JFK 50 Mile Race Recap: We did it!

“You must go on adventures to find where you truly belong.”

Like any other distance, 50 miles begins with a single step. You put one foot in front of the other, mile after mile. Just as I imagined, the JFK 50 was an amazing adventure full of many steps.

Where to begin? Even on Friday night, I was in disbelief I’d be attempting to run 50 miles the next day. Mario planned on sleeping at our house and riding with us to the race, so I made a pasta dinner for all of us. I set out my race outfit, a couple pairs of shoes, change of clothes and fuel yet still felt I wasn’t prepared. Falling asleep took awhile as I was anticipating the 3:30 a.m. wake up call.

Pre-Race Instructions
Mario, Jeremy, Sara and me before the race

We left our house at 4:15 a.m. for the trek to Boonsboro, MD. Packet pickup was quick and easy and a small group of runners were already scattered across the gym. Soon after, we found Jeremy then Josh and Sara. After a couple last minute trips to the port-a-potties, it was time for pre-race instructions. The director asked runners who had run multiple JFKs at certain finishing times to stand up.  Seeing the JFK 50 veterans was inspiring – especially those with bib numbers less than 100 (meaning elite athletes or multiple JFK50 finishes). As soon as instructions were complete, everyone headed outside for the 5-10 minute walk to the starting line.

Time to run!

Walking to the start, everyone enjoyed light conversation and seemed very calm. I had just a few minutes to take off my warm ups, then the 4 of us headed to join the runners – Mario and Jeremy went up near the front and Sara and I hung back. I began retying one of my trail shoes and then BANG! It was time to go. We started running through downtown Boonsboro for the 2.5 mile uphill journey to the Appalachian Trail.

Sara and I ran for about 1.5 miles before we hit the long, winding uphill where we decided to power walk. We climbed and climbed until we saw familiar territory, the parking lot where we began several training runs. We were happy to hit the first timing checkpoint and start on the trail. Right away, we were laughing. If you read our training post, you’ll remember the numerous times we thought we were off course. The 2nd training run we thought we went the wrong way to “tent city”. As soon as we were directed on the trail, guess where we were headed? Right towards the tents! We were right all along and had no idea. Quickly, we accessed the actual trails and started the AT section.

All of our training runs, we were pretty much the only humans on the trails. Race day was a little different – was a little tougher to plan foot placement when someone was running right in front of you. We chatted about our week as we fell into line with the others. Soon, another laughing moment. I believe I mentioned in our training blog post about our first time trying to run the course and running up the long road; trying to access directions via Facebook and finding the trail by the communication tower. On our next attempt, we thought we found the actual trail/course. Well, Saturday we found out we were supposed to go up the road! The road seems very long and is quite an incline so we ended up speed walking for most of the climb. Much more boring than the trail close by, but definitely easier to traverse than the steep, rocky path.

Once we reached the fenced area, we were back on the Appalachian Trail and on a familiar route. The path becomes rockier and some runners were having a little trouble with this more technical part of the course. We enjoyed running the trail until…BOOM! One rock reached up, grabbed Sara and down she went with a spectacular roll! Thankfully no injuries, right back up, walked it off and we continued along the way.

Soon we were at the 1st aid station at Gathland State Park. A girl commented on my pink hair as we ran through the tunnel of volunteers. We took a quick walk up the pavement before getting back on the trail. About ¾ of the way through the 2nd part of the trail, a light rain began to fall. We navigated the trail chitchatting with other runners and began the descent to Weverton Cliffs. 15 miles down! As we came off the trail, we quickly spotted John and Josh, changed out of our trail shoes, refilled our water bottles and hopped back on course. John and Josh told us we were only 20 minutes behind Jeremy and Mario. Wow! About .5 mile away, we were able to see Vern and Lisa as well as visit the 2nd aid station. I grabbed PB&J and a banana before we began the 2nd section of the day – 26 miles on the C&O.

Out of the trails – 35 miles to go!

Going from climbing on trails to running on a flat surface was a big change. Immediately, Sara and I started to keep each other in check when we saw our splits in the 8s. On this part of the course, we created a comfortable pattern. Thank goodness for aid stations every 2-5 miles; otherwise the towpath would have seemed a lot longer! As we reached each aid station, we would grab whatever fuel we needed and then walk a bit to eat and drink. Then, we’d start up the engine again which at times was difficult. I joked I needed an oil can to get the joints moving again. After a few minutes of running, it always felt much easier and we would be plugging away at 9-9:30 pace. Usually when we were in need of a break, another aid station would appear and we would start the cycle all over again.

We leapfrogged the same runners over and over again on the towpath. We met Justin from NC who is being deployed to Iraq in December, Andrew from NOVA and Geoffrey from Albuquerque. We would chat about where we were all from, our families, our jobs and offer words of encouragement. Everyone was so friendly cheering us on. Andrew told us we were doing great for our first 50 and mentioned if we kept up the pace, we’d be around 8:45. WHAT! I hadn’t even tried to calculate what our finishing time would be – we were just focusing on finishing and not being out on the course in the dark. A 9 hour finish? Wow.

26 miles in – still smiling!

The rain continued which made the path muddy and slick, especially with the leaf cover. I knew we both began to feel a little tired but mentally, we never wavered. Often, we’d run a few steps apart, always within talking distance. Although the majority of the time we were not talking, knowing a friend was near you was always comforting. We were able to see our crew again before 30 miles. Just refills on water, a few words and an update on our teammates – again, just about 30 minutes ahead. Glad to hear they were doing well. I think around this time, Sara mentioned one of the runners ahead was one of the JFK 50 veterans who usually finishes in 9:30. Soon after, we caught up and passed him.

How can you pass up a cookie like this?!

We’d chat and joke with the volunteers at the aid stations, thanking them for their help. Usually, I am a sweet tooth kind of a girl, but this time I craved the salty items. Chips and pretzels were my go-to although I did grab a pretty cookie and M&Ms. Having warm soup or broth at several stops was wonderful since the rain did make us a little chilly.

Just before mile 40, we were able to see our crew one last time. We were still smiling and in good spirits although the miles were starting to take their toll. I commented to Sara how amazing it was to still be dropping low 9 minute miles. Only 10 more to go! We were so ready to get to the road portion, and just had a couple more miles on the towpath. One of the last stations was Christmas-themed, complete with Santa Claus and Christmas cookies, yum! Not much longer and we were onto the 3rd part, road for about 8.5 miles. 

At this point, we realized our watches were off the official race miles which was frustrating since my watch said we were 1 mile further. I had stopped awhile back looking at the total miles and just focusing on our per mile pace. We ate our fuel and started on the pavement. As soon as we came off the C&O, a hill awaited. One resident was kind enough to be offering beer to help dull the pain of the incline. A few runners veered over to join him; we did not. As we reached the crest, we decided to try to run again. A little rusty, but soon we were moving. Although it was nice to be out of the muddy path, running on hard asphalt was a bit jarring.

We continued along the country road, stopping a few times when we’d reach inclines for a short walk. Then, we’d start it up again. Seeing the mile markers alongside the road was very exciting – 8, 7, 6…. We were so close! I looked at my watch to see what our overall time was and was surprised to see we had been out for 8 hours and 11 minutes. Really? It didn’t seem like that long. Is it crazy to say I started to feel a little sad the end was near?

Honestly, my muscles didn’t feel that awful until mile 45. My calves were feeling a little tight and my upper back was aching a bit but I kept trying to drop my shoulders to stay loose. I certainly felt like I had been running for hours, but not as bad as I expected.

Just before the mile 4-to-go marker, we ran into a woman we had met in the beginning of the race. My eyes went wide as I saw trails of blood running down both legs. Beast! She must have taken a spill back along the trails.

A couple more twists and turns and we approached the last aid station. 1.5 MILES TO GO! Wow! It was hard to believe our adventure was nearly over. We kept moving forward, knowing with each step we’d be seeing our family, friends and teammates soon. As we ran up one last hill, I heard a crowd ahead. I lifted up my eyes and saw the finish line! Since we didn’t see a 1 mile to go marker, this was an exciting and unexpected sight. I turned around and said, “Sara!?” She said, “Is that the finish?!” YES!! 

We were so excited – we both threw our water bottles to Mario (thank you!) and with BIG smiles, we crossed that finish line (with a cartwheel and raised arms) in 9:09:57! Our primary goal was to finish and the expected finish time we had registered with: 10 hours. We were in disbelief we finished just over 9 hours for our first 50 miler. We were reunited with our group with hugs and all immediately headed inside to warm up. A smorgasbord of food awaited us and we noshed while chatting with the guys about their race.

I am an ultramarathoner!

A couple days have passed and we are still on cloud 9. My body had a couple aches and pains, but nothing near what I imagined. I think the year of training, both running and strength workouts completely prepared my body for the challenge. It will take awhile to fully sink in what we accomplished.

Thank you to John, Josh, Vern, Lisa, Laura and Andrew for being at the aid stations to give us whatever was needed – water, fuel and most importantly, words of encouragement. Seeing friendly faces at those points really kept us moving. Thanks to Mario and Jeremy for the votes of confidence and for believing in us. Thanks to all of you for following us and cheering us on! Last, but certainly not least, thank you to Sara. Thank you for agreeing to tackle this challenge, being beside me during training runs and my partner for 50 miles of fun. I’ll never forget my first ultra. Love ya girl!

Finishing the JFK 50 means I have now checked all the boxes for my 2017 goals. What’s next? Stay tuned…

“Believe in yourself, push your limits, experience life, conquer your goals and be happy.”

The Mental Game

Fatigue whispered, you cannot withstand the storm. The runner replied, I AM the storm.

The distance doesn’t seem to matter – 5K up to a marathon – the battle is always the same. Mind over matter or matter over mind?

Some races I feel like my own counselor:

Me 1: Man, this is hard; maybe I should slow down.
Me 2: Why would you slow down? You feel great. Stay strong.

Me 1: Oooh, my IT band is kind of nagging.
Me 2: Your IT band is just fine; keep up the pace.

Me 1: Are we at the next mile marker yet? Why hasn’t my watch beeped?
Me 2: Woohoo, halfway mark; almost there!

We train physically; but do you train yourself mentally?

No matter if you are a novice or seasoned runner, I believe the mental battle always rages on. Thankfully, I do feel the little voice inside of you shouting negative feedback can be trained to be softer and softer.

Running is 90% mental and the rest is physical.

Whether you are running short or long, the mental aspect is always there. I feel once you start running longer races (half marathons, marathons and ultra), you have a lot more time to think about what you are doing and once fatigue starts to set in; you could easily start to struggle.

Let’s explore a few strategies to help you work on your mental game:

1. Visualization. Knowing what is to come can help prepare you mentally. Get a map of the course and try to run or drive prior to your race. Watch for changes of elevation and places where you can run the tangents. Using this knowledge and visualizing yourself on the course will help you strategize where you can use your strengths along the way.

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Coach leading me through a race visualization – ~1992

2. Find a running mantra. Consider finding a short phrase which inspires, motivates or relaxes you. Practice using your mantra during tough training runs. When your brain starts shouting negative thoughts at you, repeat your mantra to maintain focus. Even at the starting line, I have a specific set of words I run through internally to ease the starting line anxiety.
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3. Stop worrying about everyone around you. Run YOUR race. It’s no surprise; I am highly competitive. Seeing my competition on the line can spike my heart rate and increase my anxiety. However, I remind myself to run my race. I cannot race harder than I train and if I run my own race, to my best ability, the results will come.

4. Prepare yourself for the worst. Creating a couple of goals (Goals A, B and/or C) can help you stay positive. If you have just one goal and start to miss the mark, negativity can set in and you may not have a reason to keep pushing. Having a secondary goal can help; especially if you encounter the unexpected (blisters, cramps, GI issues, etc.).

Find something that works for you and start training that brain! Already training that brain? What works best for you?

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

TRM

Year in Review and a Blank Slate

“A good goal should scare you a little. And excite you a lot.” – Joe Vitale

This past year was the first full year of running for me since we all sat around watching and waiting to see what disaster the year 2K would bring.

Heading into 2016, I had little idea the year would be full of milestones. When the calendar flipped into the new year, I was still working towards my weight loss goal and I made the decision to try for a new distance; the half marathon.

Looking back over the year, I’m still amazed of what I accomplished and most importantly, what fun I had. I tackled new distances, yet still fit in my old favorites.

Here’s my year in review:

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  • Not 1, but 2 half marathons (1:52 & 1:53)
  • Apple Blossom 10K – only my 2nd time running this race since we moved to Winchester; crushed my time by about 12 minutes (47:40)
  • Loudoun Street Mile – it’s been a long time since I ran an all-out mile so I was excited to see what I could do. I was pleased with 6:03
  • Several 5Ks. In 2015, my 5K time was 22:59. This year, I bested my 2nd running career PR – 20:40
  • An 8K trail race – a lot of fun!
  • 20K – close to the half marathon distance (1:36)
  • A 4 miler (26:42)
  • MY FIRST MARATHON, Richmond (3:46)! At the beginning of 2016, a full marathon was not on my radar. After 2 half marathons, I decided, why stop here?

Non-race related highlights:

  • Reached and surpassed my weight loss goal in the 1st Quarter – Total of 66 lbs. lost.
  • Became an instructor for HIIT Like A Girl
  • Became a kid’s running club coach through our county Parks & Rec program
  • My stepdaughter and husband have become runners (my son has already been running for a few years)

Over the 12 months, I was lucky to share so many miles with a great group of friends. I had a fun (and adventurous) 12 mile trail run with friends, several loooong training runs, breakfast runs and a Christmas fun run. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know people better and meet some amazing new folks too.

So, where does that lead me for 2017? Wow, it will definitely be hard to beat!

I have a target in mind and I’m going after her – the old me. 

Now that Mack Attack is back, I have some serious work to do. I have a target in mind and I’m going after her – the old me. Unsure if I’ll ever touch my old PRs (20 years and 20 lbs lighter) but that won’t stop me from getting as close as I can.

Goals for 2017:

  • Race-Related:
    • Mile – all guts. Back in high school and college, the mile and half mile were my specialties so I still have a sweet spot for this distance. I love the feeling of laying it all on the line and finishing keeled over; all energy spent. I’m hoping to break the 6 min. mark and aiming for 5:45.
    • 5K – Striving to break 20. Up until about 2 weeks prior to the marathon, I was hitting the track once per week. Now, I’m ready to add speed work back into my weekly plan to help achieve my 5K and mile goals.
    • Half Marathon – My initial try at this distance was a good race; although freezing cold and very low key (no spectators and an out-and-back). Second try was awful – high humidity and a rough course. My split at Richmond was a 1:47; so I aiming towards the 1:40 mark.
    • Marathon – Yes, I’m going to do it again! I’m going to follow the same path as last year and train for a fall marathon. I’ll announce which one soon. Unfortunately, a lot of my weekends are already unavailable due to work, so I’m trying to determine which will fit best with my schedule. Goal: Beat 3:46. Aim towards BQ? Possibly.
  • Other goals 
    • Try for an ultra? Maybe – if I have a friend that’d join me  🙂
    • Trail race – love the trails – also want to do a Ragnar; so maybe I can knock out two at once.
    • Run a race in my hometown
    • Training my first person (my husband) for his first half!
    • I also plan on finding more opportunities in the fitness/running industry and have been working towards my PT certification. It’s been great getting back into my career.
    • Blogging more often!

 

What accomplishment are you most proud of from last year?

What goals are you working towards this year?

Let me know! 

Until next time,

Becky