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.”

Lost at the Finish Line

 

The end of the year is creeping up on us and wow, what a year. Back around June, I did a goal inventory and haven’t looked back since…until today.

2017 Race-Related Goals:

  • Mile – I wanted to break 6 minutes and clock a 5:45. In May 2017, I ran 5:21. CHECK!
  • 5K – Breaking 20 was my goal for this year. Added in speed work as I had planned and ran sub 19 in May. CHECK!
  • Half Marathon – 2017 goal was to break 1:40. Shamrock Half was very kind to me in March – 1:29. CHECK!
  • Marathon – I mentioned I wanted to simply beat my 2016 time of 3:46 and possibly BQ. CHECK! 3:25 AND a BQ!
  • Ultra – The thought was a maybe. Now it’s just a few days away…

Other 2017 Goals:

  • Train my husband for his first half: CHECK! He also did a 2nd which I helped pace him for a sub 2 hour finish.
  • Find more opportunities in the fitness/running industry – started working full-time in fitness once again. CHECK!
  • Personal Trainer Certification. CHECK!
  • Coaching Certification. CHECK!

Which leads me to….

Fellow runners and readers, you may understand or you really may think I am crazy.

Do you ever feel a little lost once you complete a task? You’ve worked so hard for an extended period of time, focused on doing whatever it takes to be a success, and finally crossed the finish line. You are ecstatic. Yet, soon after, you are looking for a new challenge.

That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Just a couple days out before the 50 miles and I’m already thinking, what’s next? Where do I go from here? Do I want to run longer? Go faster? Try something new? I have been so focused on checking off the boxes and not looking ahead for the next carrot.

Fresh red carrot hanging on white background

Chasing goals is exciting; keeps me dreaming and raising the bar. The line we cross when we tackle a goal is not the finish, but a new starting line.

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What do I want to try to do? Honestly, I am unsure right now.

I’m not too worried; after all, I have 50 miles to think about the possibilities. 🙂

I do have a goal formulating in my mind, but I’m not quite ready to share yet. Stay tuned….

Tell me: Have you reached your 2017 goals? Set any new goals for 2018?

An Evening Among Those Who Dare To Go The Distance

Last week, I shared a little introduction to ultramarathons and also the perspective of crewing an ultra.

Now, we will chat a little about one of the more extreme ultras – the Barkley marathons.

Nicknamed “The Race That Eats Its Young”, the Barkley is a 100+ mile race through Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee. Barkley is a little bit of an enigma wrapped into a puzzle interwoven into one wild race. Everything from how to apply for entry, when the race will begin, and what the course will be is held under lock and key by Lazarus Lake, the race director. Since 1986, many runners have tried to complete Barkley, yet only 15 runners have finished within the 60 hour time limit. Over the winter, I watched this documentary of Barkley.

First thought, these people are insane. Second, eccentric Lazarus Lake was extremely entertaining. Third, yes, these people are definitely crazy. But yet, I couldn’t stop watching.

When race time rolled around this spring, I was intrigued to follow the runners (including NOVA runner Michael Wardian) attempt whatever the Barkley would entail for 2017. After 3 loops (which in the Barkley world is considered a “fun run”), only 2 runners remained – John Kelly (3rd Barkley attempt) and Gary Robbins (2nd Barkley attempt). I won’t spoil what happens…

Ethan Newberry, The Ginger Runner, followed and documented Gary Robbins during his 2016 and 2017 Barkley attempts. Once his project Where Dreams Go To Die was complete, Ethan & Gary went on a 15 city tour to share this emotional, powerful and inspirational journey. Lucky for me, one stop was in DC. A few of us decided we could go, I bought my ticket and quickly found out the event was sold out before anyone else could purchase. I hit up social media to find extra tickets and thanks to a retweet from Michael Wardian, we scored! On to DC!

Arriving at the theater, I found it quite interesting to look around and see who else was interested seeing a documentary about an ultra marathon. Definitely lots of bearded folks. Walking down into the theater, we ran into another local running friend Juan – didn’t know he was coming. We found seats, sat back with popcorn and beer and waited for the show to begin.
 

Amazing. Simply amazing. Watching the planning which goes into an ultra – the training, deciding and gathering your gear and fuel, communicating with your support crew – there’s a lot to consider. Every runners understands the highs and lows when you are out on the course; Barkley takes it to the extreme. The drive, the passion and the will to not only continue, but to succeed, is admirable.

After the movie, we were treated to a Q&A panel by Ethan, Gary and a special guest, the 15th Barkley finisher and MD resident, John Kelly. Very cool.

Listening to the questions from the audience presented to the panel, I felt like I shared at least an iota of the same personality they have. I also realized some people just don’t get it (and that’s okay). Some people won’t understand; they will ask why? Why would you do this? This distance? This extreme?

I still say, why not? Why not see what you are capable of? Why not see how far you can push?

‘Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.’ – Joubert Botha

Will I ever consider even applying for a Barkley type event? Maybe, maybe not. In the past few years, I have definitely learned to “never say never”.

The first running steps I took were training for a 5k, then I pushed a little more, then just a bit more and eventually worked my way to a marathon. And now, I’m 11 days away from my first ultra.

Am I scared? Of course. Am I nervous? Heck yes. But the fear and the overwhelming idea of running 50 miles will not hold me back. I will not give up.

I’m still writing my story, one chapter at a time, one mile at a time. It’s not over yet…

Workout Wednesday: Hips Don’t Lie

workoutwednesday

Runners, and many other athletes, can benefit from adding this short routine into their workout routine. Most runners suffer from weak, tight and under-developed hip muscles and believe me, your hips will not lie – they will let you know when they are struggling. Weak hips can attribute to a myriad of injuries including sciatica, IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, piriformis issues and more.

Think of the hips as the fulcrums of leg levers driving our bodies forward. If your hips are tight, your legs are not going to be able to provide optimal power and speed. Concentrate on your form as you perform each exercise; not only strengthening but being mindful of the movement pattern.

“It’s all in the hips. It’s all in the hips.” – Chubbs, Happy Gilmore

Hip strengthening and mobility exercises should be a part of your weekly plan, whether you are injured or not. You can easily perform these exercises before your next run (or during your next Netflix binge watching sesh). Make the time, so you won’t lose time due to injury.

All exercises will be performed 10 times on each leg.

  • Clamshells
  • Reverse Clamshells
  • Leg Raises
  • Fire Hydrants
  • Donkey Kicks
  • Side Hurdles (front & back)
  • Bent Leg Swings
  • Leg Swings (front/back)
  • Leg Swings (side/side)

 

You will see we need to work on Jeremy’s hip mobility a little (I’m not immune either, need to do this routine more often!).

Get to it!

Better. Faster. Stronger.

workoutwednesday

Better. Faster. Stronger. No, not lyrics by Kanye, but the benefits you can gain through plyometrics.

Bouncing off Jeremy’s post last week about a jump rope workout (see what I did there?), I thought I would delve more into the world of why distance runners should add jump training into their routine.

When we put one foot in front of the other, our leg muscles engage in what is referred to as a Stretch-Shortening Cycle – an eccentric contraction (lengthening of the muscle) immediately followed by a concentric contraction (shortening of the same muscle). A muscle which is stretched right before an explosive movement will contract more forcefully and more rapidly.

Think about a rubber band. If I wanted to shoot the rubber band at someone, what do I do first?

For maximum performance, I’d pull back (stretch) on the band to build up energy. When I release, the stored energy will take action and (hopefully) hit the target. Our muscles are the same. During the stretch phase, our muscles store energy and then release – hopefully quickly and forcefully – to propel us forward.

Simply put, running is a form of jumping – a series of single leg hops, over and over again. In a marathon, men average about 57,640 strides whereas women average about 63,000 strides – those hops sure add up! Isolating the jumping element through plyometrics is a great way to boost running performance without needing to increase your mileage as well as make each of those strides count.

Proper form is key – not only for injury prevention but for maximum benefit.  You should have a solid base foundation of cardio and strength before adding plyos to your routine. If you are working through one of the Runner In Training Enhanced Run+Strength plans, explosive training is added to your program after we’ve built up your overall endurance and strength and can be strategically prescribed leading up to prepare you for your big race.

Plyometric Exercises for Runners:

Bounding: this exercise is also great for stretching the hamstrings. Bounding is performed by exaggerating your running form and jumping with each step for about 25 meters. Repeat 2-3 times.

Squat Jumps: Powerhouse. Explosive and effective exercise to power up those glutes!

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Toes should be pointed straight ahead. Bend down into squat position and explode upward with your arms stretched above your head. When you land, land softly with your knees bent as you lower back into the squat position. Do 2 sets of 10-15 reps.

Switch Lunge Jump: You can’t get much more running-specific than a jump lunge. Switch jumps target all those running muscles in an explosive fashion.

Begin in a lunge position, weight equally distributed on both legs. Jump and reverse the position of your legs, lowering back down into a lunge position. Drive your arms just as you would while running. Do 2 sets of 12-15 reps (each leg).

Single Leg Lateral Jumps: C’mon coach – running is forward! Why do I need to jump side to side? Moving laterally, we are engaging different muscles which can help us not only with our athleticism but with injury prevention. Strength, stability, balance, control – simple and effective.

Find a line or use tape to create a line on the floor. Jump over the line back and forth. Minimize ground contact time – land softly and take off quickly. Do 2 sets of 12-15 hops (each side).

Burpees: Brilliant move – full body exercise and also boosts your cardio.

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Squat down and place your hands on the floor, jump feet back into a plank position. Do a push-up. Jump feet back to hands, stand up and jump as high as you can. Repeat. 2 sets of 10-15 reps.

Bench Taps: Quick turnover!

Stand in front of a step with both feet on the ground. Rapidly alternate tapping the top of the step with each foot, springing off the ground each time. Drive your arms in your running motion. Do 2 sets of 20 taps (each foot).

 

Plyometric training can be a powerful tool for improving your running economy. So, if you are ready, go on now – jump up, jump up and get down!

Workout Wednesday: Core

workoutwednesday

Alright runners, let’s do a new core workout today. I apologize if I make you do more reps than I promised….ok, maybe not. #sorrynotsorry #youllthankmelater

Core v.2: 5 Cubed

Today, we will do 5 exercises – about 25 repetitions. On each 5th rep, do 5 pulses.

  • Basic Crunch
  • Side Hip Raises
  • Flutter Kicks
  • Toe Touch Crunches
  • Side Crunches

I even did a quick video this morning so you can workout right along with me! No excuses!

My neighbors were walking by smiling; probably think I’m crazy. Annnnd, they’d be right! 🙂

Happy Wednesday all!!

Oh my gosh Becky, look at her….quads?!?

workoutwednesday

Although my marathon training plan includes a mixed bag of runs – long, easy, speed training, hills – there is one that generates maximum force. Hills!

When you think of a hill workout, I’m sure you think of a workout like this one.

Run up hill, jog down, repeat.

Uphill-road

And, I’ve done those….but….

Coach’s prescribed workout for me yesterday consisted of 10 x 1 minute downhill repeats. Jog up and barrel back down.

Sounds easy – just let gravity do its job right? Not.

Hellloooo quads!

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My upcoming marathon is pancake flat. So, why do I even bother with hills?

Currently, I am in the strength period of my training plan which includes a variety of hill-based runs. Running hills help build strength, increase VO2Max and of course, tackle hills more easily.

What happens when you run downhill? The muscles in your legs elongate and actually generate more force than when running uphill or on level ground. Running hard downhill also produces more impact on our bodies – joints, bones and muscles. Training on hills helps the body to adapt to the force, repair itself and in turn, become stronger.

Strengthening the muscles used on downhills easily translates into faster paces on any type of terrain.

As you descend down the hill, it is important to work on quickening your cadence and shortening your stride to have better control over form. Stay off your heels and don’t brake!

Planning on running Boston 2018? Add this workout into your regimen to ready your legs to tackle the 4-mile downhill in the beginning of the race.

Tips:

  • Add in the downhill workout early in your training plan.
  • Choose a hill that’s less than a 10% grade. 
  • If you can get on a softer surface, do it. Otherwise, it’s okay to hit the pavement.
  • Start with 5 downhill repeats and work your way up to 10.
  • Use rocks or chalk to help you count your reps!

Result? A great workout, fun stats and killer quads!

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Thanks Coach!

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