  Certainly some runners behind me would have been forced to wait for the trains to pass.  I soon chatted with a guy who I would leapfrog with for most of the towpath.  I am pretty sure it was Kimball Byron the runner with the most JFK finishes in race history.

My plan for running the towpath was to run an easy pace between aid stations(AS) and grab food there to eat while walking.  Once the food was finished I would run to the next AS.  (The average distance between these was about 3 miles). legs were feeling more tired and sore than I wanted with so many miles to go, so I decided I would walk more and hope for some recovery.  As I moved along with the adjusted plan, I became aware that I still felt full.  I supposed that running too hard on the AT had probably caused my stomach to shut down.  So the overall slower pace would be important to give my gut a chance to get back in the game and deliver more calories to my running parts.

Constant forward motion would be my priority for the rest of the day.  For a while I got discouraged by the tough work required to keep moving and the long time ahead of me before I would finish.  My thoughts were "Seven or more hours of this is gonna be hard to take." At some point my thinking drifted to a lady from church who has had a long battle with stomach cancer.  So much of her life had been limited and taken away by the disease, yet she remained in good spirits and made the most of what she could do.  I resolved to have a good day and not to resent or fight the limitations on my race plan.  I would do what I could.

During this stretch I came up to a young runner walking uncomfortably.  My question of "how's it going" brought the answer "cramps".  I was carrying a good supply of salt capsules and offered him some.  He was glad to accept.  Within a half hour he had passed me.  He thanked me again in a very sincere way like it meant a lot to him.  That boosted my spirits.

I set my mind on getting from one AS to the next and seeing Matt again at mile 27.  My original plan outline estimated 2 hours between seeing him at these places.  But I was walking more and would be at least 30 minutes longer than that.  I hoped he wouldn't be too worried about me being ok.  There is no way to check on a runner's progress until they appear, so getting no information can be worrisome to support people - especially family.

The C & O follows the winding Potomac River and eventually a long sweeping bend revealed the 27 mile aid station was just ahead.  When I saw Matt I saw that he was getting ready to take a photo so I made sure to smile.  We talked about how things were going and my adjusted plan.  My stomach was not recovering and neither were my legs, so progress would not likely improve.  I had not managed to take more than one gel, so there was no need to refill anything.  We walked a while together and discussed when I might finish so he and my wife Rose could be there. 

This was also an AS run by the Chambersburg Road Runners, my local club.  My friend Jim was recording runner numbers there.  He told me I looked tired.  I told him he was right about that.  I was a little more than halfway done by miles, with toughest miles long behind me.  My best miles were also behind me.

Matt had filled me in on when my friends Ralph and Brenda had gone through.  Brenda was about an hour ahead, but had started 2 hours early.  I thought I might be able to make up another hour and finish with her.  Ralph was 20 or 30 minutes ahead.  Unless he slowed more than I would, it seemed doubtful I could catch him.  The three of had run together my previous time in this race so it would be fun if it would turn out we could finish together again this time.

I think this hope of maybe running with my longtime running pals gave me a boost.  And maybe the warm chicken soup from that AS helped too.  My overall pace picked up some over the next couple of hours.  I expected crew support again at mile 38 where running friends Rebecca and Thomas would have a gear bag for me.  Rebecca would be running with Brenda, so it seemed I probably would not see her.  Matt passed info on my progress and condition to them so they would know when to expect me.

During this section I came across another limping runner.  The problem he decribed seemed like IT band issues - something I have experienced myself.  I had some Bio-Freeze lotion packets in my race vest for exactly this reason.  I was able to give those to him and wish him well.  I also had a couple of tylenol tablets that I was intending to take soon since my legs and feet were hurting from all the miles.  I felt torn between keeping them for me and offering them to this guy.  I kept them and felt guilty about it.
Trying not to look annoyed
I spoke with several runners through the day.  Some I asked how their day was going.  I remember a lady who seemed a bit older than me who said she was aiming for a 12 hour finish after the early start.  She seemed happy with how the day was going.  Another younger runner passed me and we exchanged greetings as she passed.  She was running like something was hurting but was smiling a happy-to-be-there smile.  When I commented on that, she said she had decided that no matter what else she was going to smile all day.  There were two men who were working together.  One seemed in charge of pace and walk/run intervals.

My stomach never really came back.  I was only able to eat a little aid station food and mostly was getting my calories from liquids.  I picked some cookies or pretzels to nibble on as I moved on.  After eating a little I would put the rest in my food baggie which then went into my pocket.  My legs didn't recover completely either.  So I ran about 4 or 5 minutes and walked a minute or so before running a little again.

Eventually I approached the aid station at mile 38.  Maybe this was the AS with Santa Claus and cookies.  I took some soup here like I had whenever it was available.  And Thomas was there with my bag.  I wanted to put on an extra shirt and Thomas helped with that.  And like he does every time I see him, he shook my hand.  Another friend Monique was there.  (We are part of the same speedwork group.)  She had run with Brenda the last 11 miles and offered to run with me to the finish.  I told here I would be glad for that if she didn't mind me slowing her down.  Brenda had gone through 20 minutes ahead of me and Ralph was about 10 minutes ahead.

So on we went, Monique keeping my mind distracted by chatting away.  The same run/walk pattern continued with the switch from one to the other coming when I felt I needed to walk or could run some more.  As we came to the AS as the end of the canal towpath the volunteer gave us reflective vests.  Anyone coming to this point after 3 pm must wear a vest for the final road portion since we share the road with traffic.

And so we went onto the road.  After a marathon distance of flat towpath the course takes a severe uphill road away from the river.  It seemed we walked most of a mile before the road flattened out enough to make running an option again.  I think we were always within sight of other runners.  Some were finishing stronger and passed us.  Other we overtook and then passed.  Most every time we exchanged greetings and or encouragement.  "Good job"  "we're getting there"  "keep moving forward".  And spectators were spread along the way cheering and encouraging.
There are only 8 miles of road to the finish, but they seemed to go slower than any others that day.  Monique was good company and she let me determine what I could do.  During walk periods she kept others in the support group informed of the progress through text messages.  Aid stations were more frequent and we visited to take a look and I ususally a drink of soda.  Or chicken broth.  With 4 miles to the finish the AS was run by another local run group and a friend there declared " after you get over that hill it's all downhill."  I didn't think that was true, but Monique repeated since it helped her finish strong when she ran it herself.  Just after that we saw Thomas again and he asked if I needed anything.  I was glad he was there because I was getting cold and got to put on my windbreaker.

It was soon dark and the remaining miles eventually were covered.  I never caught up to Ralph or Brenda which make me happy that they didn't slow more than I did.  As we were nearing the final turn and walking another runner came by saying "be sure to sprint the last 100 feet. Everyone can sprint that much at the end".  A small part of me wanted to race him to the finish line and a large part of me didn't care.  Soon he took a walk break while we were running and passed him.  Finally we saw the finish line or at least the lights around the finish.  I figured the other guy would soon start his sprint and I picked up my pace over the last 100 yards or so.  That guy never came into my view but I did push to the finish.

My finish time was 10:53:48.