Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JFK 50


Leading up to the JFK 50 mile, I psyched myself out numerous times. I'd gotten a concussion in a car accident in September and lost most of October training on doctors orders not to send blood rushing to my head. My boyfriend came back from China with a virus, which sent panicked "Contagion" type thoughts through my head. I felt like I hadn't put together a solid week, much less weeks, of training.

Ken & Karen gave me a good jolt of self confidence "you have all your training from Headlands 100 mile, you'll do great". Me "But I dropped at mile 50 in Headlands in August".

Me to Elena, the big boss from HQ "I'm nervous about my 50 mile this weekend". "Whatever, fifteen miles, why are you nervous!" "It is FIFTY miles" Elena: "Oh, I thought you said fifteen….okay, 50 is a big deal"

Me to my coworkers in SF the week before the race "I'm running 50 miles this weekend,"…"didn't you just run 50 in August? You'll be fine!"

My mom to me "I printed out the race packet, and there are VERY STRICT CUTOFFS"

My parents picked me up at Dulles at 4 pm and we set off to Shepherdstown, WV. The rural country was beautiful, and we admired the 4:53 PM sunset. I'd assumed we could pick up gatorade, coke, nail scissors, and Sudafed along the way. The country was much more rural than I expected. Right as we got into Shepherdstown, there was a tiny mini market where I got gatorade, Coke, Starbucks Frappucino and Reese's--enough for the night.

When I'd biked the C & O canal I really wanted to stay at the Bavarian Inn but it was booked. So now was my make-up night of booking a swanky Potomac River view room above the C & O towpath, and eating at the Ratskeller again. I treated my parents to a Bavarian feast of spaetzle, duck & sausage before a 5:30 AM departure. I briefed my parents--"show up for the crew stops with my drop bag, don't worry if you can't make one, if I give you gloves or hat or anything at a stop, have it at the next one, and please have fun". Unfortunately, I never got to enjoy the Potomac view from the balcony of my room as we arrived after sunset and left far before dawn. I laid out my race clothes and tried to sleep.

To the start

At the race briefing at Boonsboro gym, I picked up my race shirt, pinned on my number, threaded on my chip, and tried to relax, put on my race face and pretend it wasn't 3:20 AM Pacific Standard Time. When the race director asked everyone who was military (current or past) to stand up, the applause was enthusiastic and heartfeltly genuine--I truly appreciate the men & women who've served the US.

I'd read past reports that the start was about 2/3 of a mile from the briefing, so then I quickly ducked out when the briefing was over and started walking. My head was throbbing like crazy from a head cold and being up early, so I was thrilled when I saw a mini-mart where I could use the Emergency Twenty I'd tucked in my shorts even more when I saw Tylenol Cold. Unfortunately, my $20 had fallen out somewhere. @#%#Q. nothing to do.

Miles 1-15

The gun went off, and surprised me that there was a gun. California races don't have guns! The first miles on the road were hillier than I expected, but everyone else was running. Then there was a big hill, and I just walked to the Appalachian Trail.

The first stretch was as rocky as I'd been warned. Then the trail became paved, and climbed up…up…up…till I wondered if the whole trail was paved. We reached a radio tower, and I knew we were at the top (radio towers are always at the highest point). The guy wearing a 500 mile (10 time finisher) shirt said "the sidewalk ends" and we were back on the rocky AT.

Just when I was feeling totally anonymous, 2,500+ miles from home, away from the PCTR and Endurables, a lady asked me "did you run Miwok?" "Yes!" "I ran behind you, you have a very distinctive gait". She was named Eu-Yu (total butchering of her name) from Canada. We ran together into the first aid station.

I wanted Coke to wake me up, but all the Coke had a crust of ice. "Why'd you put ice in the coke??" It was ~29 at the start, we'd climbed ~1,000 feet higher and the Coke had all iced over. I asked if there was a trash can outside the aid station, and walked out, drinking my Coke. Then I saw the heaps of trash-cups, gu wrappers, powerbar wrappers, and all other race paraphernalia. Apparently, using the trash can was optional.

Then I was in my element on the rocky Appalachian trail, passing people as I leapt from rock to rock. A lady fell in behind me, and then a guy also. We passed trains of people, and I offered to let them pass. "No, my nickname is Trip" said the lady "You're keeping a great pace". The guy said his nickname was "Billy goat", and passed me. Trip and I kept a good cadence, I felt like I was in a bizarre Wii game of "tame the tush". There were marvelous views as we were on the ridge top, but I was too busy eyeing the next 10 feet of terrain. Then I saw Billy, sitting on a rock with blood streaming from his head.

I loved the AT, but I kept saying "it's not worth it"--better play it safe than get hauled out on a stretcher. A guy tripped behind me, and he said he was looking at the splits, and thought we had to be at mile 15 (off the trail) at 10:30. $%#@$#% I put a hustle in my bustle! I started swapping places with the ultimate redneck runner--gatorade bottle stuffed in the back of his shorts, cotton sweatshirt. He said the cutoff was 11:30 and we were fine.

I got off Weaverton Cliffs (15 miles) around 11 AM, having kept my gloves on for my freezing handheld bottle. My parents were there! waving a sign and cheering me! I wanted to get some gatorade (I'd drained my bottle 30 minutes ago) and then meet up with them. Mistake: the crew stops aren't the same as the aid stops. The aid was a 1/2 mile further, and I felt like a jerk for blowing by my patient parents without even saying "hi".

Miles 15-41

Then the tedium started. The Appalachian Trail was fun, with something always going on. The C & O was 26 miles of flat terrain. The leaves were off the trees, so the scenery of the Potomac cresting over rocks was gorgeous, but I never got a groove. I tried to force 8 minutes running to 2 minutes walking, but it was harder & harder to keep going. I'd look at my watch and see I'd only run 2 out of 9 minutes. I I'd flip flop the same people with their own walking schedule (4-2, 5-1, etc), over & over.

Headphones were banned. Litter wasn't. I saw the heaps of cups and gu wrappers and felt so frustrated. I totally understood why no headphones on the narrow, rocky and rough AT, but I really, really wanted them now, on the towpath where 6 people could walk astride smoothy. How could they ban headphones , saying "Your race isn't more important than anyone elses." and not say anything about littering? A woman I was walking with said "at least people try to leave them in heaps after an aid station." I've accidentally dropped a wrapper in my time, but I have NEVER left a trail aid station with trash, unless I saw a trash can within sight.

I saw my parents at mile 28, and changed into my short sleeve shirt, and reapplied body glide. I was gliding my thighs when I saw my Mom with her camera poised. "please, don't take a photo of this". I asked where my wallet (with my antacids are). "Well, it's in here somewhere Edith", said Bill. I grabbed my drop bag and dumped everything and fished out an antacid Then, I walked about a 1/2 mile further and then went into the bathroom and hard reset myself. I wanted to finish. I attitude adjusted.

Re-awakened, I set off down the tow path. Mile 34 was as cool as I'd heard--done up as "Miracle at 34th Street", with Christmas lights, Christmas cookies, and a SANTA! I had my photo taken with Santa.

I caught up with the lady I'd been flip flopped before at mile 25, before my bathroom stop, at mile 35, and said "You got it, girl!". I passed her, but when I ran, she ran. "Are you trying to pass me?" "No, I just want to stay with you". We fell into a cadence. We'd chat for our two minutes walking, then run again for 8 minutes Soon I was too tired to chat, but we kept plugging. I was too tired to talk, but I'd hold up my hands when it was time to run. "Three more minutes running". "Two more minutes" "10 seconds".

Shalese had run the Philly Marathon the weekend before (wow!) but together we got through the rough patches of the last 6 miles on the tow path. One aid station had chicken soup, and the salt and the noodles were so good. On the last set of 8 minutes, I could see my vision starting to tunnel and change to black & white. I was pushing too hard. "Next time, let's go 7 and 3, okay? I so appreciate you being here with me, and I'm sorry if I seem rude by not talking much".

Mile 42-50

Turning off the tow path at mile 42 (9:09 elapsed time) onto the "rolling hills", my heart sank a little. I knew this hill, I'd biked it when I biked the C & O 4 years ago. I rewarded myself with a bathroom break, telling Shalese to go ahead. Then I lost my motivation. I couldn't convince myself to push to break 11 hours--I didn't want to wipe out before North Face in two weeks, I didn't want to scare my parents, I felt like I hadn't trained enough to break 11 hours.

As people passed me on the road, I realized that the whole race, my encouragements to the other runners had been what partly I wanted them to say me. "You're AWESOME" "Looking GREAT". "Doing GOOD". Now, my entreatments switched to "ALMOST THERE". "SO CLOSE". "Let's do this!" I heard footsteps behind me, and managed a "swift feet" to a guy passing me. When I passed him back, he said "Swift feet" back.

I'd hoped to see my parents at mile 44, but they weren't there. They WERE at mile 46, and I grabbed Tylenol and pushed to the finish. It was full dark now, but my night vision is good, and there were enough runners around me to know where to go. I passed a guy with a headlamp, and I said "You're smart". He said "I'm running a 50 mile race, how can you call me smart??" "At least you brought a lamp".

Then, I was close enough I could hear the announcer ahead "Here's a runner with 25 finishes…and he's only 29! look at him" I pushed in and I was done, at 11:08.

Things I did well


I dressed appropriately for the weather, I could always adjust so I was never too hot or too cold

-Sugoi Verve shorts with pockets

-long sleeve Skyline to the Sea PolyPro - switched to race short sleeve at mile 26

Ininiji knee high compression socks

Nike zip jacket, with waist pockets

Hat with a neck gaiter, that i could fold down and wear as a scar

Gloves (for first 15 and last 8 miles)


ate at least one PowerGel Blast every 10 minutes. I also ate pretzels from the aid stations, and two cups of chicken soup. I wonder if my lack of motivation at the end was due to low calories.


the JFK 50 has an abundance of aid stations, about every 3 miles towards the end. I decided to carry my bottle instead of a pack, and I was glad--I felt lighter. In my Santa photo I look a little bloated.


I was taking an S-Cap every hour for the first 8 hours, but the S-caps crushed into powder. I tried licking the powder and it was so not good.


Found friends (Tony, Shalese) to keep me motivated even with no iPod. My parents were super cute--they made a "Speedie" printout on two pages of paper and held it up for me!

The wall?

Hard reset myself at a bad patch. Sometimes when things are lousy, taking a bathroom break and pulling myself together is the best thing to do.

Things I did not do well


I have been running for 20+ years with music, dating back to when I hauled around a cassette player with a 72 minute tape. I need tunes. I need rhythm. I need beats. I think I could have broken 11 hours if I'd had music on the towpath to keep me moving.

Money for emergencies

I'd taken $20 but lost it!


Could I have broken 11 hours if I hadn't psyched myself out about being undertrained? I came off the towpath at 4:09, with 110 minutes to go 8.2 miles. If I'd just kept ~13 minute pace, I'd be qualified for Western States in 2013.


I'm happy I finished, it was truly a beautiful course. And I'm happy my parents got to see an ultra race. They were astonished at how old most participants were!

Next? North Face 50K. I'd like to break 7 hours.