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.