Thursday, December 31, 2009

A summary of 2009

Somehow December has zipped by with only 2 posts. This is similar to my whole year. It seems like just yesterday that it was January and yet there are less than 6 hours left in 2009.

I had great adventures this year. And I had profound sadness.

In running I ran further and faster that I ever dreamed. I met so many great people running and expect I will see many of these friends in the upcoming year. I also learned I can dig deep and go moderately fast. My biggest running accomplishments in the past year in my opinion are:

Umstead 100 in 27 hours and 42 minutes-while I was running this race I thought I was on target for over 28 hours and even during the last lap my only goal was to be just about 28 hours. Clearly I was an over achiever! And I ended up with a 1 hour PR for a 100 miler.

JFK50 miler in 11 hours and 10 minutes-while I was running this race I thought I would just beat my previous time of 11 hours 40 minutes. It was only at mile 38 that I started realizing I was well ahead of my previous PR.

New River Trail in 6 hours and 6 minutes-while I was running this race I had no idea I was going to set a 1 hour PR. In fact my time at the halfway point while an improvement of my previous 50 km PR was only about 10 minutes faster. But during the second half I somehow started to pick up the pace.

Frederick Marathon in 4 hours 9 minutes-this race was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. And yet somehow I set a new PR. The course is quite hilly, the weather included several hours running in a torrential downpour and it was quite chilly. But somehow I PR'ed.

But my favorite memory and proudest moment was my 50 miler PR at Rocky Raccoon. This was the last time I saw and hung out with my mom. Sadly she passed away in May and I still am trying to get over this. I miss being able to call her when I want to just chat.

In addition to these numerous PRs, I also had so much fun this past year. I had wonderful pacers at Umstead 100: my sister and my husband who even paced me a lap together. This 3 hour 12 mile jog was so much fun. We chatted, laughed and had a great time.

Another favorite memory is at VT100 with my pacers Dan and Shane. Both Dan and Shane really are 100% responsible for my finish at VT100. I was pretty depressed during this race and at one point my heart really wasn't in it. But they kept up my spirits, gave me all sorts of positive encouragement and were truly GREAT friends and pacers. I was so lucky to have spent ~10 hours with Shane and ~5 hours with Dan sharing my VT100 mile experience.

Also at VT100 I was part of a running community with lots of friends I knew before: Emmy, Debbie, Caroline, Frank, Bob and of course my adopted running club, the Reston Runners: Mary, Anna, Dave, Jim A, Jim B, Bill, Tim, and Jim. And of course during the race I was supported by my friend Tony (fresh from his Badwater finish!) and Mark M.

Friends is a common theme in why running makes me so happy. I was so delighted at JJ100 when I spent many hours running with (and perhaps even pacing at the end:-) my friends Susan and Rob. They are such accomplished ultrarunners and so kind and encouraging. The miles just flew by with them.

This year had many trips for business and pleasure. During these trips I got to see friends and family. Some places I had never been to before (for example, Sedona, Arizona with my dad) while other places I had been to before.

Of course in real life I also was very busy. I traveled to many conferences and even co-organized a large statistical conference. I still am recovering from this...although immediately heading to the VT50 might not have been the best idea (although the pre-race dinner with Steve, Tony, EJ, Shane, Tristan and others was so much fun!)

The year ended with two bits of good news. Gilligan who was diagnosed with cancer in early June is now considered fully in remission since he has not had a recurrence and based on X-rays and scans his cancer had not spread. And the final bit of good news is that I was selected for a team leader position at the FDA. Hopefully I will be a fair, reasonable and well respected team leader.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Death Valley Marathon (pictures added later)

In 2008, I ran the Death Valley Marathon followed by the Las Vegas Marathon. I liked the Death Valley Marathon for it's natural beauty and the fact that if I had a crew, they could easily support me on this out and back along the one and only road in Death Valley, CA.

Being my crew would take no effort and would enable support every few meters or so. Alas in 2008 Tristan was busily climbing Telescope Peak during the race. But this year he was lurking around in the Furnace Creek Ranch area where the race started. Sadly due to miscommunication he went to Zabriski point to climb to the top of the Beacon (a class 2 summit) before the race started. I lurked around the room waiting for him hoping he was just embracing his caffiene addiction by heading to the Ranch or Inn for some espresso.

About 7:15 I decided I needed to head to the start to pick up my packet. This was very easy and was at the Saloon (although it was not open). It was a bit chilly so I just lurked there and chatted with runners.

The pre-race briefing was announced and I remembered I needed to use a potty. Because the course is an out and back on a road that is in the middle of a desert, the choice of LaTree's include a few scrubby bushes and several varieties of small cactus. None of these options appealed to me so I headed to the restroom.

The pre-race briefing went on for quite some time. The race brochure suggested the start is "about 8 a.m.". I would suggest this year it was closer to 8:30, but the race director gave us information about the course, where aid stations were and some history about the race and event staff. At some point he suggested it was time to start the race. All I know is that we started more than 10 minutes late but in fact how late was a mystery that would haunt me throughout the race.

The Death Valley Marathon also has a 10 km and half marathon but luckily the full marathon starts first. We lined up and pretty soon we were told, "go"!

I tried to run a conservative race because I knew I had a marathon in Vegas on Sunday in less than 24 hours. I think my initial pace was about 10-12 minute miles but then suddenly I was running with a group of Marathon Maniacs moving pretty quickly. I missed the mile 1 marker but when I did see the mile 2 marker I happened to glance at my garmin which suggested I was doing sub 10 minute miles. And this mile was up a hill. Not good, not good at all!

I started walking up the hill (because that's what I do) but somehow resumed running pretty quickly. The scenery along this section, (the top of Mustard Canyon, I think) is very rustic and beautiful. Along this course, several miles away are 5,000 foot mountains on the East side and close to 10,000 feet on the West side. The valley has a variety of terrains along the course including salt flats, scrubby brush and even an oasis by the Furnace Creek area.

Pretty soon I was arriving at the first aid station. The aid stations for this race are really impressive and have all sorts of treats including M&M's, Banana's, Pretzels (filled with peanut butter!), gummies and other food. And of course they have water and sports beverage. This race is exceptionally well supported with aid stations every 3 miles.
Heading out of the aid station I resume running with my marathon maniacs friends. Because this race is on a Saturday with a marathon on Sunday at Vegas less than 150 miles away, many runners use it as a "double" (two marathons in two days). I imagine some of the runners on the course are a little discouraged when asked the question, "are you doing the Vegas Marathon tomorrow", as though a single marathon is not impressive enough!!!
Continuing on I jogged with my friends for a bit then let them head off as they picked up the pace a bit. I knew I needed to save something for Sunday (which became my mantra). My garmin was showing a consistent 8:30 minute mile pace when I would look at it and became very worried about running too fast. And of course I don't run sub-10 minute miles!!!
As we continued running, the half marathoners (who started 10 minutes after us) started catching up and passing us. They were moving really fast! The first few runners passed us as though we were not even moving. The runners were really nice and encouraging. A few folks mentioned I was the brightest and sparkeliest runner. In fact a few folks commented about my hawaiin print gaiters. Because the race is in a desert there is a bit of dirt/dust/sand along the course. This gets a bit worse if the wind picks up. I like to treat my feet well, so I figure gaiters make sense. And of course I think my gaiters look stylin!
Jogging along, the half marathon leaders were running towards us. They still were moving super fast and looked really strong. This race is a bit odd in that we run out and back on the same side of the road. Thus going out we are facing traffic but returning we are running with traffic. This means runners have to figure out who is going towards the center of the road and who heads towards the shoulder. Some runners appeared to embrace Britains road rules while most of us did not. It made for a few interesting passes along the course.
Soon I was suprised to be approaching the 6 mile aid station. I desperately needed a potty break. And since the course has tree's few and far between I vowed to use only porta potties. After finishing my business I headed over to the aid station for some treats and drinks. Because Death Valley is a desert and we were reminded about how quickly and easy it is to become dehydrated I was extra cautious to drinks lots. I refilled my water bottle and drank several cups of sports drink.
I was feeling really good and was having a great time. I was chatting with a variety of friends but was not really running a consistent pace (or maybe my friends were not running a consistent pace) so it ended up that I would run with folks then either get abandoned or else move ahead faster.
The weather for the race was delightful. It started a bit chilly and with a few clouds but over the course of the race, the clouds disappeared and the sky turned a bright blue and sunny. Once in a while there was a bit of a breeze but overall it was a perfect day for a race.
The course starts about 190 feet below sea level. Throughout the race runners remain well below sea level; however there are many rolling hills during the 26 miles. Although I had my Garmin on to keep me aware of my pace, I had not realized I could have set it up to indicate elevation.
Running along I am suprised to see the mile 9 aid station. Moving from aid station to aid station is taking me less than half an hour. And my Garmin continues to show my pace is less than 10 minute miles. I keep thinking it is because I happen to look at my Garmin during a section I am going super speedy.
I drink, eat and thank the volunteers then continue on my journey. I am surprised that I have not seen Tristan. He is supposed to drive along the course to see me but so far no Tristan.
I keep chatting with runners and am enjoying the race immensely. Pretty soon the full marathoners are heading back towards us. They are moving fast but determining where to go (pass on the left or right) is a little less hectic than when negotiating with the half marathoners.
Along the course you can see runners ahead as well as the upcoming aid station from miles away. You can even see cars that pass you for miles. It is sort of nice to know where you are going but on the other hand sometimes the distance doesn't look too far off but then you don't seem to get any closer! The runners are tiny specks you can see going up and down small hills and weaving left and right following the contours of the road.
The miles are just flying by. I run into my friend Connie from the Vegas Marathon in 2008. I had talked with her during that 2008 marathon and somehow the Death Valley Marathon double came up. She was not aware of the Death Valley marathon, but this year she was. She was doing the double as well. Connie was running one of her first few marathons in 2008, but during the year she had become quite and accomplished marathoner and even finished the San Fransisco 100 miler in the summer!
As we chatted about events I realized she was a faster runner than I with a typical 4:15 or 4:30 marathoner. But somehow I was keeping up.
Unfortunately as usual just when I was getting into a conversation an aid station popped up. We had arrived at mile 12 and it was time for some food and beverages. Because I was taking my fueling and hydration needs I lost Connie. But alas I enjoyed my treats and chatting with the volunteers. Leaving the aid station I knew I had less than 1 mile to the turn around. I had a feeling I was going pretty quickly but unfortunately I had no idea of my time. I asked a few runners what they thought our half marathon time was and the general consensus was about 2 hours and 10 minutes, which suggested my marathon might be 4:20.
This was too speedy for me. I don't do 4:20 marathons! In fact I started to kind of panic in my mind because I was going too fast. But I continued to feel really good and strong. As I approached the turn around I saw my friend Connie. She was looking really good and I figured if I did not loiter I would catch her just a little after the aid station at mile ~14 (formerly the mile 12 aid station).
I did loiter at the aid station and even took a potty break, so catching back up to her took a bit more time.
Almost immediately after heading out of the mile 14 aid station, I hear a horn honking and my name being yelled out of a white car facing me. It is Tristan. He is really lucky that he did not pass while I was in the ladies room.
He pulled a U-turn and parked along side the road facing the same direction as I. He told me about his morning which included climbing the Beacon. I said I was busily running the race and having a good time. But I suggested I was a little worried about my speed. I knew I had another race on Sunday so needed to pace myself.
The day was warming up and I had been taking layers off slowly throughout the race. Since Tristan was there with the car I decided it was a good time to give him my jacket. I asked him to meet up with me in a mile. He acknowledged this request then drove off.
I continued jogging and finally caught up to my friend Connie. She was doing really well and sporadically her family would pull up right in front of us and cheer us on. They were really encouraging and lots of fun. In fact sporadically they would give her a gatorade, treats or water from their car window, like a reverse drive through.
We continued chatting about running including events that we had run during the year as well as upcoming events. Connie was great fun to run with. We occasionally would join up with other runners who were either passing us or we were passing. Everyone was really nice and in good spirits.
As miles continued to fly by I was very glad I did not have "buyers remorse" about needing or wanting my jacket. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes passed and there was no Tristan. I was a little worried and wondered what was going on. I thought perhaps Tristan had headed to Stovepipe Wells to refill the gas tank (which was a bit low). Then I thought perhaps he had headed to the sand dunes thinking he could make it to a dune and then catch up to me. But my instructions were explicit, "catch up to me in a mile". This didn't seem like a complex instruction. But miles and miles passed with no Tristan.
Pretty soon I was passing the 17 mile aid station. Finally Tristan caught up to me. He explained that he had stopped off at the Salt Creek for a walk. Apparently meet me in a mile was not clear enough. If I ever do the Badwater Ultramarathon, Tristan is definitely not on my crew because I am confident he would not be at all reliable. And in 130 degree temperatures this probably would be significantly more critical than a December Marathon.
Tristan hopscotched with me a bit along the course at this point, passing me with the car then stopping chatting with me then hopping back into the car to pass me again. He also ran a bit with me although my blistering pace was too fast for him. He also suggested that he was doing everything he could to slow me down so he could keep his Marathon PR be the Massie family Marathon PR. When I asked him what I should be aiming for he would not tell me other than to suggest it was sub 4 hours. I was pretty sure this was out of my reach but wonder if I had no marathon the next day what I could have run the marathon in.
Also by this time my knees were a bit painful. In fact in most marathons by mile 18 my legs/knees are a bit painful particularly when the course surface is asphalt. I was pretty sure Tristan's record was safe but this didn't stop me from trash talking him a bit suggesting I was going to be putting the pedal to the metal.
During the brief bit when Tristan was driving along, taking my picture, stopping, jogging with me, then heading back to the car to do this again, I lost Connie. I also passed 2 aid stations and somehow just had a few miles to the finish line.
Pretty soon I was at mile 22 and it was time for some hillwork. This section is the hilliest segment of the race. It has rolling hills and is moderately challenging. My legs are tired but luckily I have all sorts of residual hill training. There are runners well ahead of me and a few runners behind me. I think I might be able to catch up to a few runners ahead of me because they are slowing down. I wonder if the runners behind me will be catching up to me. I have to run my own race but I continue to feel strong.
In the last few miles I do catch up to a few runners. And finally I am running up the final hill pas the Borax Works. The last hill is about one mile long and moderately steep. I can see the Furnace Creek Visitor Center as well as the palm tree's of Furnace Creek. I know somewhere in that area is the finish line.
Almost immediately after passing the Borax Works I see Tristan. He is ready to pace me to the finish line. I ask him where we are and how far to the finish. He seems to not know. I ask if we have passed the 1 mile to go sign. He doesn't know! As a pacer he now fails! I actually never see the 1 mile to go sign.
As we run up the hill, I am pretty sure the person behind me will not be catching me. I also know there are no runners in front of me that I can see. All I need to do is maintain my pace. I still have no idea what my time will be but suspect it will be about 4:20.
As we get closer to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center I ask Tristan where the finish line is. He suggests that it is between the Visitor Center and the Gas Station. I know this predicted location is not correct. This bums me out because I have no idea where the finish line is. Tristan than suggests it is by a RV. Sadly we pass the RV and no finish line. I am glad I am simply pacing myself at the same speed I have run for the previous 26 miles and have not tried to sprint to the finish.
Finally I see the finish line. A few hundred meters before the Furnace Creek Cabins is a tent and the finish line. There are several runners there as well as runners family cheering me on. I am happy to be finishing and have really enjoyed the race.
After finishing I ask what my time is and am startled to hear 4:15. This is my second fastest marathon. In fact this shock is continued when I get home after my vacation and learn I was the 11th place female!!!!
In fact my 4:15 marathon is fast enough to have me be the 2nd place female in my age gender category. This is the first time I have placed 2nd in my age/gender place when there are several competitors in my age/gender group.
Overall, this race is great and I have lots of fun with new friends and old friends.
After I finish I walk the course backwards cheering on my friends. After the 6 hour time limit passes, Tristan and I head to Gulden Canyon to hike a bit. We make it to Cathedral Rocks which is about a 1.5 mile hike. It is a bit challenging but I am able to do this hike even with 26 miles of running and 2 miles of walking.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My posting hiatus explained

Within 1 week of finishing JFK50 miler I headed to Las Vegas for a family vacation and to run two marathons (Death Valley and Las Vegas) in two days. I was out of town for over 10 days and had great time. But alas in Death Valley there is no cell phone or easily accessible internet. Then when I returned home I had to hit the ground running at work.

But now things are a bit settled down and in fact tomorrow, we have the day off because DC is digging out of a massive snowstorm WAHOO!!! We had 22 inches here in Gaithersburg and our cars and sidewalk is now clear. Thus, I am optimistic I will be able to post about my trip, my marathons and my recent running escapades tomorrow.

Highlights include:
* a 5 miler and 10 miler at the Gaithersburg Turkey Burnoff (I gave in my bib after 5 miles and 48 minutes then had buyers remorse and ran another 5 miles)
* a 4:15 marathon at Death Valley (Where I came in 2nd in my age gender category...and not just because there were 2 people in this group!!!)
* a 6:11 marathon at the Las Vegas Marathon
* about 15 miles at the Virginia Happy Trails Running Clube (VHTRC) Gluteus Maximus Fat Ass 50 km

In this past month I have seen so many friends, family and just have had a great time busily living life. Hopefully I can write more soon. Now it's time to go to bed because I am exhausted from all my recent shoveling.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

JFK 50 Miler 2009: After the Race

With my friend Abby Dennis, the runner whom I met last year when she was hypothermic about mile 46. She was such a trouper last year and was struggling to finish in the brutal weather. It was in the upper 20's but the wind chill made the temperature feel like the teens.

I ended up sharing a shirt with Abby last year. I was so delighted to see her this year and was thrilled to have her pass me about mile 48. She was so strong and finished the race in just over 9 hours!

Scott Jurek is one of the premiere ultra marathoners in America and the world. He has come in first place in Western States for 7 times and won many other 100 milers. He is a super strong runner and makes it look easy.

He passed me about 18 miles into my race, but alas I had about a 2 hour head start:-)

He is a very nice gentleman and was so kind about not being horrified by my star struckness. Realistically he is equivalent to Micheal Jordan in Basketball, Yogi Berra in Baseball, Joe Theisman in Football...and yet he is very down to earth and in fact apparently hung out after the race signing autographs as well as taking pictures.

Just like so many other ultra athletes...what a class act!
With my friend and "elite athlete coming through" Don M.

Don was an aid station captain at Javelina Jundred 100 miler (JJ100) and as any runner would go into this aid station he would yell: Elite Runner coming through. He was so inspirational and encouraging.

I have run with Don at JFK50 several years ago and got to hang out with him briefly at JJ100. In fact at his aid station (the remote aid station), I sat and chatted with him for about 10 minutes. It was only that my pacer was getting cold that I got up and left for my 100 km finish at JJ100:-(

My sister finished her first JFK50 miler in about 11:38. For her last 12 miles she was walking which made it a really hard fought finish.

I walked the last two miles with her (and her boyfriend who had walked about 8 miles with her).

After the race she said she would never run this race again. I tend to believe her because I don't get the impression she had as great a time as I had (either this year which was exceptionally fun or other years when perhaps I have struggled a bit more).

After the finish here is a a picture of Tristan (my husband but fired crew and pacer...again!), Me, Cindy and Jason (Cindy's boyfriend).

You can see Cindy and I were dressed in our Reston Runner team outfits and were sporting our newly earned JFK50 miler finisher medals.

I know have a complete set of 5 finishers medal's for this race. I definitely will run this race as long as my legs are agreeable to running it. Although I do find the AT tough, I think I am starting to figure out how to run it effectively.

I was excited to have completed my race and was looking forward to relaxing a bit. Cheering at the finish line reminds me of my prom. All the hard work was done and now it was time to CELEBRATE. And I did with wild abandon.

The first person I ran into after being awarded my finisher’s medal was my friend Abby. She had waited to see me finish which was so kind. We chatted briefly and she introduced me to her family/friends. Abby is so sweet. After a few moments we headed our separate ways. She headed into the gym while I headed out onto the course. I had hundreds of friends out there and I wanted to cheer them in.

Within a few minutes of my finish, my friend Marce from the Reston Runners (and one of my AT Stalkers) appeared on the horizon. She was moving quickly and was going to break her previous PR.

My friend Jenny from the hotel pool on Friday night was standing on the sideline with her children waiting for her husband Peter to finish. We caught up and it sounded like her husband was doing well. After just a few moments her husband appeared and finished strong.

My friend Kevin my second stalker on the AT (or the completion of the 3 musketeers) was next to appear and was finishing strong. Although he had not finished sub-11 hours he did finish in under 11:30 and now has something to aim for next year.

Reston Runners Anna B and Bill D were the next runners to pass by with Jim B following quickly. Apparently this was the first time Anna and her husband Jim had run a portion of the race together after 15 years running JFK50. It was so great to see Anna and she was running a PR of nearly an hour! The race was super fast for many runners with lots of new records set including a new women’s record by 18 seconds.

A few moments later I finally ran into Tristan. He arrived at the finish about 10 minutes behind me. I guess my last few miles were pretty fast because he was unable to catch up to me over the 7-8 miles on the roads. He congratulated me on my finish and retaking the Massie family record. We chatted while walking the course backwards as well as cheering on the runners. He said he was going to run back to the car, which was about mile 46. But before he headed off he shared that Cindy was no longer 40 minutes behind me but would probably be arriving at the finish about 6 p.m. She had hit a wall about mile 27 (the same place he did) and was about 2 hours behind me at mile 38. Since it was only 4:30 I had plenty of time before she arrived to wander aimlessly. Tristan took off jogging and I debated joining him but decided I did not feel like running on the road. Also I was a bit chilly so was not sure I was up for running fast enough to stay warm or was willing to get colder.

Walking the course backwards I re-iterated my appreciation to the volunteers along the course. There were so many nice folks lining the course. As I walked backwards some spectators questioned what I was doing going the wrong way on the course. I was having a great time cheering on the runners!

I see Bill T from the VT100, Rocky Raccoon 100 (but 50 for me), and many other ultra’s that I have run or volunteered at. He is looking strong and will be finishing his 18th JFK50 miler. I am amazed because he just finished the Mountain Masochist 2 weeks prior to JFK. Bill is such an incredible runner and yet always is so nice, friendly and encouraging.

My friend Richard T from the Niagara is the next friend I spot. Richard is moving quickly and is running with a friend from Canada. I have run bits of a variety of ultra’s with Richard as well as the Death Valley/Las Vegas Double Marathon last year. We had a great time there and lots of fun together. He is really nice and enjoys taking pictures almost as much as I do. In fact our first introduction was noticing we both had the same shockproof waterproof Olympus Camera several years ago at the Niagara Ultra. I assume Richard will be taking his camera on his Marathon De Sables race next spring in the Sahara Desert.

As I continued walking along the course I approached the 1 mile to go marker. I was thrilled to see my friend Don from the JJ100 miler as well as JFK50 miler for the past few years. Don is so sweet and so friendly. I decided it was time to head back to the gym. As we walked and jogged towards the finish we chatted and caught up. Don is so friendly and outgoing and just a super fun person. We chatted about racing, Tristan’s mountain climbing, how much fun we were having and how he went from being in front of me on the course (the last time I saw him was about mile 10 and yet somehow I finished ahead of him).

Don, who was wearing a rustafarian hat and dreadlocks apparently took off his shoes as he got off Weverton cliffs and put on flip flops. He hiked down from the cliffs to the C&O Canal in his flip flops to have a bit of fun. He is so funny! I wish I had been there appreciate his antics.

We were getting very close to the finish line. It was time for me to kick up my cheers and hooting and hollering. I cheered him on repeating what he said as we headed to his aid station in Javelina Jundred 100, “incoming elite athlete”. And he was in my opinion an elite athlete!

I was getting a bit chilly so it was time for me to go inside and grab a slice of pizza, take a potty break and put on my jacket. The pizza was just as yummy as I remembered. And the potty break was nice especially having running water to wash my hands. Luckily I had not relied on Tristan to be at the finish and had a warm winter jacket in my finish line drop bag. I grabbed it, put it on and headed back out onto the course. It was just about 5 p.m. and I was feeling great and happy.

Heading back onto the course my friends, the volunteers and some spectators along the course recognized me and asked when I would be finished. I could not answer as my goal was to walk the course backwards until I ran into a friend needing a pacer to the finish line.

Walking along the course it was harder and harder to see runners because the sun had set. Some runners had headlamps and flashlights and while easy to spot these runners (as compared to runners with just reflective gear), it was difficult to figure out if I knew the runners. I continued cheering and offering encouragement. Occasionally I would recognize a voice but everyone was plugging along. I passed the “1 mile to go” marker. It was 5:40 and I was starting to worry about my sister. Pretty soon I was at the water stop. I stopped briefly and asked if I could have a Gatorade. I was a bit thirsty and the volunteers graciously offered up several cups of Gatorade and refilled my bottle.

Continuing on I wished all the runners good luck and congratulations I was approaching the 2 miles to go sign and started wondering if I had missed my sister. It was after 6 p.m. and I was a bit worried in the darkness I hadn’t seen Cindy. I knew she should with her boyfriend Jason and he would be dressed in sweats. Looking for this outfit and knowing my sister was a little smaller than I, I had hoped I could spot them amongst the other runners. I cheered on runners and suddenly I heard. “Is that you Tammy?”. It was my sister walking with Jason towards the finish line.

I gave her a hug and started the long walk to the finish with them. Although comfortable with my jacket, I offered it up to my sister with the philosophy I could always run on ahead to the finish and get warm. She said she was fine temperature-wise but wanted to hand off a headlamp she was carrying. It was a pretty pink one and I commented on it and thought about asking if she would trade for one of my ugly but strong headlamps.

She was walking pretty slowly and explained she was in a lot of pain. I sympathized with her because while currently in the best shape of my life, I definitely have been in excrutiating pain at the end of events. Most recently the VT100 in July. She was struggling to move forward but seemed to be in good spirits. She mentioned she was on target for a 10 hour 50 miler through mile 27, then hit a wall. She had been walking on and off since then and since about mile 38 had just been walking. I can relate to the death march into Williamsport.

At the water stop Cindy stopped and drank a bit of water. Jason and I ensured she did not stay too long. She was starting to get close the 7 p.m. cutoff and needed to ensure she kept going. Walking along the road we chatted about the race, how tough it was and how far 50 miles is. As we headed down the hill along the main road closing in on 1 mile to go, I suggested she consider walking it backwards. My favorite thing at Umstead 100 on the downhills is to walk hills backwards. It feels so good. Cindy declined this suggestion so she will never know how good it would have felt.

Approaching the underpass I warned her that it smelled a bit of dead animal mixed with gasoline/exhaust. She said as long as it did not smell of skunk she would be okay. We then talked about the various road kill we saw. This is when I learned the two pieces of skunk I thought was a skunk split in half was really a pair of skunks. Huh!

Jason and I told Cindy that just past the underpass was the 1 mile to go sign. She was happy to hear this. We were getting close to the finish line! At this point I noticed Jason had a flashlight with a girly ribbon on it. I commented on this and suggested it was really cool. I then learned it was my flashlight that I had given to Tristan early in the morning at Gathland. Tristan had given it to Jason so he could see the road as he headed out to meet up with Cindy. I have good taste in girly-ing up my stuff! I also learned that the pretty pink headlamp in my pocket was my own, hmm!

As we approached the left turn I told Cindy they would say there was 600 meters to go. I think this was a slight underestimate but told her she was really close. Pretty soon we were passing by the Citgo. Just one more small hill and she would be done. During this segment Cindy pointed out she would not be running at all, not even one step at the finish line. That meant I did not have to run full out to get near the finish line to take a picture. We continued walking and as we got within 200 meters of the finish, I ran on ahead.

I took several pictures and watched my sister cross the finish line with pride. She had made it!

After my sister finished, we took several pictures near the finish line. Then Cindy headed inside to grab some food and beverage and sit down.

There were only 20 minutes left until the race was over, so I walked up and down the course cheering on the runners that were finishing their 50 mile adventure. I love this part of the race. Cheering on runners who were probably accomplishing things they never thought they could. There was so much energy and excitement. I cheered, danced, hooted and hollered.

The final runners arrived and all to soon it was 7:00 p.m. The race was over until 2010.

I headed inside and ran into Cindy. She was heading to her car with Jason. I suggested that Tristan could drive them to the car which was 600 meters or so away from the school. I did not mind lurking around, hanging out with other runners. While I had enjoyed my experience immensely I did not want my day to end. Grabbing another piece of pizza, thanking the RD for a great race and chatting with other runners all too soon Tristan was back ready to take me home.

As we drove south on I-70 by Boonsboro I suggested to Tristan that we should stop and I could run another JFK50 miler. I felt really strong and really great and was excited about doing this race again!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

JFK50 miler: During the Race (pictures added later)

The race director announced it was 1 minute to start. I put my game face on because it was time to get ready, get set, ….

Go!! And we were off and running. Well, walking fast is a more accurate description. I had lined myself up in about the 25th percentile with about 70 runners ahead of me and 230 runners behind me and I wanted to stay in this position until I got to the Appalachian Trail (AT).

It is always amazing to see all the headlamps and flashlights bobbing along as the runners head up the hill to the top of South Mountain. I alternated between walking fast and jogging slowly to maintain my position. I did not want to struggle behind walkers who were leisurely walking the trail nor did I want to disrupt faster runners who were faster than I on the AT. From years of experience I have found my pace is perfect for the 25th percentile.

Because it is dark it is hard to recognize runners; however, with many folks chatting away, it is easy to recognize voices. I hear my friend Frank from a few years ago, my friend Laura is nearby and several Reston Runners are relatively close to me. I chat with a variety of runners and meet lots of new friends who are doing the race for the first time. I try to give some advice, hints and encouragement to those runners doing JFK for the first time. I remember my first time and it was helpful to have my confidence boosted by runners who were more seasoned than I.

I got into a groove and was right near my friends Marce and Kevin from the Reston Runners. Last year Marce and I were relatively close throughout the race. I believe I was off the trail just a few moments ahead of her, then we hopscotched on the trail and finally at the end she beat me by almost 10 minutes. It was her first JFK last year, so I figured she would definitely beat me this year as now she had the confidence she could finish a 50 and the experience to know what she could do to improve her time. I figured we were going to be a similar pace so jog/walked with her up the mountain.

Somehow we got into a groove in which we were being passed by runners because we were having too much fun chatting away. I realized this was not a part of my strategy so picked up the pace and jogged a bit to get back to my optimal position (70th place on the AT). I believe Marce picked up the pace a bit but we ended up separating a bit.

Continuing the steady climb up the road I ran into my friend Sherie and her dad: Frank. Frank was funny in that every time I passed him, he would announce, “Save me some chicken at the finish”, to which I would respond “of course”. But then invariable he would pass me, so I would have to remind him to “Save me some chicken at the finish”. He had a loud booming voice and was very amusing. We chatted about our previous JFK experiences, what other races we had done and life in general. Time flew by. I also was happy to run into my friend Laura who I have run significant amounts of JFK with over the years.

There were a bunch of runners who recognized me as well as a bunch of runners who could read my name was “TAMMY” because it was on the back of my shirt, so I heard a bunch of “Hey Tammy”, “Great to see you, Tammy” and other comments. Sadly because it was dark I was at a disadvantage so kept having to ask, “How do I know you?” or “what is your name” or other questions to figure out who I was talking with (because my parents always said don’t talk to strangers…the second you know their name, they are not strangers was my comeback!) It was great fun and like a reunion for me.

All too soon we were getting onto the AT, the bane of my existence. It was dark, the course was rocky and covered with leaves and I was nervous about falling. Other runners enjoy trails, and I do really enjoy running on soft hazard free trails (Oregon’s Columbia River Trails come to mind). But the AT section we run in JFK 50 does not fit either description. I know from experience that it is hard and there are rocks. My first year running JFK50, I fell several times and stumbled fairly badly several other times. This year, as usual, my goal was to not stumble or fall. But this is easier said than done!

As I crested the hill I was behind two runners and planned to draft off them for a bit. But this plan was foiled when they headed into the bathroom. I then caught up to two other runners who were walking very slowly and hesitantly on the trail. I made the executive decision to pass them in hopes I could find someone who was skilled at trail running. Unfortunately there was not another runner’s headlamp that I could see ahead of me. I was on my own. This bummed me out because it is a lot easier to run the trail following someone with more skill or equivalent skill. Getting behind a runner who trips every other step is not very good. I have a whole strategy to make my AT experience as easy as possible, but so far I could not implement it!

Running along in the dark I was happy when we were on the slightly easier double track surface. And I was even more pleased when we popped out of the woods onto the fire road. We had arrived at the first aid station and I could take a little break from paying attention. On this section I was able to rejoin other runners who had loitered at the aid station and could see other runners ahead since all my attention was not on the ground 5 feet ahead trying to figure out where to place my feet.

This section is another long up hill. But given the choice of the AT or a fairly steep and long hill I will take the long hill any day. And now that I have the VT100 miler as a comparator, this hill is kind of a baby hill. In fact I might call it a mound. Oh yeah, and I recall that at Umstead 100, there is a sign that suggests, “Hills are your friends”. So I tried to think positively.

On the fire road I was able to chat with lots of friends and kept a solid pace. I was passing folks now and again because I have a pretty fast walk. And sporadically I would break into a jog (because it was only a 50 miler). Once in a while I would be passed by some runners, but overall I was very happy with my position. By now I was with runners who were highly motivated to run the AT in sections that were runnable. But I also knew these runners were not going to push me to run outside of my ability on the trail.

My friends Frank, Sherry, Laura, Kevin, Marce all hopscotched positions in this road section. I tried to power walk the hills and keep my pace steady and moving with purpose. Pretty soon we were up at the Cell tower and were back onto a crushed gravel trail. I was bummed. Seriously I hate the AT section. Nothing ever good happens on this section. Immediately upon getting on the trail I catch up to two guys I had been following by about 100 meters. They have nearly come to an abrupt halt. The trail here is very treacherous and it is still dark! I politely ask to pass and move along.

Again I am quite bummed because my goal of finding someone to draft off is not occurring. Last year I was able to find my Virginia Happy Trails Running club members of Caroline, Anstr and several others. But alas this year I have not spotted any VHTRC runners. And these are the folks that know and love the trail (while I am a member of VHTRC I grudgingly run trails and probably am not the poster child of this organization…pretty much every other phrase out of my mouth on this section was “I hate trails”, “Stupid Appalachian Trail” and other phrases that include some 4 letter words).

Seriously! I am not kidding. In fact on several occasions I suggested that a perfectly good use of the stimulus money would be to widen the trail and make it a crushed gravel surface! (after this rant I sure hope they don’t rescind my VHTRC membership!)

Now it is just me and the stupid trail. I jog the sections I can and walk the sections I can’t. At least it is a nice day and there is no ice on the trail. Last year I remember nearly falling on a few logs that were icy. Because it rained very heavily until Friday morning some of the leaves are wet. At some point I notice my feet are a bit damp, but I am happy that it is not too cold and expect my feet will easily dry out by the C&O Canal path.

Pretty soon I hear the pitter patter of shoe steps behind me. These shoe steps are not coming at high rates of speed but seem to mimic my pathetic trail running cadence. I suggest to my stalker that they are welcome to pass and just need to tell me to move to the right or left. The voice behind me is Marce and she suggests my pace is perfect and she does not want to pass or lead. Bummer, but I am happy to have the company. A few moments later our friend Kevin from the Reston Runner joins our pack. Sporadically we get passed by faster runners. I tend to try to draft off the faster runners for a bit but can only keep up for a bit because I do not want to move too fast on the trail. I think my friend Reese from NC who I met during the 2007 event passes me with a group of runners drafting off him. He passes at high rates of speed and I lose them after about 400 meters.

Marce, Kevin and I keep trudging along. So far I am staying on my feet and am moving at a comfortable pace. I am running the flats, and power walking the hills and technical sections. Pretty soon I start hearing cars. I know we are approaching the Gathland Aid Station. I am so excited. I get a small break from the AT and will see Tristan. I am a bit toasty so I get my heavy shirt and headband prepped for jettisoning. I also grab my headlamp and flashlight so I can hand them to Tristan. No need to carry non-essential items. In my fanny pack I have a small headlamp and at mile 38 I have a heavy shirt so I am confident I will not need these items.

Jogging down the hill to Gathland I take a few pictures of the crowds. It is so amazing to see many spectators lined up. The energy is amazing! I see Tristan and hand off my stuff. I then head to the aid station to refill my water bottle and to grab some M&M’s, bananas, pretzels and Gatorade. I chat with some volunteers and look for some of my friends who are supposed to be spectating.

Several years ago I ran the JFK50 with some folks from the Coast Guard: Dana, Jason and others. Jason is supposed to be at this aid station. I look for him but have no luck finding him. In fact I walk the course backwards because there is a rumor he is located immediately after we get off the trail. Anything to avoid getting back on the trail!

Ultimately I realize the trail will still be there no matter how long I procrastinate at this aid station. So Tristan escorts me up to the trail. We chat briefly and I suggest I am feeling pretty good and happy. I am at about the same pace as last year at this point and so far have not fallen or even stumbled. I do not mention my lack of tripping or falling to Tristan because that just incites the trail gremlins to trip you!

Heading back onto the trail I reacquire my entourage (or is it stalkers) of Marce and Kevin. I offer to let them pass. Sadly I am going to be the lead for a while. This is okay since I am a seasoned JFK50 miler although I am hopeful at some point I will be demoted from my trailblazing duty. We chat about upcoming races, races we used as training runs and of course life in general. Kevin occasionally chimes in but I would say I account for 70% of our conversation, Marce 25% and Kevin 5%. I sort of feel bad because perhaps my aimless chitter chatter is bothering them. But alas they could either pass me or slow down to get away.

We approach a runner who is running and stumbling like he has been hitting the bottle since last year. I draft for a few moments then realize this is not an ideal situation. I move along with my little pack. We also come upon a runner who is definitely not having a good day and is complaining about virtually everything. Trying to chat about other subjects I am unable to find one that does not elicit a negative response. While they are moving solidly and steadily they have too much negative energy so again we all pass. I try to keep my complaints about the AT light and humorous (which I have a lot of complaints-stupid trail, but at least I say this with a smile and a laugh in my voice), because negative energy is just draining. And I do wonder about runners who clearly are unhappy and not appearing to enjoy any aspect of the run. We are choosing to do this, so if someone hates it that much they don’t have to do it. I re-vow to never grump or complain to other runners during a race.

Moving along at a fast clip I have my first trail incident. It is a baby incident and involves some crazy trail fairy performing a violation of physics laws. I put my foot down, lift it up to step forward and a rock hits me at the back of the heel. What the Fudge?? I can understand stubbing a toe, a rock hitting one’s foot from the side but a rock coming up from behind to whack a runner’s ankle is not supposed to happen. Do I have some bizarre gait in which I step backwards before moving forward? What a waste if I do! In fact I would think Marce or Kevin would mention that I am running inefficiently if this was the case. I am more startled and puzzled than hurt by this incident. Continuing on I sporadically ask Marce and Kevin if my pace is good. I like their company and would rather lead them along the trail rather than be alone trail blazing. At this point I realize I likely will be the leader for the remainder of the trail.

As we jog along, I ask if anyone has to use the LaTree. I would like a potty break on the mountain but do not want to lose my stalkers/company. Both Marce and Kevin do not need a potty break and I decide my 800 mL bladder can tough it out so I elect to keep running. At some point our conversation turn to race goals. I mention mine is to: 1) finish in under 14 hours, 2) finish around 12 hours and 3) my “unrealistic” goal is to finish under 11 hours. I am pretty sure 14 hours is achievable but ultra’s are the great equalizer and you never know what challenges await in the later miles. I mention that last year I knew I was going to finish by mile 38 when I had nearly a 6 hour buffer and could walk (and possible crawl) into the finish in under 14 hours. I finished in 11:40, so clearly did not take this strategy but it felt good at Taylors Landing when I knew I had such a large buffer. I think Kevin mis-interpreted my statement and he pretty quickly took off. He wanted a sub-11 hour finish and perhaps did not realize I would like a faster finish, but just like to know that if all heck breaks loose in my legs, stomach or elsewhere that I can walk it in and at least earn a finish.

We have just over 1.5 miles to the finish of the AT when our little group disbands. We are on the ridge and can see the river. I mention to Marce that I really would like a glider to skip the cliffs section. I am really bad at running trails and awful running downhill. At the cliffs my race tends to come to a screeching halt. Others (including elites who I have been passed on during the cliffs) seem to leap gracefully from rock to rock. In the old days (prior to someone improving the trail) there was one section I would sit down and “crab” my way down scooting on my butt! A glider would make the cliffs section so much easier. I propose that I would even be willing to carry this glider the entire course (except for when I was using it to fly down the mountain). That could be my penalty for my express trip down the mountain. And I know I easily carry my 5 lb fanny pack. I figure a parachute glider with pvc piping to assemble it would be less than 50 lbs. Marce mentions that if I was wearing a glider it might get caught on the trail while I was running and that would be no fun. Good point, but I still want a glider!

Along the ridge just before Weverton Cliffs, Marce and I stop for two pictures. The first overlooks the Valley and to Maryland highlands. Our next picture is at the Weverton Cliffs sign. I am so excited to be just a mile from the end of the AT. I continue jogging but now also lose Marce. I really suck at the downhills. In fact I decided I would call running down the cliffs a “victory” if I was passed by less than 39 runners. Only 12 runners passed me, so I exceeded my goal and expectations. In retrospect I should have set this goal to be under 299 runners passing me on the cliffs, because then I would have been assured success (well unless I took a header and was carted off the course).

Pretty soon I can see the crowds of people at Weverton Cliffs. I pass the brightroom photographer then get out my camera to take some pictures. Immediately upon getting off the trail, I see my fried and roommate for the night, Shannon. I go over and give her a hug. Then I decide it is time for a picture of us so take a self portrait. A member of the Reston Runner crew have my drop bag ready and ask if I need anything from it. My feet are fine and my layers and headlamp/flashlight were jettisoned at Gathland. So I don’t need anything. I thank them for their help and move along. I am off the cliffs in record time. I am 5 minutes ahead of last year and am feeling great. I don’t see Tristan but apparently he was there. I also do not see Jason (my sister, Cindy’s boyfriend) but believe he might have been there (at least based on the fact that Tristan and Jason saw each other at this aid station and somehow Jason knows I am ahead of Cindy by about 40 minutes here).

It is odd to be a runner because you have no idea what is going on the real world. The facts about where others are particularly on a point to point course and how people are doing is entirely based on hearsay. Basically during the event you have an idea of what might be going on ahead of you for a bit depending on the course and that is all.

Heading out of the cliffs area I rejoin the AT but am know this section is very easy. Sadly a gentleman almost costs me the race and my life coming up behind me moderately slowly but announcing fast runners were approaching. This is not true but I try to get out of the way and slow down to be respectful. I almost end up going too far over into the 40 foot drop under the bridge. I am not sure if this guy is a runner or spectator but hope he did not do this to other runners in this section. While the trail is very narrow alerting runners to incoming elites needs to be done judiciously. In fact when I have been on the cliffs, the elites are very polite but very vocal about their approach. And they do seem to have a sense about when to announce their arrival not warning runners prematurely.

Getting under the bridge I know I have just a short jog down the hill to the train tracks. While on the ridge we heard a train, so I was pretty sure I was good to go about crossing the tracks. One more downhill and I see the aid station. I grab some Gatorade, M&M’s, pretzels, and bananas. Washing my “breakfast” down with a coke and thanking the volunteers, I continue on. Crossing the train tracks I ask a volunteer to take my picture. In retrospect I probably should not have stood on the train tracks for this picture just in case an errant train arrived. But luckily I survived this death defying ordeal.

Arriving on the C&O Canal I have a choice. Turn right and continue on the JFK50 miler course for 26.3 miles to Downsville or turn left and run 26.3 miles and arrive at Gaithersburg, home of the Massie’s. I select right. I am not sure if this is the right or wrong decision, but it is a decision.

A few minutes after getting on the towpath I am excited to hear my name. It is my friend/roomie Dave. He is asking for me to get out a treat he asked me to carry in my fanny pack. He had asked the RD if it was okay for another runner to carry stuff along the course (which it was). This race does not allow for crew to provide support along the course but runners are allowed. I believe this is similar to triathlons. I hand him his stuff sort of like we are in a relay and I am a really bad team members. I tell him he looks great while he whizzes by me!

Unfortunately in addition to his stuff I hand him a packet of cottonelle wet wipes. He would be welcome to use them, but raises his hand with it catching my attention and tosses it. I am stunned he does not partake in my wet wipes, but it is his loss. I actually had no idea in my third fanny pack pocket I had my stuff as well as his. This means I had 8 wet wipes for only 50 miles (on my person I should clarify…in my drop bags I had a canister to ensure I could clean my feet if I changed out socks or shoes). I pick up my wet wipes and continue on.

I hoot and holler for a bit, then the next elite runner passes me. He looks strong as well. I feel like I am not even moving forward. The fast runners will pass us then very quickly disappear from view. This sort of is a function of the course which snakes around while following the contour of the river but is primarily caused by their speed.

A fellow runner (and VHTRC member) Mike and I start a conversation. We have seen each other extensively on the AT, although he would pass me on the downhills while I would pass him on the flats and up hills. We have run this event and vaguely know each other. He is good company and is able to talk knowledgeable about the field of elite runners who will be catching us. This is cool because I know (or at least expect to recognize) some of the runners, but not all. Between the two of us, we are able to fill in some gaps in our knowledge.

After Dave and the second place runner pass, there are many runners coming upon us from the 7 a.m. start. Although I am 5 minutes faster getting off the cliffs, we are being passed many runners. Last year it wasn’t until about 4 miles up the towpath that the 10th place person passed me. By the time I crossed under the bridge at Harpers Ferry nearly 15 runners had passed me!

One of these runners is world famous ultra marathoner, Scott Jurek! He is moving very quickly but I am able to snap a quick picture of him as he passes. I note the time (8:30 a.m., I was able to hold off an ultra legend for 1.5 hours…although considering I had a 2 hour head start my lead is not quite as impressive). If he runs this race again I am definitely going to carry 2 camera’s so I can take photo’s with one and record with the other especially if there are so many running legends toeing the line! He is very nice and wishes me luck. I feel a bit badly because I was so starstruck by him. Not only has he won Western States 7 times. He also won Badwater 2 weeks after winning Death Valley several years ago. Hopefully he appreciated my enthusiasm for what it was: awe to be in the presence of such an impressive athlete!

A few moments later, under the bridge I spot a couple who are C&O Canal bike patrol members. The gentleman is on his bike but the lady is cheering on runners. I ask if she will take my picture. I hop on her bike for this picture. I jokingly offer to exchange my camera for her bike. Apparently my shock proof, waterproof 1030 SW Olympus Camera is not an acceptable trade so I return to the towpath.

Running along the towpath approaching Harpers Ferry I am hopeful I will see Tristan. I suggested if he wanted to see me a second time, he could go towards Harpers Ferry see me then hike in Maryland Highlands. This is a trail Tristan and I have hiked (and even run) many times. Last year in preparation for Umstead 100, we went 2-3 times over the winter and I ran up and down, up and down it. There is a trail (the “wedgie” trail that is very steep but runnable and about 1 mile long, the “wedgie” trail name comes from a civil war sketch along the trail in which there are soldiers putting a wedge below a carts wheels to prevent it from rolling back down the mountain. Each time we see this picture we are thankful we are statisticians for the FDA and not the wedgie guy, because if he has a bad day at work, he is getting squished! Our worst day scenario probably just involves losing lots of data but no death or dismemberment)

While I see a few spectators, Tristan is not among them. But I do see my friend a cheering spectator who I have seen consistently at Gathland, Weverton and even honking along the road that parallels the towpath. I learn his name is Chuck and he is crewing for his friend Chad who is running about the same pace as I. It is cool to meet crew who you sort of form a relationship with during the race. I get a picture of Chuck and he gets a picture of me then head out back along the course.

Running along the Potomac River I reflect upon the tubing trips Tristan and I have taken here. Sadly this past summer because my mom passed away, it somehow flew by but we did not do as much as usual. Tubing down the river is great fun and a great way to spend a lazy summer day. I wish this race was in the summer and ran backwards (well except I would HATE the AT at the end of a race). At least if it was run in the opposite direction, if you decided you needed a break you could hop in the water and drift downriver a bit!

After Harpers Ferry, we arrive at the third aid station by the dam. I realize I need to refill my bottle so do so. I also eat a bit more bananas, M&M’s, and pretzels. This combination has consistently worked for me in all my JFK50 milers as well as 100 milers. I wash it down with some Gatorade and a bit of coke. After thanking the volunteers it is time to resume running.

During this section I expect to see my friend Annette. Last year she passed me about 1 mile past the aid station/dam. I know I am a little ahead of last year and may be picking up the pace a bit. My Garmin keeps telling me I am doing about 10-11 minute miles but I know it is lying to me. I am sporadically walking but end up walking for a few paces, then getting bored and suddenly I am running again. This is a bit unexpected because usually I am the first person to embrace the walk portion of a run/walk strategy. In fact a few years ago I enjoyed the walk so much during Umstead 100 miler I had my watch set for an 8 and 2 and somehow got off cycle so I was walking 8 minutes and running 2 minutes. During this segment of my 100 miler I was so happy. Delusional. But happy.

As I jogged I remembered I had wanted to pee for about 5 miles. We were too close to the river for me to feel comfortable about using a LaTree. I had to go with moderate urgency, but I did not HAVE to go! (ie my bladder was not yelling at me in all caps!). Also, I wanted to see my friends who I expected to pass me at any moment.

Now that I was in a grove, had seen several of the world famous ultra runners I decided I needed a break from running. Also, it was now getting closer to 9 a.m. so I was not in fear of waking up people. I got out my cell phone and texted my friend Jamie. I gave her a progress report of my run so far, where I was and that it was a beautiful day. I suggested she needed to consider running this race. Within a few moments she texted me back. Tristan and I just recently invested in a new phone with all sorts of features (our previous phone had black text on a green screen only—it was from the 90’s). It worked but did seem to screen calls on occasion. Unfortunately I am only moderately more proficient at using this phone and the texts arrive with vibration. Sadly every time I get a text I nearly pee my pants. It did not help that my bladder was still full. Jamie suggested this race was on her to do list. I responded that it should be on her “done” list and indicated she & her husband Dave could stay with Tristan and I. And I offered up that she could bring her dog Morrison, which Gilligan would love. She responded pretty quickly (again nearly leading me to pee my pants) that Morrison does not fly and asked where I was. I was going to respond that they should do a road trip but figured I probably should focus on running not on texting. I did respond about my whereabouts and promised to keep her in the loop about my progress.

Returning to running, I enjoyed jogging along the towpath. It was such a beautiful day out with sunny skies and nearly perfect temperature. Although the terrain is easy enough and the towpath is wide enough to close my eyes either one at a time or both to get a nap, I was jazzed up with all sorts of excitement about being off the trail. And of course I was excited about my performance which had the potential to be a PR. Pretty soon I heard my name being called out. It was my friend Annette coming up behind me at high rates of speed. She looked amazing and said she was having a great run. I took a several pictures of her forward progress and chatted while she caught up to me and passed me. She introduced me to her companion and suggested she had been looking forward to catching up to me the entire race pointing out my sparkeley fanny pack as well as festive hawaiin lei with matching sparkely and festive personality.

The towpath is a good place to catch up with other runners at a similar pace. I was lucky to run with my friend Sherry for a while. She has run JFK50 every 5 years, so has some experience with the distance and the course. She had lost her dad Frank on the trail and was curious if I knew where he was. I mentioned that the last I saw him were on the trail and he was passing me (thus he was saving chicken for me). She suggested at Weverton her family indicated he had not passed before her and even at Gathland was not in good spirits and might be considering dropping from the race. I offered up my cell phone if she wanted to call her family to check on his status but she declined.

I was excited to be approaching the C&O Canal porta potty affiliated with one of the hike in campgrounds. But as I got closer, my friend Jill P from Umstead 100 and VT100 passed me and headed for it. Oh to be fast and highly motivated to get to the pottie. Sadly I was only one of the two. While I figured she would be quick I also knew we were about 1 mile from an aid station with several porta potties so I kept going. Jill caught up to me again and I took a picture and introduced myself. Having just experienced miles and miles on the AT and towpath when folks were chatting with me like I knew them (which a lot I know but I am awful with names…and sometimes I kind of only know one angle of a person and usually it’s the back) I mentioned when we had met. She was very sweet and wished me luck.

Pretty soon we were approaching the next aid station. Across the towpath I saw a set of 4 porta potties. I was in luck! And not one was in use, wahoo. I sat down and did my business. It was nice to get off my feet even just briefly. Realizing races are not finished by sitting in a porta potty I got up and headed back onto the course. Of course my new love single packs of Cottenelle wet wipes came in handy here when I was able to wipe my hands then my face a bit. Life was good!

Examining the aid station tables I decided on the usual fare of M&M’s, bananas, pretzels and Gatorade. A coke chaser and I was off to continue my journey. Somehow the next few miles to the Antietam Aid station I have no recollection. I do know my friend Jamie texted me providing encouraging words and asking about my progress (yeah) and I called my dad (on his cell phone which he does not pick up-I have no idea how I spazed out and called this number). I also called Tristan but he was not taking calls from me at least. I somehow was oblivious to the half way mark (was there one this year?). Pretty soon I was at Antietam. How did I get here??

Well at Antietam, the wonderful crew from Reston Runners were ready with my drop bag. The only problem was I needed nothing. Because enough of the 7 a.m. starters were catching up to us, the crowds were growing and this section was packed with spectators. It was really cool! I took lots of pictures which seemed to generate a bit of a buzz. And I waved and cheered back to the cheering crowds. The energy of an ultra is just amazing. One cannot imagine or reproduce it and for me it is so cool to have so many people encouraging and supporting us in our quest to run 50 miles.

At the aid station I grabbed my usual ultra food and beverage. I chatted with the wonderful volunteers and made sure to thank everyone. Without the volunteers, I certainly would not be able to run 50 miles! After refilling my bottle it was time to continue my leisurely Saturday morning jog. I was now 15 minutes faster than last year and was feeling great!

Seeing my friend Cathy from the Montgomery County Road Runners Club at their “banned substances table” I headed over to say hello. Cathy has run Bull Run Run several times and was the president of the MCRRC. She is really super sweet, enthusiastic and lots of fun. The only issue was that I was racing in my Reston Runners shirt. I guess my defense is that 5 years ago, Montgomery County did not put together a team or support the runners and once the Reston Runners hooked me, they haven’t let me go. Luckily she was very gracious about this and did not threaten to egg or toilet paper my house after we returned home from the race:-)

As I exited this area, I saw my sister’s boyfriend, Jason. I stopped to snap a picture and catch up briefly. He suggested Cindy was about 40 minutes at Antietam and was on target for a 10 hour finish. I was not overly surprised that she was hot on my heals but was not overly worried about being overtaken. The race does not start until mile 27. I had suggested to my sister that she pace herself on the AT but I guess listening to one’s younger sister is not a skill she possesses. I had made the same recommendation to Tristan last year and think he did take my advice a bit more seriously but still ended up going out too fast. He acknowledged a few weeks ago that after mile 27 the race increased in difficulty dramatically. For me other than the first year (in which I fell several times on the trail), I actually improved towards the end of the race. I told him to wish my sister luck then I was off.

Heading out of Antietam I was a little bummed that half of my race was over. I really love running ultra’s including the comraderie, seeing the sights and observing others digging so deep to finish the race. On the other hand it was going to be nice to sit down and relax a bit once I finished.

I texted my friend Jamie that I had passed the halfway mark, was 27.1 miles into the race and was about 20 minutes ahead of my pace last year (sadly in getting a new phone I had only the phone numbers of friends who had called me programmed in the phone…this list is very short: my dad, Jamie, Tristan’s dad and our second cell phone). During this race it was like I was being paced or coached by my friend Jamie. She was awesome!!!

I was struggling to find other runners to jog with. My friend Sherry was relatively close to me but was running a slightly different run/walk pace. My friend Mike had slowed down about mile 25 and my friend Laura was near me but somehow at each aid station I loitered, caught up to her and then lost her again at another aid station. I was enjoying myself and did enjoy catching up with lots of other runners for brief bits. I would suggest I would tag along for any runner willing to chat for 5 or 10 minutes, catch up about how we were doing, if this was our first JFK50 and if we had run (or were going to run) any races together. It kept me occupied and was so much fun to meet others and catch up with others I knew.

Again I did have several experiences when runners who knew who I was but I either forgot who they are or else they know of my blog or my Reston Runners articles and seem to know more about me than I know myself. Sadly once a conversation has gone on for 5 or 10 minutes it is hard to up and say,”I know you know who I am, but can you tell me your name and how I know you?” Alas, I keep the conversation flowing until I figure out how I know the person. Sometimes this does not work out. But sometimes by teasing out what races, what they do for a living, where they live or other general questions I can figure out our commonality. Sometimes I will try to take a picture so I can get the bib number for a name, but alas this only works if I can get a picture and I can catch the bib number. This is just a heads up if you ever have a conversation with me. And by the way, I am pretty good at “conversation chicken” and once it’s “Game on” I play to win!

I played hopscotch with a runner during this section from the 7 a.m. start. He knew me from the New River Trail 50km (which is an out and back course) and introduced himself as Nick. He was having a tough day and while many other 7 a.m. starters were blowing by me, I was starting to be able to keep pace with a few. Initially Nick would run past me, start walking and I would catch him. We played rabbit and fox (or whatever this game is) for a bit until I decided neither of us was making any headway into crushing the others spirit (just kidding, but we sure were remaining close for several miles). I decided to do a walk with him and chat more.

He had gone out pretty hard and was running with Annette at some point on the course. In fact he seemed to know a lot about the location of the front runners. Later I learned he had gone out super fast but then hit a wall about mile 30 or so. I think this is the same wall my sister hit. Nick was good company and we chatted about our respective running. Nick had come in 3rd overall at the New River Trail 50 km and placed first in another event but also had several meltdowns at other ultras. Today was apparently going to be a meltdown day for Nick. But his meltdown was my gain because he was really fun to chat with and we had a good time along the towpath.

Our paths crossed right after Antietam (mile 27) and we stuck together until the 38 special when I loitered a bit too long (well at least I thought I did). These miles just flew by. We would jog for a bit and I guess since Nick is more experienced at running we would be going along at a pretty fast pace of 9-10 minute miles. I would look at my Garmin in shock and horror to see 8:45, 9:10, 8:55 and all sorts of other minute mile paces. I kept suggesting that my Garmin was wrong but looking at some of my splits throughout the race, clearly I was moving during the middle miles.

Sporadically Nick and I would acquire other runners who would join us and tag along chatting about events, their day and different topics. My friend Richard (from the Niagara Ultra, JKF50 last year, the Death Valley/Vegas Double and other ultras) caught up to us in this section and I chatted with him briefly. He is doing the Marathon De Sables in Moroco next spring which I am so impressed by! I gave him a few pointers I learned or suffered through during the JJ100 which is also a desert and wished him luck.

Pretty soon we all were heading into the aid station immediately following Antietam, the “bridge” aid station. I saw the porta potties in the distance and headed over to make use as now my bladder thought I actually cared about it. Or else it was rebelling for being tortured during the first 22 or so miles. While there was a small line for the porta potties the non-runners graciously suggested I go first. I was appreciative of this offer and took them up on it, slipping into a potty when it was vacated by a runner.

After quickly finishing my business I headed to the aid station. Again I was glad I had many packs of Cottenelle wet wipes to clean my hands (although I think I was the only runner doing this so my attempts to be sanitary may have been futile). My friend Richard had cleared the aid station, but Nick was still there chatting with his buddies/crew. I grabbed my usual ultra fare of both food and beverages and asked Nick if he was ready to hit the towpath. His crew/handlers suggested he needed to get out of there and “Find his Rhythm”. I had no idea how quickly this phrase would be quite funny to both Nick and I.

Chatting and run/walking at a fast clip, the miles just melted away. Very soon we were nearing another aid station (in this section aid stations are just 2, 3 or 4 miles apart so actually it really is not too much effort to get from one to the next). Nick’s friends were in the path encouraging to “Find his Rythym”. They offered up beverages and asked about his status which was good but then were also telling him he had to run and run faster. I was glad they were not “my people” because I totally would have beaten the stuffing out of them then thrown them into the river if I was feeling as badly as Nick was and they wanted me to move faster (yes, I am overtly threatening potential pacers and crew here:-).

At this aid station I was excited to see Santa and a decorated Christmas tree. Of course I had to get a picture of this. And I needed to tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas (well really what I really wanted to tell him was what I wanted as an early Christmas present…to finish this race!). Grabbing a few snacks and refilling my water bottle, we were escorted out of the aid station by Nick’s crew. They asked about his hydration needs and fueling needs and may have swapped out his bottle. And of course they suggested he needed to speed up and find his ryhthym. Our next aid station wasn’t much further so they headed to it.

At this point Nick was picking up the pace a little, but I was comfortable with it. I think his slump was over but I think he realized his goals needed to be adjusted. A sub-9 hour finish was possible, but his initial goal was around 7.5 hours. We were ticking off the miles pretty well with a bunch of 10 minute miles, while holding a conversation. Nick had run Umstead 50 miler and was a top finisher in 2007 (the first year I did it). I thought it was a beautiful day, while he thought it was hot.

This lead to a discussion about optimal temperatures for running ultra’s. I love warm ultras. I would love every race to start with a low of 74 degrees and then have a high of 75 degree’s with sunny skies-assuming it is a partially shaded course (well if you are asking for something you might as well be precise!). Nick preferred racing conditions similar to the New River Trail or the JFK50, a bit cooler. This lead to a discussion about our respective outfits. I was pretty proud of the fact that I had only 3 layers on top (including one long sleeve) and 2 layers on the bottom (my marathongirl skirt and a pair of lightweight hind pants). Nick had a short sleeve shirt, a pair of shorts and a pair of compression calf warmers. I asked if he was chilly, because while not cold I was not warm either with my layer system. Nick suggested he was pretty comfortable although perhaps more cooler than hot.

Nick’s friends popped up on the course again suggesting that Nick “Find your Rhythm”. This was not unexpected. They asked about his needs and he suggested he was fine.

We headed into the aid station and ate and drank. I continued to power down M&M’s, pretzels, bananas and Gatorade. I was feeling pretty good although my stomach was starting to protest. I find after about 7-8 hours of drinking sports drink my stomach really hates it. And I get skunky breath. I really need to start carrying a toothbrush!

Exiting the aid station, Nick’s friends walked us out and said it was only a few more miles to Taylors Landing (or as seasoned runners call it “38 special”). I was pretty excited because at the pace we were going, I was going to be entering 38 special over 20 minutes faster than last year. Again these few miles went super quickly. Nick and I continued chatting about random subjects and next thing I knew it, we were at the 38 Special Aid Station. The crowds were even bigger than Antietam. People were lined up 2 or 3 people thick at various places. And everyone was cheering so loudly.

I took several pictures and cheered back at the crowd. It was so wonderful to be heading into 38 special so happy and feeling so good. Sadly during the aid station break somehow Nick and I separated. We both got to the aid station table and ate and drank. I supplemented my usual food and beverage with some hot soup. And after finishing at the regular aid station I wandered over to the Montgomery County Road Runners Aid Station. I was hoping they had some ginger ale, but alas was offered up a coke which I happily took. I also grabbed 2 nutter butters and thought about Gilligan (who was trained on Nutter Butters). I was feeling great and I could not believe it was about 1:30 and I was in the 38 special aid station! I had an hour and a half to go 4 miles to beat the “Vest of Shame”, the reflective gear given out at 3 p.m. I decided at this point I had to beat this time.

After both aid stations, I finally came across my drop bag. Leslie S was there with it open and ready. I pondered the time (about 1:45 p.m.) and the distance left (12 miles). I debated grabbing my thick shirt and a headlamp but decided I had plenty of buffer to finish the race before sunset when it might get cold and dark.

As I exited the aid station I saw Jason, my sister’s boyfriend again. I took a picture with him then asked how Cindy was doing. He reported that Cindy was still about 40 minutes behind me at Antietam, mile 27 and was looking strong. That was good.

After leaving Jason, I rethought about my abandonment of stuff at the 38 special drop bag. I ran back a few hundred meters and grabbed my long sleeve shirt, “just in case”. I then headed back onto the course looking forward to the finish in just 12 miles. I felt really strong and was happy. Because I had loitered in the aid station I figured my friend Nick was well ahead of me. I started putting the pedal the metal to try to catch up. Again my Garmin was suggesting I was doing 9 and 10 minute miles. To me this was shocking but I was highly motivated to catch my good friend, Nick.

As I moved along I ran into lots of friends and met lots of runners from JFK in 2009 as well as other events. I was having so much fun. But still I could not find Nick. I knew I had loitered for about 15 minutes at the aid station so I figured I would have to make up at least a mile or so. And considering Nick is typically a super fast, super strong runner, I anticipated he might have sped up so his lead could be quite significant. But I kept plugging along. I saw several 7 a.m. friends from the AT and noticed that I really was not getting passed much, but I was passing folks. All I wanted was to find my friend.

Pretty soon I saw the final porta potty just off the towpath on the left. I wanted to use the potty again since the next 8 miles did not have much access to privacy and had only one porta potty. For some reason I had become the peeing champion. The first 25 miles I had no bathroom breaks but now I was making up for it with regular potty breaks. It was like peeing was my full time job. After I returned to the course, I passed a pair of 5 a.m. friends who were moderately elderly men. They were surprised to see me so soon and from the wrong direction. I explained that I value potties and anyway I wanted to see them again. This got a laugh.

Just two more bends of the river and towpath and I could see the dam right before we exit the towpath. I then spotted the final towpath aid station. I was so excited. I had nearly 40 minutes I could loiter at the aid station and still not get the “vest of shame”. I asked a nice young lady to take my picture at the dam then continued on. I was so excited, I was on track for a significant PR. I felt great and was having a wonderful run.

I was however bummed that I could not find my friend Nick. But I found some new friends to hang out with. A couple who were running next to me as we headed onto the road started chatting with me. They were amused by my antics and all the pictures I was taking along the course. On the other hand, I was impressed that they were running together.

I was not looking forward to running on the road. The surface is so hard and I was worried about cars. There were no cones (which was alluded to during the pre-race briefing) and I was worried that we would be fending for ourselves the next 8 miles. Luckily after about 3 miles once arriving on the more main street we did have cones and the road was only open in one direction.

My friends and I chatted but as frequently happens my pace involved a bizarre and not very sensible run/walk. I sort of would walk the hills then get bored and then resume jogging. All of my hill training on Sugarloaf Mountain during the winter and spring was really paying off. I continued to feel super strong and had no major complaints. Of course I had some discomfort but overall I was feeling really good.

Very quickly the 8 miles to go sign appeared on the side of the road. I was really excited to see this. I was moving quickly and the miles were just melting away. Running along the streets right after the mile marker sign, I was surprised to see Nick’s crew. They asked me if I knew where Nick was. Sadly I did not but I figured I had been playing catch up since mile 38. I suggested he might be a mile or two in front of me and that we had last seen each other at 38 special. They suggested they did not see him ahead of me, but I was pretty sure he was ahead of me just because I had loitered so long at the aid station.

A few moments later I was surprised to see a regular person in a red jack running down the course. It was Tristan running down the road. He asked how far to the dam and I suggested it was less than a mile. He asked if he could go there. I said sure. Unbeknownst to me this was going to lead to a small fiasco. I kept jogging and would sporadically pass and be passed by other runners. I enjoyed seeing the cows and other critters along side the course. Sadly in addition to cute animals along the course, there were several dead animals along the course. Of particular note was the pair of skunks. I did not realize it was a pair of skunks but thought it was a skunk that was split in two. It was very sad. Well except for pondering how in the world a skunk was split in two; that was sad but puzzling.

I passed mile 7 and was feeling great. I was moving forward pretty quickly and was feeling great. I called my dad to give him a progress report about my race and the updates I had heard about Cindy. He suggested he would be heading out for the evening a bit after 5 but I indicated I thought I would have just about an hour left in the race. I had less than 6 miles to go!

Five miles to go passed uneventfully and I was moving forward quickly. My legs were flying. I was taking fewer and fewer walk breaks and feeling stronger and stronger. As I approached mile 46, I spotted the horses in the pasture across the road. After grabbing some treats and a beverage at the aid station, I headed over to the pasture to pet the horses. While I had been bitten by one of the horses a few years ago, I was sure that the horses would not bite me this year. It was my lucky race. In fact a nice young man took my picture, then even coaxed a horse closer. I then got another picture.

Heading out of the aid station I was excited to know I had less than 4 miles to the finish. I was really excited and knew I would set a new PR unless things went horribly awry. Running down the road I heard my name being called. A young lady asked me if last year I gave away my shirt to a distressed runner. I responded yes and asked if she knew the runner and the outcome. It was my friend Abby from last year. She said she still had the shirt and wears it regularly and thinks about how I gave it to her. She was so sweet. It made me really happy to meet her and to know this year her race was going to end a lot better than last year. She was on pace to break 9 hours!

This gave me even more energy. I do really love running and the shared experience makes it even better. Knowing that Abby had come back after her hypothermic experience showed enormous guts and courage.

Pretty soon I was passing 3 miles to go. I was happy and excited to see this mile marker. Less than a 5 km to go! I approached the aid station near here and was delighted to see a friend Doug and Sara who were spectating along the course. Doug came over and took my picture. I suggested that I wanted a picture with both him and his wife Sara. She scurried over and I found someone to take our picture. I know Doug and Sara from the dog park as well as the Fleet Feet Fun Run. It was great to see them. I also noticed another friend Karen was there cheering on runners. It was like a Thursday night fun run.

I had about 3 miles to the finish. I had to pee and was not sure I could make it the half hour to the finish. I decided to waste a few more minutes by taking a potty break. One of the stalls opened up and I headed in for my last pee break. I figured if I wanted to enjoy my finish I better have a less full bladder. A few moments later my pee pee break was over.

I scurried on. I was excited to be finishing my 50 mile journey. I also was a little sad. I love running so much. While I get to do training runs throughout the year, JFK50 is only one day. I am so proud to be amongst athletes that are running so strong and with courage, determination and the desire to push themselves beyond their real and perceived limits.

I ended up catching up to my friend Kevin here. I was very surprised to see him and was excited that he would be finishing the 50 miler in just a little over 11 hours. Almost immediately I passed Marce. She was looking strong but slowing down a bit. I mentioned that a 50 miler is a “training run” for me. When I first started the race I was worried that I would be unable to finish because of my JJ100. But apparently my 100 km wuss out at Javelina Jundred 100 had helped prepare me.

I tend to use the last few miles to reflect upon my journey. Friends who have inspired me, runs I have enjoyed, and how lucky I am to be able to do something I love so much. I am very blessed. This race always exceeds my expectations and it was like a dream. The only blemish to my day was not having my mom. I have missed her so much since she passed away in May. I know she would have been super proud of my effort and how great I was doing. I thought about how she had been my crew 3 years ago and had tried so hard to attend to my every need. I wish I had taken more time in all the aid stations then. I guess as an ultra runner I need or try to be self sufficient because sometimes my crew are a little unreliable. But my mom was amazing and had such enthusiasm and energy. What made this even more impressive was that during her year of crewing, it was only 3 weeks after her stroke! She was so amazing.

I decided in my mind I had to power through the next few miles in honor of her and I did. While I cannot bring her back, I can try to do things that would make her proud.

Just past mile 2 there is a small aid station. The volunteers were super enthusiastic and friendly. But for the first time during the day, I declined any food or beverage. There was a finish line with my name on it. I ran up the hill to the right turn. I ran down the main highway. I passed mile marker 1. Just one more turn and I would be at the finish line. I kept moving getting more and more excited about my new PR.

The final turn the nice volunteers suggested there was less than 600 meters to go. Then in just a few moments I was passing the Water tower. I then passed the Citgo. Less than 400 meters to go. I crested the hill and could see the RV’s indicating the finish line was in sight. The sun was still out and it was only a few minutes after 4 p.m. It was going to be my fastest finish at JFK.

Running along I saw Cindy’s boyfriend, Jason on the course. He was apparently going to be the only one to see me finish. I stepped off course and took a picture of us, then headed back onto the course. It was time to finish this race.

Approaching the finish line I was disappointed that Tristan had never caught up to me. I took pictures approaching the finish which caused quite a stir. The clock read 9:09:56. This meant my early start adjusted time was about 11 hours and 9 minutes. I continued through the finish line waving to the cheering crowds. It was a great race for me!

Crossing the finish line, a nice volunteer sent me backwards to recreate it for a picture that she would take for me. This was really nice because as I finished the race solo, there were not going to be pictures of me documenting this. I was now done.

Now it was time to cheer on my friends and sister on the course.