Race Report: JFK 50 Mile

Race information

Goals

GoalDescriptionCompleted?
AFinish under 10 hours (and PR)Yes
BDon’t wear myself outYes
CDon’t DieYes

Pictures

Splits

All my splits are here on the results page but my overall pace was 11:02, and all of the splits were within a minute of that average, from the straight-aways to the AT section. And that’s great for me, because one of the things I wanted to focus on at this race was pacing.Background

I’ve been training for my ultimate goal of running the Devil Dog Ultras next month. I signed up for the JFK 50 Mile on March 1st of this year, the day registration opened, because I fell in love with the lore of the race, and had been told that in years past it sells out quickly. It turns out that the race doesn’t sell out immediately anymore, and my ultra-friends have told me that this is largely due to the costs being so high for a 50-mile run. Not sure if that’s true, but I already signed up, so… commitments.Training

This was my last race before my ultimate goal race on 7 December. My training has fit in nicely with this chart that I found on a random website. The JFK 50 mile completed week 24 of that training cycle, and now I’m in taper-town for two solid weeks.Race Strategy

I was running to finish, but I still wanted to do well. I went out with the intent of destroying my 50-mile PR by at least 20 minutes. My previous best effort was the Dirty German in Philadelphia earlier this year with a final time of 10:18:08. I felt that now that I’m peaking, and since a big part of the JFK course is flat, I really thought I could finish in less than 10 hours.Pre-race

Everyone should have a Race Sherpa. Mine happens to be my wife who follows me around and has an unlimited amount of patience. We talk before every race about strategy, and as these races go on, my list of demands gets less and less as she becomes more in-tune with all the little details of my running. Planning with her for all the crew stops was instrumental for my success later in the day.

At the JFK 50 Mile, there is the option of picking up the race packet the day before the race, and since I had time on my hands I picked it up Friday afternoon.

Race morning things got a bit hectic. There was a 5:45 a.m. pre-race briefing in the High School gym near the start line and that was helpful. They also went out of their way to recognize active duty & former military, which I appreciated as a class act. After recognizing some other amazing runners in the crowd, we started to file out of the crowded gym and make a 1K walk to the start line.Start Line to AT Trail to Weverton Cliffs

I wish I would have realized earlier that it’s a gun start for everyone and they don’t have a mat at the start line. The gun goes off at 6:30 and it starts for people at the front of the field and the back of the field alike. It took me over a minute to get to the start line from where I was and that will come into play later merely for my personal reasons.

I had gotten an excellent race report from u/wmpyle before-hand, available here, which helped a lot for what to expect.

The first two miles from the start line to the AT start is mostly uphill and so I went at it with an easy 10:49 pace. I didn’t expect to walk so early in the race, but I definitely did to try and plan ahead to save my legs. I guess it worked for the most part.

The AT section lasted somewhere just below 13 miles and I kept a pace of between 11:36 and 11:42. I had run this part of the trail before, and muttered a few colorful metaphors when I got to the very rocky parts. Overall the advice of walking the switchbacks, and taking it slow on the hills paid off. At one point along the trail I did stumble and fall, but I was able to immediately bounce up and keep running. Luckily just a scratch with no injuries, but I did see a guy right in front of me roll his ankle badly. I also saw a para athlete lose footing with the ground (on a slippery rock or some leaves, I couldn’t tell) and stumble forward but somehow, he kept his balance. That part of the trail is to be respected.The “Canal” section (from 15.5-41.8 miles)

Coming into Weverton was a relief because I was tired of stubbing my toes (note to self – look for better trail shoes) and my wife was there at the crew stop with a fresh pair of wide toe shoes and a change of socks. I was off again and enjoying the flat areas in no time.

That excitement lasted about 7 miles before I started getting bored. The packed rock of the canal portion is an easy run, but the scenery gets old after a while. The JFK has a very strict no-earphones policy and that made perfect sense on the AT trail, and was completely understandable for the last ten miles on the open road, but for the marathon of miles you run on that path, things get boring quickly. I would have loved to have had some music. I made up for it of course by trying to engage everyone around me, but there’s only so much talking you want to do before retreating back into your own thoughts and cadence.Home Stretch (last 8.4 miles)

This part dragged on for me. A lot. It was with 8 miles left I noticed a sign that said “8” and reasoned that was the mileage left. Unfortunately that would reflect the race being almost exactly 51 miles vice 50. That’s not a killer, but I had been doing the mental math and thought that maybe, just maybe, I could break 9 hours with the pace I was going. My previous PR was a 10:18, so I had gone into it thinking that a sub-10 would be a success, but as I started to reason in my head, I had put in the miles, I had done the work. Heck, So far this year I’ve run over 2,240 miles training. I’m in shape darn it! The extra mileage (somewhere between .2 and .97 miles) was making that 9:00:00 impossible.

Seeing that 8-mile sign was a bit deflating because I was expecting only 7 miles to go. Then as I kept passing signs, my time started to slow as I became more resigned in my head. 51 miles is a very long time for me to be trapped alone with my thoughts. I got to just short of the 4-mile sign before I stopped and wondered if I should just walk it in. I hit a porta potty and didn’t feel like standing anymore, then I looked at my watch. I figured out I was exactly 4.15 miles from the finish line. I laughed out loud in that porta potty loud enough for people outside (if there were any) to hear. That’s exactly how long it is from my house to my run club. I run that all the time, I know approximately how many steps that is. I opened the porta potty door and got back to it. I didn’t slow down again.

My only disappointment? I was promised some amazing candy stop at mile 48! If it was there I missed it. Completely. There was an aid station, but the lady there did not like my sense of humor and I was on my way with a small cup of water.Post-Race

I crossed the line when my watch said 9 hours, 11 minutes. My wife was right there and although I felt good, the temperature was under 42 F, and it was raining. The weather, coupled with the cold sweat was going to send me into shivers, so we immediately started the long walk back to where they let you park the cars. There were no amenities at the finish line aside from small cups of water, Gatorade and Coke. I reasoned later that maybe(?) there was a bigger event inside the school, but there were no signs, no instructions, and frankly, I was tired and wanted to go home. We made one stop at Marcos NY Pizza there in Williamsport, and my running buddy joined us to talk and go over the race.

We were in the small restaurant, when the nicest man walked up to us and introduced himself as the President of the Washington County Commissioners, and said he was happy to have us come run the race. Just a little touch of small-town class that I miss. His pic is here

Ultimately that unofficial goal of under 9:00 was within reach. Take out the minute delay at the start line, the two porta potty stops and the few minutes I felt sorry for myself at the aid stations and it was close. Regardless, I feel like I left it all on the trail. I would definitely recommend everyone take the opportunity to run this race at least once.What’s next?

I have the Devil Dog 100 miler in 2 weeks. This weekend gave me a big boost in confidence and with a little luck the weather will be better. As long as I hit goal C – everything else fixes itself.

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