Thursday, November 25, 2010

JFK 50 Mile Run 2010

JFK 50 Mile Race Report
Washington County, Maryland

The idea of running the JFK 50 first came to mind 2 years ago as a friend was training for the race. I did some research on it but for some reason it still wasn’t on my list of to do’s. But last year another friend ran it and this time it peaked my interest. So this spring when the entry opened up I decided to sign up for the 48th running of this historic race.

I didn’t know what to expect for this race but I did know it was a fast 50 miler from looking at past results. From the course description it has some trail running but more tow path, which at the time I was unfamiliar with. After running the Burning River 100 this summer, I was introduced to a tow path which was flat, fast and mentally challenging. So after returning from Leadville I included faster and flatter terrain into my training and was racing anywhere from 5 milers to marathons to work on speed. The other part of my training that I was lacking in was sleep. Sleep is critical to recovery. And with my crazy part time job, I’m up every day at 3:30 am with 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Not nearly enough. So I took off a couple of days from work to catch up on sleep.
I decided to drive down on the Wed. before to the JFK 50 which is located in the northwest part of Maryland. I broke the trip up into 2, stopping in CT to visit Mom and also to get a good night’s sleep. Thursday, after a morning run, I hit the roads again and arrived in Maryland by darkness. I got a room for the night to get another full night’s sleep and of course for the continental breakfast which included my favorite pre-race treat, waffles. Afterwards I decided to try to find the race course and run part of the Appalachian Trail which the beginning of the JFK 50 included. I drove up to the Gathland State Park and found the AT trail which would be the same location as the # 2 aid station. I headed south from there and ran a couple of miles out on the 
Gathland Park
AT. What a treat, more like a groomer than the rocky, rooty trails of northern New England. I turned around and ran back and then drove to the next check point which was located at the end of the AT trail section, Weverton Cliffs. Here I wanted to find a spot to hide a bad for a shoe change. One challenge was in trying to decide what shoes to wear. Trail shoes were certainly nice for the beginning 14 miles but after that, it was flat and fast so I decided to have my racing flats ready to change into. I found some potential locations to hide a bag and then drove back to town to pick up my race number. On the way I drove by
Antietam Battlefield Monument

the Antietam Battlefield which just amazed me and opened my eyes up to this truly historic area. For miles and miles, there were fields and monuments which the soldiers battled on during the civil war. The fences, walls and cannons were there in place as they were years ago, ready to do battle. It was sort of an eerie feeling looking out. From there I continued into town and got my number. After getting my number I headed back down to the Weverton Cliffs aid station to set up for the night so I could get up first thing and put out my drop bag. Plus this was fairly close to the start line in Boonsboro. After a cold pasta and Bud dinner, I got to bed early to prepare for the 5:00 am wake up.

I got a reasonable night’s sleep in hotel Nissan (car camping). I had to scrape the inside of the windshield from frost as the temps dropped down over night, had a quick breakfast and then hid my drop bag before driving to the start line. Upon arriving at the start, there were lots of people for this was the largest ultra race in the country with over 1000 entries. After the pre-race meeting we had to head into town, a mile or so away, to the start. I got in a last minute port a potty stop and realized time was getting on so I had to run to the start line, a good way to warm up. Lining up I ran into a couple of familiar faces, Mike Oliva and Mike Arnstein, a couple of NYC boys. Arnstein came in second here last year so he was determined to take top honors this year. But he had lots of competition with many others hoping for the same results as well as setting new course records. At this race you not only had ultra marathoners but also some of the top road runners in the country so the field was full of impressive runners from all over the country such as Michael Wardian, Mike Arnstein, Oz Pearlman, Serge Arbona, David James, Matt Levine, Mike Oliva and many others. Immediately after the start a runner next to me said hi. I looked over and it was Reno Stirrat, one of the best 50+ age runners in New England who usually kicks my butt in the shorter distance races. The JFK 50 was longer than he had ever gone before so it was to be determined on how he might do. The first few miles were mostly uphill until we joined on to the AT. At that point I crossed the mat in 28th place in a large group of runners. From there it was a mix of road and trail as we continued to climb. We even walked up some
sections to conserve for later. Finally as we headed into some nice consistent trail sections I had enough of the group as some were complaining of the technical aspects (must be road runners) and I didn’t want to trip and fall as I usually do while running on trails in a group. So I decided to have some fun and ran around Mike Arnstein, Michael Wardian and a bunch of others to run the trails. I ran through the Gathland aid station by myself and kept going. It would be 6 miles of trail until the end of this section at Weverton Cliffs. The trails were in great shape and I was having fun skipping along the rocks and leaves, passing by some of the 5:00 am starters and an occasional 50 miler who must have been in the lead pack. Just before the end is a steep descent with lots of switchbacks, loose rocks and slippery leaves. I could hear a group of runners behind and let the first one pass. It was Michael Wardian. I followed closely behind with 2 or 3 others behind me as we ran down the trail, passing now lots of 5:00 am starters. Just before we hit the end of the AT at mile 14.5, Weverton Cliffs, I spotted my drop bag in the woods, a bright pink purse. I grabbed it and sat on a rock to do my shoe change. It took longer than I thought as I had to untie the timing chip from my trail shoes and put it on my racing flats. I also reloaded my Gu’s, threw on some fresh body glide and removed my long sleeve shirt and gloves. Meanwhile lots of runners were passing by. I was hoping this shoe change would help in the long run even though I lost about 4 minutes at this stop. With purse in tow I ran down to the road hoping to give the purse to an aid station helper who could bring it to the finish. I quickly learned that the aid station wasn’t for another mile so I tucked the purse 
The Pink Purse
under my arm and ran on. I had some funny looks as I passed by runners with my pink purse. Finally I arrived at the aid station and found a gracious person who volunteered to bring my purse to the finish. Next up, the tow path. At this point I think I was still in around 28th place.  The next 26 miles would be the tow path which winds alongside the Potomac River. It was a cinder type surface covered with leaves so it was very nice. The path was full of 5:00 am starters but was plenty wide to pass. Not more than a mile or so into it, I came across Reno. He was having some difficulties, we chatted a bit and then I moved on. To make the time go buy I focused on some tow path mile markers which I found were not very consistent in the accuracy nor did I find them at every mile but it was something to go by since I don't have a Garmin to keep track of the miles. And 
The Tow Path
there were frequent aid stations with more accurate mile markers for the course. I continued to pass runners along the way and was feeling good. I had a good pace going and I think the 3 days of sleep helped with my energy level. I heard spectators yelling out my position and was working my way up in place. Coming into this race I wasn’t that concerned with placement but was more focused on time. I’ve run a number of trail 50s in just under 7 hours but this course should be faster. The age group record was 6:29:30. If it were a good day maybe I could do that. Time would tell. Around mile 30 I noticed I was still working on my first 20 oz. water bottle, not good. I wasn’t thirsty but I know better to keep drinking especially since I cramp easily and have to supplement with electrolytes which I was doing along the way. And even though it was cool out and I wasn’t sweating, my arm was covered in salt. So finally I started drinking more and refilled at the mile 34 aid station, my favorite with the Christmas theme going. I also started to nibble on some food as I had not quite enough GU’s to get me to the finish. I was trying to figure out in my head if I could break the age group record. It would be close but I had to maintain close to a 7 minute mile. By mile 35 I had enough of the tow path and started to run backwards and sideways to change up the muscles. Still I was passing runners and think by now I was in 15th place or so. Again I tried to calculate my finish time, not easy to do after many hours of running. Finally by mile 41.5 the tow path was done and onto the road to the finish. Immediately it was an uphill climb which actually felt good on the legs and I went by a marker showing 8 miles to the finish. Now with accurate markers I could see where I was with time.  At 8 minute miles, it wouldn’t do it so I had to continue to push. For the next 2 miles I was just rolling along at about a 7:20 pace. With 6 miles to go trouble started, cramps. Without any advance warning, my left calf locked up in pain and then eased. Usually my body tells me if I’m dehydrated with dizziness and blurred vision but not this time. The lack of hydrating early on was catching up. I took a couple of electrolyte pills and usually it helps but my left calf locked up again and I couldn’t get my heel down on the pavement. Then my right side locked up from my foot all the way up to my arm. My right arm went numb and I started to see stars. Not good. I reached into my pill inventory and took every remaining electrolyte pill and whatever else I could find. In all I took 7 various electrolyte pills and 1 IB that was in there. The next 2 miles was grueling and my pace dropped to 10:30. At 4 miles to go I could start running again but whenever I tried to really push, I could feel cramps not far behind. I ran by Mike Arnstein who was struggling but still on the move.  At this point I would need close to 7 minute miles for the next 4 miles to make it in under the record. I could have easily given up and just brought it in slowly with still a good finish time but I came all this way and was so close. If I came in 30 seconds after the record time, who would even know, or care. But being the stubborn person who I am and always competing against myself, this was a personal challenge. These next 2 miles were near a 7:30 pace. So the last 2 miles would have to be under 7. With every bit of energy I had left, I put it into high gear and sprinted. The  
The Finish
first part was a slight uphill to the highway overpass and it hurt, then slight downhill to the one mile marker which I could see. Not sure what my time was but I knew I had to give it my all. With 3/10 of a mile to go I turned the corner and saw the slight uphill climb to the finish, not what I was hoping for. I pushed harder than I think I have ever pushed to a finish and crossed the line with a 6:50 final mile. Was it enough? One of the timers knew I was close to the record and checked the records and yes, I had done it by a mere 13 seconds to finish in a time of 6:29:17. Besides breaking the 50’s age group record and winning my age group, I made it into the top 10.

After the awards ceremony another 50’s runner came up to me and we chatted for quite a while. He had run this race many times and was running this year to try to break the 
Eric Clifton and Jack
age group record too but not his day this year. Later I learned it was Eric Clifton, a legend at the JFK 50 with 19 finishes and the overall course record from back in 1994 with a time of 5:46:22. Just amazing! Afterwards a couple of older men in their 60’s and 70’s came up to chat. They were truly inspired by my accomplishments as a senior runner and what we older runners could do. And then an older woman from the spectators came up to question my age and then gave me a big hug. That made it all worth it and the reason why I continue to run all these crazy races.

The Gear:  For the first 14.5 miles I wore the Mizuno Ascend 5 trail running shoes.  Excellent traction and stability on the trails.  I changed into the the Mizuno Musha 2 racing flats for the rest of the race for lighter weight on the tow path and road to the finish.  The combo worked excellent!

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped out.  We couldn't have these races without you.
Full results can be found at: