JFK 50 Mile
This was an exciting event for me. I have been intrigued with it for some time, and since RD Mike Spinnler is a team manager for the 100k team, I looked forward to running in his event. Having Devon there and the Ashland boys added to the excitement and helped me feel comfortable in a regionally different ultra running community.
I was really rested up for this race. The easy run with Devon the day before the race gave me confidence in my ‘rest’. I laid low the remainder of the day, ending with a nice dinner with Monica Ochs and Devon. I slept very little, got up at 4:00, drank coffee, ate brown rice cereal, banana, and a bottle of EFS. At 5:50 I picked up Devon for the drive from Hagerstown to the town of Boonsboro. Upon arrival I realized the impact of such a large race (1000 participants) in such a small town, as we drove in circles around the schools looking for parking. I was feeling nervous, which made me feel comfortable about the race. In the gym, I found Howard Nippert and Mike, and got to visit a bit.
At 6:40 the hoards walked the half mile to the start. It was finally light, and it promised to be a beautiful day – cool, clear and calm. The race starter lined us up with about 5 minutes to go – shouting at the top of his lungs every minute “FIVE MINUTES”, “FOUR MINUTES”, etc. until with 1 minute left, he rang out the seconds. Finally we were off amid hoops and hollers of an excited hoard of ultra maniacs.
The first part of the course is paved road, leading up a fairly long significant climb. I kept my breathing and heart rate in control, listening to the banter going on around me. Devon and I ran together, passing Annette Bednosky and Jill Perry to be the leading “fillies”, and at 2.5 miles or so we hit the infamous Appalachian Trail (AT). Happy to be on dirt, I scampered along, very mindful in the mostly rocky terrain, but not mindful enough. I took a nice tumble, throwing my gel flask yonder and smacked my quad on a big rock. The man I just passed asked if I was okay, and I assured him I was between swearing, got up and got going. The course dipped and rolled and curved, and the leafless decidous forest was beautiful. We passed through the second aid station, me behind Devon. I had my bottle filled with water and added my EFS, and caught up to Devon as she was coming out of the port-a-potty. We ran out together, this time on a long stretch of paved trail. It began to climb seriously, and rather than trying to keep up, I kept myself in control, waiting for the relentless climb to end. Finally, back on trail, I started cruising, only to have one more dirt nap. The rest of the time on the trail I felt like a spaz, trying to run with some speed, trying to plan every foot plant over the technical terrain.
There were several early starters at this point, and they were encouraging an inspirational, as many of them appeared to be quite senior. Devon had pulled ahead by a good measure, and only now and then could I catch a glimpse of her red hat. The last technical bit involved about a half mile of short switchbacks which were filled with cooperative, cheering early starters. Finally at the bottom, I was followed by 3 runners into the next aid station. I had a report that Devon was about 30 seconds ahead, but I wasn’t in a hurry.
I had my bottle filled, and finally hit the oft-described “boring” towpath. It was so pretty that I thought we must be on a wide trail leading to path, but then it became obvious that this was it. I worked on getting into a good rhythm, keeping the HR around 160, hoping to be in the 7 minute pace range. There were still plenty of early starters ahead, and I got a report that “she’s just 2 minutes ahead” to “She’s seven minutes ahead”. I hadn’t set my Garmin the way I intended, so the ‘real time’ pace was jumping all over the place. I wasn’t taking splits, but doing math occasionally. I hoped to run 6:28, breaking the course record, so at mile 25 in 3:35 I saw that I needed to run 25 miles in under 3 hours – that was not a good sign, but I felt that I was on pace to run a good time nevertheless. At this point I started running with a local, Mark, and he and I ran together for quite awhile, pushing each other until he finally pulled away. He would never get to far from sight the remainder of the day.
Nutritionally, I thought I was keeping up. I consumed one gel flask in the first half of the race, plus filling my bottle at every aid station with my EFS powder plus water. Once my gel flask was empty I started taking the Hammer gels from each aid station. Occasionally I would drink a coke or some gatorade, just to get a few more calories in. I started taking S!Caps when I felt some cramping in the hamstrings, and continued taking them every 30 minutes or so. Each aid station was manned by capable, enthusiastic volunteers. I was in and out quickly each time, but noticed that I was not given any updates on Devon’s whereabouts, so figured she was having a great day.
My energy and pace ebbed and flowed, but after mile 30, my HR started to drop a bit. Sometimes I would feel myself dragging, and then moments later I was rolling. Before the end of the towpath, I saw myself get closer to Mark and another runner, and before long the three of us were working together, coming out to the road at the same time. The hill ahead was 400 meters and I eased myself over it, letting Mark and the other runner get away. When I finally crested, Mark was about 100 meters ahead, and waved for me to catch up. I would have liked that, but was getting no response from my body. With 8 miles to go and 5:43 into the race, I wanted to finish in less than an hour, but my tank was running on low. The climbs were surreal, and the downhills felt like a free fall. The aid stations were plentiful, so I grabbed water and gels with 6 miles to go, and trudged onward to the next one. Before the next aid station, I felt absolutely tanked, but refused to walk. With four miles to go, I did something at the aid station I hadn’t done in a race before – grabbed a handful of M and Ms and downed them followed by a sandwich cookie and some gatorade. I was starving. One young man at the aid station said “Cool! You’re the second lady!” At this point I was concerned that anyone of the gals back could be starting to reel me in. I headed out, cookie crumbs and all, and very determinedly pushed on.
With just over a mile to go, I turned down aid from the final aid station. I was still moving, just not fast. Ahead I could see the final turn of the race, and the volunteers said I would be able to see the finish at the end of the street. Up ahead, I could see Mark finish, and I found some reserve, pumped my arms and picked up the pace to the announcement of “Is that a young lady about to finish?” Crossing the line, I was immediately embraced by a very long time friend from my home town of Yoncalla, Oregon, whom I had not seen in 20 or so years, but made the drive from Virginia Beach to see me finish. Her daughter, my childhood friend Pam, was with her, and they were introduced to the strange world of ultra running first hand.
I was happy to learn of Devon’s new course record, and simply amazed at how fresh she was afterward.