Tuesday, November 23, 2010

JFK 50 Mile 11/20/10

JFK 50 Mile 11/21/10
48th Annual
7am Start Boonsboro, MD
State #13

The JFK 50 started out as a decreed from JFK 48 years ago that US Soldiers should be fit enough to be able to traverse on foot by running or walking 50 miles in one day, that would be the measure of who was fit enough to be a commissioned officer. For the next several years there were JFK 50 mile races all over the country, not just in Boonsboro, MD.  But after a few years the races slowly started to disappear and left only 1 race standing, the JFK 50 from Boonsboro to Williamsport, MD. This was the original course that 3 soldiers took 48 years ago in just over 16 hours (current course time limit is 14 hours for early start and 12 for the regular start). With this being one of the oldest and largest ultramarathon, there is great emphasis on multiyear streaks with the race’s pasta dinner also being that of a recognition ceremony for repeat offenders (500-2,000 mile club members, 10-41 finishes).

Race Packet Pick-up location in Boonsboro, MD

4:20am Mandatory Meeting for 5am Starters

5am Start Downtown Boonsboro, MD (I did the 7am start)

OK, so enough about history here is my race report. We awoke at 2:30am to begin our day picking up all the crew and runners in town. I was an honorary member of the local running club, the “Y Rats.” There were 3 runners in the 5 am start and 2 of us in the 7am start. We sent off the 5am runners then drove up to the Washington Monument to cheer them on. It was dark, and several porta potties lined the race course at the parking lot. As the early starters ran by several runners though we were in line in which we redirected them letting them know that there were several open ones. One crazy looking guy running away from the porta potties asked us where they were, “um right there,” “oh ok thanks,” they were hard to miss, oh well. It was fun cheering the runners on, “Good Morning” got more responses than “looking good,” and several runners thanked us for being out there, that felt good to cheer them on, something I need to do more of. So we hang out at the gap since there are bathrooms there but none at the start and we get ready. We drive back into town minutes to the start.

Pumpkins lighting the entrance to the AT for the 5 am starters

About 6 am, 1 hour to start time near the Washington Monument

Section 1 – Start Downtown Boonsboro, MD to the Appalachian Trail (Mile 0-2.5)
At 7am the gun went off and we started. I wasn’t sure if there was a timing mat right at the start so I hesitated for a moment to hit start on my watch. This section is on road and mostly uphill, sometimes gradual and sometimes steep enough to switch to walking.

Section 2 - Appalachian Trail (Mile 2.5-16)
The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a continuous hiking trail reaching 2,179 miles from Mt Katahdin Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, most people take 5-6 months to hike the entire path. It was originally created around the time of the railroad development to be an escape from the growing cities of that time. Luckily this path became protected as a National Scenic Trail where it exists as it began. I enjoy running on the AT in Central Virginia.

There is a little road running in this section but it is mostly semi-technical rocky single track. A little frustrating at first to get around the people that got up the hill before I did but aren’t exactly good at dancing around the rocks, we all have our forte’s. Once I got into a group of runners at the same speed the running was absolutely delicious, I also got to pass a lot of runners, in which a few would pass me on the towpath, but not many. At one point I went off trail for a bio break and got this overwhelming urge to lay day and just rest. One minute I was feeling great and the next I just wanted to lay down and relax. Instant change, but I talked myself out of lying down and once I got moving again on the trail I returned to normal. A few aid stations in the section at the road crossings with the 2nd and 3rd aid stations at Gathland State Park and Weaverton Cliffs were a gauntlet of cheering people as there is overall limited access for spectators on the course. Down the steep switchbacks of Weaverton Cliffs without much fanfare, actually chatting with a Marathon Maniac from NYC the whole way down. The 4th aid station at the railroad tracks was the first electrolyte tabs that I took as it was the first station to have them, I had forgotten mine at home. Before I knew it I was at the C&O towpath at mile 16.

Section 3 - C&O Towpath (Mile 16-42)
The towpath was created in the early to mid 1800’s to allow for transit of goods up river, adjacent to the river was a towpath that the mules would walk on towing boats up through the canal and a series of locks. This became obsolete in the 1920’s when the railroad came to the area, ironically enough they are right next to each other for several miles. Luckily again someone had the insight to preserve the area as a National Park, where it remains protected today.

The transition to this section was difficult for muscles going from dancing through rocks to flat dirt and gravel road, but a few miles in my muscles finally adapted to the change and got back into my steady pace. Aid stations were every 3-4 miles, although with the towpath being gorgeous but very similar mile after mile, 4 miles came to feel a little long at times. I chatted with various people, sometimes for just a minute and sometimes for a few miles, lots of leap frogging too with the same people over and over. Ran past Harper’s Ferry across the river, saw a few kayakers out, saw some chickens a person’s house, saw 2 groups of scouts doing some overnight bike riding too. This is the section where we hit the halfway point, where we hit a marathon and get into the 40’s for mileage, this section is where the fatigue sets in. We also passed several older folks that had started at 5 am as they had on the yellow race numbers standing them apart from the 7am starters with the white bibs. I congratulated most of them as I passed, they were all quite gracious and returned the encouragement.

Section 4 – Country Road into downtown Williamsport, MD (Mile 42-50)
As we approached the last aid station on the towpath you could see they were putting reflective vests on all the runners, it was still early in the day but they were anticipating dark before we would reach the finish line. Nausea had started to knock on the door but it was not a problem just yet. I grabbed some Gatorade and pretzels to munch on to the next aid station. Leading up to this aid station I had tried to eat a little bit of a flavored gu but the flavor was quite dull, this was a first time for me and luckily my sense of taste returned after the finish. The road was windy and a little hilly, a nice change for my muscles. I still continued to walk only when going though aid stations to allow for digestion but otherwise my legs felt strong, in fact it felt better to run than to walk as I stiffened up while walking. Once on the road there were mileage markers, the only ones that we had seen all day except at aid stations. Eventually we made our last turn into town with the finish line eventually showed itself, I passed a few people at the end to make a good show for the crowd.

Finish 10:18:01
Average pace per mile 12:22

Me about 20 minutes after I finished

They had food and massages inside the school gym, I partook in both.

The next morning most of the runners and our crew met at Cracker Barrel in Chambersberg, PA along with a blogger who I met for the first time, Abbi from Higher Miles. After a full belly and the first real solids that I consumed since the race, on to the 3 hour drive home with fairly empty roads for I-81 though, weird.

Finisher's Medal
Post Race: I am just today (Tuesday 11/23 - 3 days later) feeling back to normal energy levels again. I crashed after the drive home Sunday and after work Monday and just layed in bed, something I never do.

Up next: Turkey day in Seattle and the Seattle Marathon 11/28/10.


  1. Great report and congrats on the 50-miler. Very nice meeting you on Sunday! Good luck at Seattle!

  2. I enjoyed all the history bits - things I def did not know! I want to do this race sometime... Did you enter thru the lottery or have a guaranteed spot? Congrats!

  3. Wow! That was an amazing pace. I dream of being able to hit that for 50 miles! Maybe next year I will be in shape to do it.
    Congrats on a great race.

  4. I ran with the charity option. Otherwise it is by lottery.

  5. Great performance & Report Rebecca! Makes me wanna do it too :)