Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007 JFK 50

Hi everyone,

Finally posting the race report from the JFK 50 that I participated in on Saturday November 17th. My friend Jeff Holloway, AKA Head Crew Chief & only crew member, motivator, ball buster etc, and I our began our second trip to the JFK 50 on Friday November 16th around noon. Jeff apparently liked seeing me suffer so much last year that he wanted to come back and see it all over again. He also liked the breakfasts that he would stumble upon as he drove from aid station to aid station. He also made sure to enlighten me about everything he ate as he met me along the race route. As I sucked down gels and was starving for real food he's talking having pancakes, bacon, sausage eggs and so on. Well, more on that later. As far as the trip to the race site, there was nothing major to report about the trip itself other than the Baltimore beltway sucks. Anyway, we arrived at the Quality Inn in Hagerstown Maryland around 4PM so we could unload our luggage prior to going to the expo and pasta party. I should have known by the following events that this was probably not going to be my best race. As we walked to the entrance of the hotel, I observed what I believed to be a street person sitting by the front door drinking a Coors Light. My spider sense told me that he was also a former (or escaped) inmate from some prison somewhere. Here I am trying to focus on what I'm going to do the next day and the cop part of me wants to check this guy out to see if he is wanted. We then we entered the lobby and noticed a short time later that this "street person" was also the hotel custodian, this we concluded due to observing him vacuuming the hallway?! I then had the pleasure of talking to the front desk clerk so I could finalize my room reservation. When I advised her my name and that I had reservations for that night, she just started laughing hysterically and said something to the effect that there was a problem, that they probably didn't have a room for us due to something being broken, in her words "the heater or something." I can't remember exactly what I said, but Jeff said I basically went off on her after which she disappeared for a short time, I thought to maybe call the police or something. She eventually came back and gave us a key to our room, which was only slightly better than sleeping out side. We really weren't sure if the room had been serviced or not, it reeked of an unknown odor, appeared dirty, but like I said, it wasn't out side.
We made it to the expo around 5PM. It was just OK, not like your normal marathon expo with all kinds of neat things to look at. The high lite of the evening was the pasta party. Not only was the meal good (3 plates of spaghetti...oops) but the people attending were some of the fittest people I have every encountered. Anne Lundblad was in attendance. She is just the #1 ranked female ultra runner in the country right now(and won this race too). There were a number of runners who had just ran the Olympic Marathon Trials two weeks ago. What impressed me most was the number of return runners. There was one runner who had completed the race 34 consecutive years and 36 total times. For me to do that I would be in my late 70's!! I'll give it a shot, only 32 more years in a row to go. There were awards for those who had completed 10 times and 20 times; awards they call the "500" and "1000" mile finishers. After finishing the awards banquet, we returned to our luxurious hotel for race prep.
Unlike last year, my "food" for the race was made at home and frozen. Last year it took me about two hours to measure out and basically concoct my gel mixture. Jeff said I looked like a mad scientist. I normally eat only gels consisting of either vanilla Hammer Gel or a combination of the vanilla gel and Perpetuem that I mix into a gel. I found this year that although this combination works, I do need to take in more "solid" foods during races longer than the marathon distance. Everything was then laid out and then packed for the race. In most races, you can forget something and get by. During an ultra, forget something important like extra socks or anti-chafing accessories, and your race is over before it starts. It was then to bed for a bad night of sleep.
I awoke race morning and tried to get into race mode. I was already hungry but could not eat anything. I normally follow the rule of not eating within three hours of a race that is more than 10 miles long. It has to do with how the body utilizes glycogen, namely how fast it uses it. All I had to look forward too was the two shots of vanilla Hammer Gel about ten minutes before the race kicks off. I knew from the previous nights weather that it was probably going to be cold, but how cold? As I stepped out side I found out how cold, 20 something degrees cold and I really don't like the cold a whole bunch. Anyway we loaded up and escaped from hotel hell and began the short six mile trip to Boonsboro High School which is the staging area for the race. On the way Jeff said he needed coffee and for that matter so did I, even though I don't drink coffee. I just needed something to warm me up and pick me up. We stopped at a cops best friend, Duncan Doughnuts for what I thought was just coffee. Jeff had other ideas. He decided to begin the food deprivation torcher early by getting four doughnuts and eating them in front of me while on the way to the race site. To make matters worse, I bought two doughnuts for after the race. So I sat there, starving, and stairing at my doughnuts. Not a good way to prepare for running 50 miles. We arrived at the race site and I began the final prep for the race. This is the most stressful time for me, did I forget anything, did I lube everything that needed lubing, where was my water carrier? Needless to say I was taking too much time getting ready again and I still had a three quarters to a mile of a walk to get to the starting line in downtown Boonsboro. Once I thought I was ready, we began the walk/jog to the start. Last year I arrived just as the starters gun went off and this year didn't look like it was going to be much different.
As I walked I hoped that it would warm up some, I was shivering and didn't enjoy the prospect of running in 29-30 degrees for the next eight to nine hours. After a quick visit to a dark alley for a rest room call, I made it to the starting line about five minutes ahead of time. I took this time to focus and decide how I was going to attack the course. I always set three goals for myself: my best scenario/dream goal, my I'm happy with that, and the just finish goal. My "dream goal" was to finish in 8:30 or better. I believed I had trained properly for it, but a lot can happen to you during an eight to nine hour run. My "I'll be happy with that goal" was to break nine hours. I ran 9:07 last year so I just had to beat that. Of course the last goal was to just finish the race in the allotted 12 hour time limit. I saw plenty of bloody people last year so again, anything can happen. The starters gun finally went off and so were we. The first 2.7 miles is roadway with a continuous incline that takes you up to the Appalachian Trail. I had decided that I was going to run this part at a decent pace, around an 8 to 8:30 pace until I reached the trail and the treacherous rocks. At around the 2 mile mark I realized my first mistake of the day, going out too fast. I was breathing pretty hard when I noticed I was still in the pack with the leaders, and they had to be going at a 6:30ish pace... duh! I was treating this like a 10 mile race and not a 50 miler. So I backed off and even took a walking break just to get my time back within reason and get my breathing to calm down. Shortly there after I was on the trail. For the first mile or so, the trail alternates between your dirt and rock covered trail to a paved trail. The trail also continues to rise during this time. It was during this time that I noticed how fun it was to run on mountainous trails, the scenery was beautiful, it kinda felt like I was playing. And so it continued until the trail turned mostly rocky and less dirt and rock. I had to slow my pace to avoid tripping and falling, something I had already observed others do. I was starting to remember that I don't like rocks, I just can't figure out how to run them quickly. I was now being passed by people who looked like they were running on the road. Granted, maybe they lived nearby and trained regularly on the trails, but what the heck, maybe I needed to run just a little more recklessly. So I did and it didn't take long before the inevitable happened. While cruising along I stepped on what I thought were leaves which turned out to be rocks under the leaves.
My left ankle went completely out to the side and I felt that old yet familiar pain of the classic sprained ankle. I was only about 8 miles into a 50 mile and the thought of my race being over was a possibility. When I first did it, a runner behind me kinda screamed and stopped next to me when I stepped off the trail. He was like, "yo dude, you alright, you completely turned your ankle, it looked like you broke it." I was now hoping it was just sprained and not broken but it was starting to hurt quite a bit. I thanked the runner and said I was alright, although I had no idea if I was or not. I then continued on but at a much slower and careful pace. The ankle held up but it was hurting. I knew I had about a mile and a half before we came down the mountain to go through the first aid station at mile 10. The descent down the trail to the aid station didn't hurt like I thought it would and was for the most part fun. I came into the rest area and saw Jeff who told me I was 20 minutes ahead of my hoped for finishing time; I didn't know if that was good or bad. I handed Jeff some of my gear due to it warming up a little, or maybe I was warmed up. It was then back up the mountain to finish out the trail. During the earlier portion of this section of the trail I again picked up my pace a little. My ankle still hurt, but not as bad as I thought it should. I was still using my run/walk breaks as I had planned; run for 20 minutes and walk for 2 1/2 minutes. I used the walking breaks to re-fuel and drink. The trail then began turning extremely rocky, I didn't remember it being like this during this part of the trail last year. Did they bring in extra rocks just to screw with me? My good pace turned into a run, walk, hop and trip kinda thing. I was starting to curse the rocks out loud. At one point I some how got my right foot stuck under a big rock and pulled it up during my stride. A runner behind me was laughing and yelled to me that I had done some major excavation. I guess I should have gone back and put the rock back in its hole but I didn't....oops. On ward I went, fighting the rocks all the way. Even on the descent down the mountain there were rocks, rocks and more rocks. The switch-backs were a good sign that the rocky trail would be over in about a mile. Switch-backs are a zig-zag type pattern that leads you down the mountain; back and forth on the side of the mountain until you reach the bottom. Luckily the switch-backs were not as rocky and were actually fun. There were bigger rocks and logs to jump over and the decline allowed you to go fast. I had to be careful because on a couple of occasions, as I came down and stopped to make a left to begin the next switch-back, if I didn't stop in time and tripped, over the side of a cliff I would go and get to visit the boulders two plus stories down. After getting off the mountain there was another aid station and then 26 miles of running next to the river to look forward too. I had been looking forward to this time, thinking I'd be able to pick it up a little. The only problem was my thighs were a little beat and my ankle still hurt, probably due to running down the switch-backs like I was being chased by a mountain lion. It was fun, but I ran that last down hill section like it was the end of the race. So I took a good 3 minute walking break to try and rejuvenate the legs a little. It was then that I noticed my feet were a little sore, which leads to my second mistake. I had only trained in these shoes for one week before the race. Being a procrastinator is not good. The shoes I wore last year had a plastic plate in the forefoot section of the shoes that protected my feet from the jagged rocks. My current shoes did not and my feet were paying the price. So I persevered, no pain, no gain, right? I continued along until mile 27 when for some reason I just didn't like my gel any more and I grew hungry. I saw Jeff at another aid station and I asked him what he found to eat, I guess I was trying to live vicariously through him, or at least hear about food. For the record, he had pancakes, sausage, eggs, dry beef gravy, a regular smorgasbord at some fire hall during his civil war site tour. Yet Jeff was a great motivator. As I neared any aid station that he was at, he would yell "go AJ," so needless to say it gave me a pick up. Anyway, I was still hungry so I began eating pretzels and bananas at the next aid station. The following aid station Jeff handed me a Cliff Bar (chocolate chip yum!) and I began to feel better. I have simply come to the conclusion that I need more real food during ultras, the slower pace allows you to digest more calories easier. Learn something new everyday I say. Anyway, I trudged on, legs heavy and my goal time slipping away. I then began running with a man who had several JFK race times on his back. I asked him what all the times on his back meant. He apparently has been running this race on and off for the better part of 30 years and actually won it once with a time just under 6 hours once. I believe his name was Zeke Tucker and he is 63 years old! This day he finished in a time of 8:14; 20 years on me and finishes ahead of me, wow! We ran together for quite some time until we came to the aid station at mile 34.

We parted ways at this time, he continued running and I re-filled my water bottle and stretched out some kinks. I then continued on alternating running for 12 or so minutes and walking for 2 to 3 minutes. I also mixed in some stretching, my lower back felt tight for some reason (note to self, begin newly designed core program) so I did a couple of stretches each time I took a walking break. For some reason, mentally this trail section from mile 34 to the aid station at mile 38 seemed very long, this year as well as last. I guess when your pace is around 10 to 11 minute miles, 4 miles can take longer than my normal 7:30 or faster pace. The second to the last aid station of the trail finally came into view at mile 38 which meant only 12 more miles to go! Four more miles of this trail and I'm on the road again. I was kinda getting tired of looking at the river to my left and I needed a change of scenery. So now I had four more miles of the trail until I would again run on the roads. This four mile section went a little quicker, probably due to talking to several runners. There also seemed to be more and more runners sitting on the side of the trail also stretching out their kinks. After again refilling my water bottle and taking a handful of bananas (potassium is a good thing) at the mile 41.5 aid station, I continued onto the last section which is a hilly country road to the finish. I ran for a 100 or so yards when I was greeted by a very large hill. I remembered this hill from last year and thought that this year I would run up it. After getting a quarter of the way up I noticed that no one else was running, they were walking and conserving energy so I walked the remainder of it also. A lot of times in a race like this you tend to forget your goals other than the finish goal.
My thighs were hurting, not as quite as bad as last year, but it still hurt to run down hills. I still walked some of the steeper hills and tried to run down the back side. I then checked my watch out, trying to fiqure out a possible finish time. My 8:30 was out the window and my 9 hour goal was just about gone too. It was then that I got mad at myself. I had trained most of the summer for this race, so I then decided that it was time to suck it up. I calculated that I needed to run under 10 minute miles to break 9 hours, so I decided to give it a shot. So with 4 miles to go and still more hills to conquer. My first mile was a 10:17, but
I found that it hurt just as much to walk as it did to run so I decided to just run. Jeff had just given me another Cliff Bar which was just starting to kick in. He also shouted words of encouragement, and well, called me a few names to piss me off and get my ass moving, so I did. My next mile was a 9:49 so I was back on pace, but it was going to be close. the second to the last mile was a 10:02 and I was thinking oh boy, in a little less than 10 minutes it would be 9 hours on the course so I had to move it. I ran hard, as hard as I could anyway. When I made the last turn I knew
that the finish was just over a little hill. I also new by glancing at my watch, that I was going to be under 9 hours, but how far under? So I sprinted. I came across the line in 8:57.12 and I had ran my last mile in 8 minutes and 39 seconds. Not my fastest mile by far, but surely my hardest and most satisfying. I stopped to hav />e the finishers medal placed around my neck and then tried to walk to the car. A moment ago I was running hard down the road, and now my legs decided they were not going to move anymore, but hey mission accomplished. Theres always next year, I'll take another shot at 8:30 then. So what did I do a couple of weeks ago, I signed up for the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run! I figure that if the JFK hurt this much, I guess I just want to know what total agony is! Next up, the Fattest Butt 50K in Delaware on January 5th. Thanks for reading! AJ


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Great race! I definately want to sign up for this someday!

You're gonna rock the Vermont 100.

Unknown said...

Good post this will be a great reference for running report...nice one...:D


The Running Coach said...

so, did you ever get that sub 8:30?

AJ Johnson said...

Hi Christine,

No, never got the sub 8:30. The last two years I went to the Jfk I was a little beat up from other races and just did it for fun.


carole d said...

great blog! I will use your blog to steer me thru this race for sure. . . had no idea of layout; and now I'll watch out for all those "rocks" and will be careful on the switchbacks as to not run off the mountainside! Can't wait!!! how did you do in the Vermont 100?