Tuesday, November 23, 2010
For five of the last six years I have found myself in southern Maryland at the start of the JFK 50 miler. Although I dislike the actual race course, there's a clear emotional connection that I will admittedly always have of the JFK 50. It's been a constant in a life that has been inconsistent and it always brings me back to that chilled fall morning of 2004 when I toed the line of the first race I had ever run.
Most years there's an anticipation months and weeks before JFK, but this year I hardly gave the race a second thought. In truth, I really had no desire to be running that weekend, or running JFK for that matter. Still, I made the all too familiar trip to Boonsboro, packed my race items in about 10 minutes, and wound up at the starting line for the fifth time.
The race summary is short. The weather was perfect all day with morning temps in the high 30's and rising to nearly 60 by noon. I ran conservative in the early miles and made up time on the Appalachian Trail. I was the 124th runner entering the trails at mile 2.5. I entered Gathland at mile 9.3 with ultra phenom Jill Perry, and had a chance to talk briefly with her which was really cool. By the time I arrived at Weverton Cliffs I had moved up a drastic 50 spots by mile 15.5. I suppose all my trail running has it's advantages, right?
However, the C&O Canal towpath is what makes or breaks your race. If you go out too hard in the mountains you will fizzle out on the towpath. JFK is a notoriously good course for fast marathoners as it is mostly flat from miles 16-42, and then becomes rolling paved roads for the final 8 miles. My goal was to complete the 26.3 mile "towpath marathon" in under four hours. In fact, I managed a respectable 3:49 split for the first 26.2 miles of JFK, and exceeded my goals by running the towpath in 3:50. There's not much to explain about the towpath other than it is flat, sometimes scenic, and often monotonous. It's really mostly a mental game to keep your legs moving. Other than the time at aid stations, I was fairly pleased to be running 8:00-8:30 miles most of the day.
The monotony was also broken up by running with Dave Miller, a fast marathoner, from the Reston Runners, and the goal of chasing down my buddy James Brennan. James was on my 5 person team, and all day he had been about 2-3 minutes ahead of me at the aid stations (James rocked it and finished in 7:24). As the miles clicked away I ended up setting a 50k PR of 4:30, and was pleasantly surprised to have a lot of gas in the tank beyond 35 and 40 miles. A regular schedule of a gel, salt, and soda every 20-30 minutes worked wonders on my energy levels, and I never once felt tired, sleepy, or cramped. The fatigue of literally running non stop for 42 miles really hit once I got off the towpath and back on to paved roads. This was a challenge, and my paced dropped considerably trying to run small hills and into a pretty solid head wind.
The last 8 miles of JFK are always tough. I ended up walking about a half dozen short climbs, but ran everything else. In the end I ran up to the finish line and was pleased to be done in 7 hours and 35 minutes. 62nd overall out of 1100 starters and 1014 finishers. As JFK has become an extremely competitive event, the times are only getting faster and faster. It was a 20 minute personal best in the 50 mile distance, and a 57 minute personal best at JFK. It was a day that I felt couldn't have gone too much better, and it was an encouraging reminder of how far I have come since my first JFK in 2004. Six years ago I finished this race in 10:39. I would have never guessed that half a decade later I would complete the same event three hours faster.
Much thanks to the Reston Runners support crew, and the Jim Team. Ultramarathon number 55 is in the books!