Category: Trails

2015 Dipsea Race

Running Time: 1:05:13
Finish Time: 1:04:14 (1-minute head start)
Pace: 8:41
Place: 263 of 1419
AG%: N/A

It feels like it’s been a long time since I updated this. Normally I would have been writing something around April about the Boston Marathon, except that in February of this year I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my tibia. This meant a complete cessation of running in February and March, and only a gradual resumption of run/walk starting in April. While my doctor had cleared me to start running (ok, run-walking) by the Boston Marathon I was not in the position to run a marathon.

That meant my first real race would be the Dipsea in June — the annual trail run from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. This race is the oldest continuing trail race in the country, having started in 1905 (though was not run for a few years during the Great Depression and WWII) and continuing on today.

I decided I’d take a month to do some rehab-running (April), and then a month to start to introduce proper training (May) before the 105th Dipsea on June 14th. With only a bit more than a month worth of training, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get back up to speed to handle the Dipsea. Not only is the Dipsea a competitive race, it’s also extremely hilly and challenging — with both massively steep uphills (688 steps of stairs to start with) and super fast descents (with names like “Suicide”) through some gnarly terrain.

Last year I was run as a Runner and qualify with a 1:09 to be invited for the 2015 race as an Invitational runner. To keep that status, I figured I would have to run a 1:07 this year but I wasn’t sure I could knock off two minutes from last year’s time. Granted last year was warm and times were artificially slow, but I had gotten to the start without having any injuries along the way.

The famous Dipsea, running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach
The famous Dipsea, running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach

Based on Russ Kiernan’s previous splits, I had three course goals that would keep me on track to maintain Invitational status and run around a 1:05: 1.) hit the top of the stairs at 7:40, 2.) hit the bridge across Redwood Creek at 18:45, and 3.) hit the top of Cardiac at 43:50. If I could hit Cardiac in 43:XX, I knew I could run the remaining couple of miles pretty strong since they’re fairly runnable and downhill/flat.

Connor and I decided to start off together, mostly because he wanted to keep from going out too fast, although I told him that I wasn’t sure what the final miles would have for me. I wasn’t sure if my strength could get me through the final fast miles and said he should drop me if he still had the legs to go in the last downhill 2 miles.

Connor and I got in the corrals and before we knew it the countdown started. “Your race begins in 5… 4… 3… 2…….. 1!!!!”

Immediately I saw Rickey Gates fly off the front of the pack. This was no surprise, and he would go on to post the fastest run of the day. What a talent! Our group was fairly fast so I tried not to get caught up in the excitement of the start, nor the jockeying for position. I wanted to save my legs for the two massive climbs in the race.

The Dipsea course elevation profile.
The Dipsea course elevation profile.

I hit the stairs taking two at a time, monitoring my breathing and heart rate. When I found myself working too hard, I’d stay to the right on the stairs and let faster people pass left. Once in a while I’d pass left when my heart rate had come down, but I made sure to stay in a fairly aerobic zone because so much of the race still lie ahead. It was on these stairs that I saw Alex Varner fly by me and I knew I’d never see him again. I wondered if he’d be getting his 7th consecutive fastest-runner triumph.

Hitting the top of the stairs, Connor and I emerged exactly at 7:40. Wow, what pacing! I was happy that I hit my first course goal, and looked forward to the descent down to the creek. Of course I had forgotten that between the stairs and the descent to the creek, there’s still a sizable climb passing the 1-mile mark. Ugh. Lots of people were passing me at this point, but I was trying not to worry. I’d catch them on the downhills and still wanted to conserve energy.

Soon enough the descent along Muir Wood Road came and I let my legs turnover to gain some speed. Hitting the bottom and crossing the creek at 18:40, I was so please to be on pace. Still, I knew the climb to Cardiac would make or break the race.

The climb from the creek gets pretty crowded; by this time we were catching up with a lot of the earlier groups. “Passing left!” was coming out of my mouth constantly, whether I was running or power-hiking my way up. I tried to pay attention to any section that got remotely flat, and therefor runnable, and sped up. When at one point Connor slipped ahead of me on an uphill climb, I found myself quickly catching up to him on the flats. Knowing that he and I were primarily road runners and have more raw speed than most of the other trail runners, I shouted to him as I caught up: “You gotta push on the flats!” Most of the other runners were recovering on the flats after hard uphill efforts, and us pushing the flats up to Cardiac is where we really started to make up ground.

Cardiac this year felt a lot easier than last, and I’m not sure why. I kept my head up when I could sense the summit approaching, and looked at my watch. We were around 41:00 and I told Connor that if we hit the top at 45 minutes, that’d be good. But if we hit the top at 43 minutes, that’d be great! We hit the top at 43:24. I was so happy to have hit this split. I knew if I kept up the effort I would finish right at 1:05.

Once at the top the running gets pretty good. I slowed down for a quick Gatorade, and in that half second a dozen guys jumped ahead of me seeing the flat and fast section atop Cardiac. That meant Connor was now way ahead. The trail gets super narrow, so passing was not always an option — especially if the person I wanted to pass was passing someone. The congestion and narrow trails made it impossible to catch up to Connor, which was frustrating. Not only did I want to run with him, I didn’t want him to beat me!

I was feeling good so I didn’t worry about Connor dropping me. I’d pass when the trail allowed it and had the confidence that I could put in a properly hard charge over the final two miles.

Unfortunately after Cardiac we entered the Swoop, a section that this year that was so massively overcrowded that at times we were forced to come to a full stop; other times we were able to march a a snail’s pace, which was unacceptable considering it’s downhill. While it was incredibly frustrating, there was nothing I could do about it so I just bided my time and took the opportunity to recover a bit.

Exiting the Swoop, there’s a bump called Insult. I can’t convey how much of a bump this really is. Everyone talks about it but I feel like it’s over before it starts. It was nothing to sweat over. With only a little over a mile left and the trail a little wider than before I decided it was time to make my move to catch up to Connor. I’m a good downhill runner and don’t get [too] scared about taking stairs or hills fast going down and I made it my mission to pass everyone to catch him.

I powered down everything and anyone in my way, and with about two hundred meters before hitting the Shoreline Highway (about a half mile from the finish) I managed to meet up with Connor on some stairs that I was attacking. I yelled at him to come with me and we had only 800 meters of downhill road separating us and the finish. We kicked and managed to average 4:50 for that final stretch, crossing the finish together in a chip time of 1:05 and managing to maintain our Invitational status for 2016.

Crossing the finish, I couldn’t believe how perfectly the race had gone. I hit each of my sub-goals within a matter of seconds and crossed at exactly my goal pace. It’s not often a race works out with such perfection, especially a trail race with such varied terrain. I was ecstatic.

I had guessed at the start that we’d need a 1:07, and it turns out that the cutoff this year was 1:08:02. It was good knowing that we were several minutes under this, because next year the pressure will be a little less. We’ll know exactly what it takes to qualify again and I think we’ll even be in better shape.

This year my goal was to finish uninjured and to qualify to run again next year. Next year my goal is a bit more ambitious: run under 60:00 and juuuuuust maybe crack the top 100.

2014 North Face Endurance Challenge : Bear Mountain 50 Miler

Twelve days after a torturous Boston Marathon, I found myself waking up at 2:15 AM to depart for Bear Mountain for The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler. That’s sort of a mouthful of a name, so I’m just going to refer to the race as the Bear Mountain 50 (or BM50). With a 1-hour commute and a 5 AM start time, half the battle is waking up on time and getting to the start.

This year 4 others were silly enough to sign up with me for the BM50: Daniel G, Dominic D, Kurt S, and Luc B. This was Daniel’s 4th consecutive running of the event, despite having sworn last year never to do it again. But like any good ultra runner, the pain of the race fade away and quickly he’s on the hunt for a new challenge.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of my legs for this race. It was long enough after Boston that my legs weren’t sore but I still wasn’t sure how much I’d have in the tank for the last 15 miles of this race. I always feel “fine” but this isn’t the sort of race you can just wing. Additionally my mother had fallen ill two months prior to this race, and was still in the hospital unable to walk or support herself. With constant phone calls between my father and me, I had more on my mind than running around in the woods.

Starting in the dark at 5 AM, I took the first few miles super easy. There was plenty of race ahead of me and I just wanted to get the heart moving and the legs warmed up. As it turned out, my legs weren’t as fresh as I thought. I could tell early within the first 10 miles that it was going to be a very long day. They didn’t have any strength in them, but at least they weren’t sore. They were just tired. The initial goal was to start conservative (mission accomplished) and then to start picking up the pace around mile 21 and maintain a steady push to the end.

I soon found out that my easy starting pace would become my “picking it up” pace the rest of the day. I don’t know if I just didn’t have the fire in me to keep pushing or if my legs had a deep fatigue from a long training cycle that I couldn’t shake, but I wasn’t going to try and force anything that would result in a DNF. I accepted the reality and forged on.

The course this year was visited by a few inches of rain during the week leading up to the race. Mud of course was everywhere. Streams became rivers and uneven paths became long trenches of puddles and mud. Rocks became great opportunities to slip, and anyone who knows Bear Mountain knows it’s nothing but rocks: big rocks, little rocks, sharp rocks, rocks for climbing up, rocks for climbing down. In the first few miles people did their best to avoid the muddy trails and water puddles. They kept to the high side of the trail and tip-toed around as much as they could. But it was inevitable — feet would become wet. Within a couple hours most people had stopped dancing around the water and just plowed straight through. This was a trail race after all.

Things got tougher around mile 13, when a mysterious left hip pain appeared along with an old ankle injury on my right foot. Fan-fucking-tastic. It got pretty bad; bad enough that I’d inadvertently wince and hold my breath, which of course is not the most productive thing to do when trying to run. A fellow runner even asked if I was alright as he passed me by. Mind you I was still running and at the time I was surprised and dumbfounded (insulted, even) as to why he asked if I was OK, but later I realized I probably looked like a lame horse — bum right ankle, painful left hip, visinbly wincing and perhaps even audibly gasping.

With more than 35 miles left to go, thoughts of dropping from the race were going through my head. I told myself I could just drop at the aid station at mile 19 before the really difficult sections of the course started. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it to the finish. Every step hurt both sides of my body. And that’s when I started thinking about my mother.

When I had spoken to my father a few days before the race, it had been approaching 60 days that my mom was still in the intensive care unit of St. Joseph’s Hostpital recovering from a major surgery to remove a very aggressive cancer. She wasn’t able to stand up, sit up, or walk on her own. Her biggest accomplishment every day was having nurses assist her out of the bed to sit in a chair nearby for a half hour or more. While my mom could have chosen to just lie in bed and receive pain killers, she opted against that and tried to do as much as she could. Walking thirty feet down the hall may have taken over an hour, but that was only more reason to do it. If she could summon the mental and physical strength to will her body that had been torn apart, then I could finish this race. I could never look at myself again if I dropped from this race just because it was hard or just because I hurt. I chose to be in this race. I wasn’t going to dishonor my mother by choosing to fail. I wiped those thoughts of stopping from my mind.

The remainder of the race can be summarized in a single word: pain. My right ankle made it difficult to descend quickly, and my left hip made it difficult to climb. All time goals went out the window and I just went into survival mode. Initially I was gunning for a finish time of around 9 hrs 30 min, but now I was just trying to get to the finish in one piece. Whether it would be 10 or 12 or even 14 hours, I was going to finish this.

I reached the aid station at mile 24 and already I was seeing lots of people struggling. By mile 28 some runners began picking up their pacers, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Pacers became handlers and motivators as exhausted runners wanted to stop.

The stretch of road from 28 leading up to 33 were fairly runnable. At least a mile or two were on road, albeit straight uphill. I began catching a lot of people here; people who had started off too fast (all too common even in 50 milers) and were reduced to a walk with 20 miles left to go. I continued my run — really, more a shuffle — and gained momentum as I passed each runner.

Around mile 38 I heard my name called from behind. It was my friend Kurt! He had caught up to me and was making good time in his first 50 miler. We exchanged pleasantries and continued to the mile 40 aid station together. He had “lost his brakes” and couldn’t control himself from flying downhill, which is how he ended up passing a lot of people. He had a “no running” policy on all uphills, so as we exited the mile 40 aid station up a very gentle incline he refused to follow me running. The section began on paved road and for once continued on a relatively runnable trail. Despite the incline I wasn’t going to walk this and so mentally I said “good bye” to Kurt figuring that he’d catch me later on the downhills.

I glanced at my watch and did some mental calculations. I had to maintain a fairly decent 12-minute pace for the last 10 miles to come in under 11 hours for the race. While this was much slower than my original goal, it became something to motivate me. With Timp Pass around mile 46, I knew that there would be some real slow paths ahead. I’d have to fight for every second.

Power hiking my way as fast as I could up Timp Pass, I managed to get to the mile 47 aid station at 3:34. I had 26 minutes to go three miles. This would be just under a 9:00 pace, but I knew that the final stretch was fast and I was going to do anything to get under 10 hours. So I ran. I didn’t even stop at the aid station; I yelled my number out and started flying down the smooth, flat trail. Oh, what a feeling it was to finally run on something other than rocks! I didn’t care about how much my body was protesting, yelling at me in pain. My pace quickened and I flew past other runners. The course was now shared with those doing the 50K distance and the marathon, so I was catching the back of those packs. I was a man out of control.

My watch’s GPS connection had been lost around mile 21, so although I knew my overall time I had lost track of distance long ago. Each aid station mile marker was clearly labeled, but in the last three miles I was cutting a sub-11 hour finish so close that I wanted to know exactly how far I had to go so that I would know if I had to pick up the pace or not. I felt like a rabid dog, running without knowing where I’m going or how far the finish line was exactly.

Then things started to look familiar again. The final half mile of the race is the same as the first half mile. I realized I would make it to my sub-11 finish!

On the final descent to the finish area, a local area hiker spotted me from 50 meters away. She was barefoot to protect her shoes from the mud, gently making her way through the muddy and wet path. Her friends were taunting her, yelling at her to pick it up and not worry about getting dirty. I saw the fear in her eyes as I approaced running at full speed. She yelled out, “please don’t splash me!” Sorry honey, I had a race to finish. Mud and water be damned, I kept pace and flew stright by her.

I crossed the line in 10:55. I had run the final 3 miles in just under 21 minutes, averaging under 7 minutes per mile after 47 miles of running.

A 10:55 finish any other race would be massively disappointing for me. But this race became about something other than time. Sometimes people ask (and I wonder) why I run, especially the long distances. I don’t always know, except that it is what I do. But today when I didn’t want to run, I was running for my mom who could not. For the two months prior to the race, I would write a letter to my mother almost every day. I’d tell her about my day, or my exciting weekend adventures, or what was coming up next. I wasn’t about to pen a letter telling her that I had dropped from this race.

My mother ended up passing away less than two weeks after this race. While it was not unexpected, I was not prepared for it. It was her strength that allowed me to finish this race, and because of that I can take pride when I look back at my experience.

If there’s one thing I learned, it is that choosing to stop — when I still have the option not to — is not something I’m about to do. Pain be damned, I was not about to feel sorry for myself and call it a day simply because things weren’t going my way. My mom had survived two episodes of cancer and 18 years on dialysis without ever giving up. Her third and final battle with cancer got the best of her, but that didn’t keep her from trying until the end. If I can ever be half the person she was, I won’t ever be throwing in the towel either.

2013 JFK 50 Miler

Overall Time: 7:42:09

Pace: 9:15

Place: 53rd of 863 finishers (921 starters)

AG% : N/A

Weather: 30, overcast, mild wind

Start Time: 7:00am

 

The JFK 50 Mile race is the oldest and largest ultramarathon in the US. Every November around 1000 people set off from the town of Boonsboro, Maryland on their way to Williamsport via the Potomac River, and this year I was excited to be one of them.

I had two “A” races this year: The Boston Marathon and the JFK 50 Miler. These two races are very different, but I had just as much ambition for each: I wanted a PR for each. Boston wasn’t a guaranteed PR, what with the hills in the latter half. JFK on the other hand would almost be impossible not to PR on. The other 50 milers I’ve finished have been relatively difficult with decent total elevation gain, while the JFK course is just about as easy as they come, so a simple PR wasn’t enough — I wanted to chop off a full hour from my previous 50-mile efforts. My goal for the race was to hit somewhere around a 7:15 finish. If things went incredibly well maybe I’d inch closer to 7:00, and if things were tough I might creep toward 7:30.

As far as most trail runs go, the JFK course is flat. It’s broken up into three major sections. The first 15.5 miles are on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Much of it is rocky, and you gain 1200+ feet of gain in the first 5 miles alone. If there’s a part of the course than can be considered difficult, this is it. Following the AT, there is a 26.3-mile length of towpath along the Potomac River. After the towpath, there is a 8.4-mile section of gently rolling hills on paved road toward the finish in Williamsport.

On race day morning I woke up with my friends who had traveled with me from New York, and we checked to see what the weather would have in store. At 5AM it was only 34 degrees, which wouldn’t be so bad once the sun came up and we were moving along the course. But curiously the air temperature was set to drop down to 30 degrees by the 7AM race start and I noticed a wind would be settling in as well. I was suddenly glad I had brought my arm warmers.

In addition to the arm warmers, I had brought a few basics to have along the course. I had approximately 1000 calories of Endurox drink mix to consume on the course, some candied ginger (~300 calories), and my Orange Mud Hydraquiver backpack to carry it all in. I normally figure that I don’t need calories for anything less than a marathon (26.2 miles), so I’d just need to restock enough to get me through the last 20+ miles of the course.

Carrying 1300 calories, I’d only have to consume a little bit from the aid stations along the way — somewhere around 1000 calories total spread out over the 50 miles.

We drove to the start but not in time for the 6:20AM course briefing that I was told would be unnecessary. Finding parking wasn’t an issue and we had just enough time to use the john and jog to the start about a mile away. I was surprised to see that the start was actually on a main road through the town of Boonsboro. While I knew the race started on paved road, I figured it’d be a small side street or possibly sidewalk. To be honest it was pretty cool to be running right through town for the first half mile.

Typical for just about any race, a lot of very slow people had pushed their way to the front. Before the gun went off, I thought I had placed myself near enough to the front that I wouldn’t be weaving around people. I was wrong. The incredible inconsiderateness of some people will always astound me, and it certainly irritated me that morning as I restrained myself from pushing people out of the way to try and get around them. The roads were fairly wide but with almost 1000 people stampeding along, a slow runner in front can really be annoying and possibly dangerous.

The first two miles of the race start. Despite having placed myself fairly close to the front, a lot of people who would just end up congesting the streets had also pushed their way up. #896 finished in 8:57, and 9:42 -- more than 1 and 2 hours slower than me -- yet they're ahead of me in this picture.
The first two miles of the race start. Despite having placed myself fairly close to the front, a lot of people who would just end up congesting the streets had also pushed their way up. #896 finished in 8:57, and 9:42 — more than 1 and 2 hours slower than me — yet they’re ahead of me in this picture.

It took a couple of miles to get decent position in the field while we were still on paved roads, and soon we were on the AT. I could tell a lot of runners ahead of me didn’t quite have the trail experience of typical ultramarathoners and saw a face plant within the first 4 miles along with a lot of general inability to navigate through technical rocky sections. I did a bit of passing out of necessity, but tried not to get overzealous considering that I still had 45 miles left to cover. The AT section of the course is interesting. Friends had told me about it and I had built it up in my mind that it was basically a mine field of sharp rocks sadistically hidden by leaves. I was surprised to find out that none of the rocks seemed painful to my feet and that there was also a random two-mile section from 3.5 to 5.5 that was on completely paved roads. That makes a majority of the first 10 kilometers on paved roads and this supposedly was the “hard” bit.

Miles 6 – 15.5 were finally on proper trail, and none of it seemed too difficult. If you’re a road runner who doesn’t feel comfortable on trails, then I could understand how it could be tricky — especially navigating some of the downhill portions. But for those with a bit of experience and not afraid to actually run it wasn’t half bad. In this section there wasn’t a lot of jockeying for position, although I did pass a lot of people on the downhills. I started eating some of the ginger I had brought along, but the air was so cold that I couldn’t feel my fingers and it was a substantial physical and mental exercise trying to open the Ziplock bag. I must have spent a few minutes trying to run while opening the bag, eating, closing the bag, and putting it in the shoulder pocket on my backpack. It wasn’t my most elegant moment, but my fingers just weren’t working in the cold.

Somewhere on the AT in the first 15 miles.
Somewhere on the AT in the first 15 miles.

Unfortunately I lost a bit of time when I tweaked my right ankle pretty seriously midway on the AT. I had done the same thing back in late September on a run in Prospect Park, and my ankle has never quite healed fully. It was problematic in the Tesla Hertz Run in October and has given me the ocassional issue even on the road. I was nervous that it might mean a DNF for me, and I was really focusing on trying to get off the AT without causing any major damage. At the Tesla Hertz Run, after tweaking my ankle in the same way around mile 20 I continued to do it at least a half dozen times for the next two mile. It was beyond painful and I wasn’t about to repeat that. I gingerly made my way through the rest of the AT and made it down the switchbacks in approximately 2:35. It was 15 minutes slower than I had wanted, but I lost a bit of time that I wasn’t going to risk injury trying to get back.

Sadly I can’t report that I didn’t fall in this section. With just a few hundred meters left before getting off the AT, my left foot got caught on something and I went down pretty fast. After a two second self-analysis to make sure nothing was broken I got back up, brushed myself off, and continued going down without having lost my position in the field.

Approaching the towpath and flat 26.3-mile section ahead, I decided it was time to start with the energy / hydration plan. I filled up my water bottle with some Endurox mix immediately exiting the AT… and I immediately dropped it and spilled it all on the ground. 500 calories wasted. Yikes. I tend to eat / drink minimally in races, so losing these 500 calories made me hope I wouldn’t need them later to postpone a late-race bonk.

The towpath was a welcome relief coming off the AT. Going down the AT the pace slowed a bit and I caught up with traffic (even despite my gimpy right ankle) that I was unable to pass because of the narrowness of the course.  Now on the open towpath the course was much wider and completely flat. I was able to enjoy the sight of the Potomac on this cold November morning, and with the sun properly up now I was beginning to regain feeling in my hands. By mile 20 I had started to sweat, which meant that it was time to ditch the arm warmers.

Head down conquering the towpath of monotony.
Head down conquering the towpath of monotony.

My pace along the towpath was fairly consistent 8:10s, plus or minus a few seconds here or there. Before the race I had wanted to hit 8:00 flat or just a few seconds faster, so seeing these splits on my watch was disappointing. Worse, I took a realistic look at how the effort was and whether speeding up was in the cards. It was not. I was fairly sure that if I tried to increase the pace just a little bit, I would be walking at mile 40. This was my pace on this day, and I was going to make the best of it.

Things got a little difficult shortly past the halfway mark. The sun hid behind the clouds, and I started to notice the wind a bit more. A few people had mentioned the wind earlier in the day but I didn’t give it much thought at all. But by halfway it was making me cold and slowing me down. I regretted having thrown away the arm warmers, and became a little concerned that a short-sleeve shirt in overcast and windy 32-degree weather wasn’t quite ideal.

Miles 30 – 42.5, the end of the towpath, were a struggle. I guess in a 50 mile race they always are. It was near this point that I just wanted to be done. I had only been able to pour one more mix of Endurox into my water bottle after beginning the towpath, meaning that I was in some massive caloric debt zone. I had probably burned nearly 4000 calories and consumed only 700 during the entire day. I had stopped at one of the aid stations near mile 35 to try and get in some sugar (Mountain Dew and Coke!) and also some hot soup broth. While it tasted fantastic, I was a tad too aggressive with it and I could feel it sloshing in my stomach for the next two miles. Ugh.

Worse, having stopped at that aid station to eat / drink I noticed that my knees were getting painfully stiff. I looked down and saw dried blood from the fall that occurred shortly before exiting the AT. When I got moving again, they were swollen and painful and I was jogging at 11:00 pace at best. It wasn’t for another half mile that the stiffness went away and I could run properly again, but by the point my pace had slowed to around 8:35 per mile. I made the decision that between the sloshy stomach and the painful knees, I wouldn’t be making any more stops at aid stations until the finish. I would just run through them, calories be damned!

Struggling, but not about to stop now! The final miles were overcast and cold, and I regretted getting rid of my arm warmers at mile 20.
Struggling, but not about to stop now! The final miles were overcast and cold, and I regretted getting rid of my arm warmers at mile 20.

I got off the towpath and onto the final stretch of paved road and soon there were mile markers alerting us how many miles left to go until the finish. “8 miles to finish.” The rolling hills ahead were really slowing everyone down who I had in sight. I felt tired but put in a final surge just to see what I had left. My legs protested but I quickened the pace back down to just under 8:00 pace and began catching up with a lot of people ahead who had been reduced to jogging after 42 miles. I could see them struggling up the hills, which gave me more desire to hunt them down and pass them. I made a deal with myself to pick up the pace again when I hit 6 miles left. 7:40 miles became 7:10 miles, and the last 5 kilometers was well under 7:00 pace. I wanted to stop but even worse I just wanted this to be over. I passed people like they were standing still, which was exhilarating. With one mile left to go I managed to pass two more people, one of whom I only edged out in a sprint finish that made me want to vomit when I stopped just beyond the finish line.

My final time was 7:42:09, which was a little bit slower than I had expected but not entirely off the mark. The conditions were a little cold and windy, and to be honest I may not have had my best running day. But I did still manage a decent race and a PR at the distance.

Oh sweet baby Jesus! So happy to be finished.
Oh sweet baby Jesus! So happy to be finished.

I’m writing this 5 days later, and I’m still reflecting on the race. It’s a bit amazing to me that in my 50 milers I actually consume so few calories. During all of JFK I had maybe 800 calories during the run and still had energy to pass at least a dozen people in the final 8 miles of the race.  While I would never recommend to anyone else to have so little fuel, this strategy seems to have worked for me for my past three 50 milers. While it makes me nervous to go into a race with this plan, at the same time it relaxes me knowing that I don’t really have to carry much (if any) food on me.

Looking back at the course if I do this again, the first 15 miles I will have to attack a little faster and watch out for my right ankle. The towpath is very beautiful but monotonous, and unfortunately the race doesn’t allow iPods so I’ll have to find another way to distract myself. If I can run the last 8 miles like I did this year, I’ll always be a happy camper so that’s a good goal to try and hit again. Ironically, what I think was a little difficult was the relatively easiness of the course – the last 35 miles were so flat that there was no reason to walk any bit of it. For most races you’ll get a good uphill that you have to walk up, and you use different muscles and break up the rhythm of the run a bit. It’s a good mental and physical break. But with the JFK course you have to be constantly running and running and running the entire time. It’s a relentless assault and you have to stay motivated the entire time. It’s hard!

If it weren’t for the relatively steep entry fee ($200), I’d say that I’d do this race again next year for sure. Instead, it might have to wait another year or two but I will be back to tackle this course.  It’s a great end-of-season race and could be easily integrated into fall marathon training. Best of all, there’s a great sense of camaraderie that isn’t lost despite the event’s size. The towns along the course and the support  / cheering is fantastic. The atmosphere is electric from the race start in Boonsboro to the end in Williamsport. It’s a big and historic event, and yet it has managed to remain fairly low key and enjoyable. What a great race.