The 50th anniversary of the JFK 50 marks my 50th race at the marathon distance or longer. I know what you're thinking, it seems like I've run more long distance races that that, but after careful review, the number has proven to be accurate. However, that's 50 marathons and ultras in 2 years, so it HAS been a busy time.
I chose to run the JFK 50 because of the hype surrounding this event. It's iconic, hard to get into and has a massive following of loyal runners that return year after year to take part in this event. This would suggest it's something special. Seems logical.
The Kennedy family has left an impressive legacy in its wake. A few of the most notable events include:
- 1 Lobotomy
- 4 Fatal Plane Crashes
- 1 Rape Trial
- 2 Assassinations
- 2 Fatal Car Crashes
- 1 Suicide
- 1 Drug Overdose
- 1 Murder Conviction
- The JFK 50
Just a normal, all American family.
I hadn't planned to "race" the JFK 50, but I wanted to run it and have a decent time. My body has been feeling good and my running has been strong, but after running two 100 mile events in October and a tough trail marathon in early November, I was trying to be realistic about my level of fitness for JFK. Even though I was strong, I was sure that I would tire quickly if I went out too hard.
In other words...I was NOT going to KILL THE JFK.
This race attracts a lot of the elite runners in our sport because it has the potential to be fast. This year was no exception. The field included Max King, Ian Sharman, Michael Arnstein, Ellie Greenwood, Ian Torrance, and Kelly Agnew.
We also had several good friends in attendance at the race, including Derek Schultz, Greg Brozovich, Anna Piskorska, Rachel Ridgway and James Wedekind. All of whom are great runners and very fun people.
At the Start. If you click on this picture, you may notice a few of the guys in the front row should have been somewhat deeper in the pack. They're lining up against the best ultra runners in the world. This isn't Black Friday at Wal-Mart.
Spoiler Alert!!! Max King is in the RED long sleeve shirt. He wins and sets a new course record. The two guys on the far left side of this picture don't even know who Max King is!
The race begins on US 40 in downtown Boonsboro and climbs almost 1200 feet over the next 5.5 miles. All of this is on asphalt. I ran this section well and felt strong. A sign that living and training at altitude is paying off. While the runners around me were gasping for air, I was coasting up the mountain with relative ease.
We left the asphalt and joined the Appalachian Trail for the next 10 miles. The race boasts more distance on the AT than this, but they're including a paved section of the trail in their numbers. I refuse to accept that as a real trail. Sorry guys, let's make a distinction between a trail and a golf cart path.
Welcome to the AT!
Running on the Appalachian Trail was clearly the best part of this race. This section of trail was typical for the region. It was steep and extremely rocky. It was possible to make good time over most of it, but it paid to be cautious in several sections of this trail. Coming into this race, I had fallen a total of 5 times during various trail runs. After this section of the AT, that number grew to 6. But after a classic "tuck and roll" I was on my feet and running again in no time!
We made our exit from the AT by descending 1000 feet through a series of technical switchbacks toward the dreaded tow path. I was in a 4 person freight train as we barreled down the slope. This was the first, and last time that I felt really happy during this race.
Max King leaving the Appalachian Trail.
Finishing the best part of the race. Now onto 35 miles of mind numbing drudgery.
My buddy Greg Brozovich entering the mindless trek on the tow path.
The transition from the AT to the Tow Path at mile 15.5 was the first chance to see Jo. I was able to get into and out of the aid station quickly and on my way. After running 15.5 miles of hills and technical trail, I now had a full marathon to run on the tow path before an 8 mile cool down run back into town. Sounds daunting.
In a piece of classic stupidity, I had forgotten to bring my watch for this race. This didn't bother me much because I DID bring my Garmin 905 and figured I would wear that instead. However, I did NOT bring the charger for the GPS watch and found myself double screwed by my nonchalant packing style. This came as a mixed blessing. While I would have no way to monitor and manage my split times, I also wouldn't be staring at my watch every 4 seconds hoping to get the hell off the tow path. In light of this issue, I had Jo keeping me posted on my splits when I saw her every 10-15 miles. Not frequent enough to be truly useful, but at least I wasn't flying totally blind.
I tried to make the best of the tow path, but I sincerely could not find any redeeming qualities in it. It's flat and boring. There is no other way to describe it. And to compound matters, the JFK race directors will DISQUALIFY you if you get caught wearing headphones in this race. They claim it's a safety issue because runners may need to pass and you will need to be aware of their presence. NOTE TO THE RACE COMMITTEE: The tow path is 50 feet wide. We can navigate around each other.
I have a real issue with races that provide a list of all the shit they'll disqualify you for. Let's just relax and enjoy. OK?
Derek Schultz coming into the Antietam Aqueduct aid station at mile 27.
Making my way to the 27 mile aid station
I came into mile 27 in 4:32. This was a bit slower than I had hoped for, but I knew I had to make up time for the early ascent in the first 5 miles. This is where I grabbed my first bit of food. Up to this point, I had drank about 30 ounces of Gatorade, but I hadn't taken in any fuel. I grabbed a handful of chips off the table, refilled my bottle and headed out.
Due to the cool weather, my fluid intake was minimal. As a result, I was keeping my handheld filled to the midpoint in the bottle to cut back on the weight. I know if sounds silly, but a few extra ounces makes a difference over 50 miles. After 5 or 6 hours, a handheld bottle can feel like you're carrying an anvil!
Shortly after leaving the aid station, I noticed my IT bands were getting tight. My hip flexors had been sore for a few miles, but now that my IT bands were beginning to rebel, I knew my pace was going to suffer. The longer I ran, the tighter they got. I paused on the course every couple of miles to stretch my legs, but the relief was only temporary. I was going to have no choice but to suck it up and deal with it.
The pain continued to get worse. As it got worse, I got pissed. I haven't had issues with my body all year and for this to happen now was just annoying. I realized it wasn't an injury, but my legs were a tad bit overused and they were rebelling. Damn legs.
Coming to the Taylor's Landing aid station at mile 38.7
When I saw Jo at mile 38, I was in a pretty foul mood. I had run 23 of the most boring miles of my life and I wasn't feeling good. I honestly wanted to bail on this race and just get to nearest cold beer so I could relax and complain in a more suitable environment. But I knew that wasn't going to happen. I was going to run the last 12 miles and end this thing the right way.
A few miles after Taylor's Landing, I finally exited the tow path. So to this point, I had covered 5.5 miles of paved uphill, 10 miles of technical trail, 26.3 miles of the tow path, and now I had to cover about 8.5 miles of rolling asphalt.
This is a trail race, right?
Shortly after leaving the tow path, I encountered an unauthorized beer stop on the course. Being a dutiful and experienced trail runner, I took full advantage of it and replenished some calories and carbs. It was delightfully refreshing and it was clear this man is destined for sainthood.
While I was still reveling in my good fortune, I encountered a SECOND beer stop a mere quarter mile down the road! Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I sauntered right over and gathered up a cup full of frosty awesomeness!
This race was really beginning to turn around for me!
The beer helped to sooth my aching legs and I was turning over a pretty strong pace at this point. The course at this point consisted of steadily rolling hills and I walked a few of the steeper climbs. The ascents really made my hips scream as my IT bands rolled over my hip bones. Its a truly awful feeling.
Jo met me for a final time at mile 46. I gave her a quick status update, a quick kiss, and I was on my way to the finish.
Coming through the Downsville aid station at mile 46
There was a final aid station at the 48.5 mile mark, but I sailed right through without stopping. I was quietly hoping to break the 9 hour mark but I was really doubting the possibility of it. I was running hard, but I refused to run hard enough to risk an injury.
On the home stretch!
Saying HI to Jo as I wrap this thing up
As I got close to the clock, I watched the time roll from 8:59 to 9:00. Without a watch, I had no idea how close I was to breaking the 9 hour time I had hoped for. This seems to be the story of my life.
(But let's be fair. We started 1100 runners with a gun start, not a chip start. I broke 9 hours)
Crossing at 9:01
Smiling for the Paparazzi!
1100 runners started the race. 942 finished within the 13 hour cut off. I crossed in 213th place. I hadn't hoped for anything better than this and wasn't really looking for a competitive time. I can certainly live with it considering my ridiculous October and the resulting pain I suffered through for 20 miles. Such is the reality of the sport.
Happy to be done!
I'll be blunt. I don't care for this race, which is probably evident in the way I drafted this race report. I honestly don't see the mass appeal. Maybe it's a trail runner thing. Maybe the appeal is coming from the road running crowd that likes to push beyond the marathon distance. I really can't explain it. This race is nothing special. But I am glad I ran it so I can have an opinion of my own based on experience. I'm entitled to that.
I would like to say that the race is very well managed. The organizers do an excellent job with the details, and the aid stations are world class. The volunteers are amazing and a runner lacks nothing at JFK.
This race is obviously popular with a huge number of devoted and talented runners. They love the event and I think that's great. It's just not for me. But I am sincerely happy to have the experience.
I only have one more race left in 2012. The winter months will be spent on rest and active recovery before tackling another tough race season in 2013.
I hope to see some of my dear friends on the trail soon!
Run happy, stay healthy and have fun!