TL;DR – Race Report for JFK. 2nd time running it
“Let us run the race set out for us with perserverance”
The quote was much an encouragement in my race, which was especially a very long race that went from sun up to sun down. There were plenty of time for me in solitude pondering on it. When I felt pressed of being too slow, I relaxed, knowing by being faster a bit would not bring me to the finish immediately. Yet at the same time when I started to walk and in my low state, I was reminded to press on to finish the race.
I did not have much a goal of what time I would finish. I ran a 50 mile under 12 hours the week before and secretly hoped i could repeat the feat. The race gave us 13 hours. I knew I could do it.
This time around I learned the history of JFK 50 Mile Ultra marathon Run and why it is called the JFK and how it became America’s oldest ultra marathon.
There are a whole bunch of videos online explaining all this, so I won’t repeat it in details. Also I am not good with dates and names. The race was inspired by John F Kennedy when he wanted to know if his marine officers could hike 50 miles under 20 hours due to a mandate he discovered that was given by another former president (one of the Roosevelts, I think it was Teddy).
Originally it was not a race at all but a military fitness evaluation, but many people around the country took on the challenge and started organizing events to walk 50 miles. Some youths in the town of Boonsboro, MD also took part in the challenge and later led to a formal event. After the president’s assasination, the event became a memorial run and now occurs every November. So, we lined up in the cold this weekend (25F, -4C), subfreezing tempersture, and once again run this to remember JFK and his push for healthier lifestyle for the average citizens.
I also have a piece of personal history though not any where as dramatic as the race history.
I ran this race in 2019 as my first 50 mile (link provided at the end). Why I ran was mentioned in that post. It was the hardest run I did at that time.
Couple of my friends wanted to run it last year, and might have been influenced by me (my friend David crewed me on my first 50). They signed up, but one of the guys got sick just two weeks prior to the event and he had to stay out. I stayed out too because of my busy race schedule, and JFK sandwiched between Stone Mill 50 and the Devil Dog 100, races I did and about to do again. David ended up only one running. We said we will try again this year.
So early this year in the spring, everyone was healthy and three of us said let do this for real. I, was conflicted because I wanted to run Stone Mill 50 and also the Devil Dog 100, which the JFK saddles between the two events. I was not sure if I could handle three hard races, so I did not sign up until Monday, just a few days prior the race. Luckily, they still took reservation (in former years, the race usually sold out).
I thought why not, I felt ready. Doing two back to back 50 milers should not be that hard. I boasted to be able to run a 50 miler any weekend in a few posts earlier, and let see if I could live up to my big talk.
On Thursday night after work, I drove three hours to Hagerstown to pick up my race package. Friday would be too much for me to fight traffic to get there, since I live in the Washington DC metro area and it is impossible to get anywhere fast on a Friday or any day as a matter of fact. I don’t like being rushed. I like to have a calm evening before my race.
Friday evening came while I was still getting ready after work, I received a call from my friend David saying they got in a car accident of a collision with a deer while on the way to the race event location (they were within 30 minutes from the race hotel). I got a sinking feeling, oh-no, not again and probably only me running it this time and we would have to redo it again next year.
They needed someone to pick up their bibs prompto or else they could not run. I was too far away from the race hotel at that time to pick the bibs up for them. Without a bib means no race. Plus, they still needed to have the car towed back home. It was not a good night for them. Couldn’t offered them much help, I said good night.
My two friends made it to the race the next day. They were able to get someone else from their hotel to pick up their race packages for them.
The morning of the race day was cold with temperature started from 27F and got to high 37F. It was pretty much a freezing temperature. It was much colder than the year I ran. 37 high was not exactly warm but the air was crisp. I like taking in the deep breath and let the cold air fill up my lung. It was so invigorating during the run.
I was struggling what to wear the night before at the hotel. I had planned out wearing a long sleeved of thermo underlayer shirt, a tee shirt from a previous marathon over it, a pair of shorts, a long pants on the outside, and another long sleeved shirt on top. Plus I would put on a hoodie, head buff, neck buff, and a pair of wool gloves. No rain was forecasted but I had a lightweight rain jacket along to double as a wind breaker. Note, it was almost exactly what I wore the last time (but that was 10-15 degrees warmer).
In the morning, I made last minute changed on the specific shirts and shorts because I did not like the material of the set I had, but the plan to dress in layers remained.
At the start line, I had to ditch my long pants because I felt it would be too hot. The shorts though made my legs cold. Later in the race, this was a correct call. It was perfect when the temp got to 35 F, just wee bit above freezing. There were a few others running in shorts. We were the minority.
I had to ditch my outer layer hoodie too about half mile in. I left behind my wind breaker. I was feeling over-heated. So I ran with a thermo under layer, a t-shirt on top and a pair of shorts.
During the run, when there was no wind, I felt a bit hot, but when the wind blew, I was cold. I was alternating between hot and cold. However, I felt choosing the thermo shirt was the right choice. It was super thin and light and comfortable and it was warm. It also moved over my skins so I did not feel sticky. I liked it to be a bit hot and the thermo did that. How do people come up with this kind of clothing? I am impressed. I wore this for hiking before but not for running, so this was the first time.
The race: Three of us started together. It was soon obvious we were not running at the same pace. My friend Dave stayed back with Robert. And by two miles when we arrived at the Appalachian Trail, I separated from them because I could run better on the trail. David and Robert had their stories to tell, I leave it as that since those are their stories. Basically, they struggled this year, (note that David could run faster than me, and David finished around in 10:45 last year, and hour ahead of my fastest time at the time).
Experience is a valuable tool. The first time I ran this I was inexperienced. I was well-prepared to run it but I was not experienced like today. This time around with three years more of trail running and ultra racing, it was completely different. I was more confident and relaxed. I was settled. Nothing would rattle me.
This year, I learned to endure patiently and not to push too hard in any part of the race. I let people pass me. I walked when the person in front of me walk. If the person became too clumsy on the trail then I would pass. There were a couple runners that scared me by how they moved on the trail. I had to pass them. I tried to kept my heart rate down. Run smart not hard. In a previous year, I felt the need to keep up with the person in front, and that was a stupid thing to do. This year, I let everything go.
I got off the trail after about 13 miles, 15.5 miles from the start, and three hours later, total time was 3.5 hours, arriving at Weverton by 10:05 am. It was not fast nor slow. I ran this portion half an hour faster last time. Why I mentioned? I ran this section in 2.5 hours the previous year. I was half hour slower this time around.
I stumpled couple times but did not fall (I was not wearing trail shoes). Once I reached the canal, I expected the faster runners from the rear to catch up. A few did but just a few, unlike the previous year when I felt the whole field passed me by. There were much fewer runners catching up to me this time. The people I ran with on the trail stayed with me till the finish. We were not by my side, but I recognized them whenever I passed or they passed me (we leapfrogged a lot). Runners moved up and down all the time but I could recognize a few of them.
None of them kept at my pace and I did not keep them either, so there was no chance for me to strike up a conversation. I ran the canal portion in 5.5 hours for 26 miles. Not bad at all. This was half an hour faster than last time. Based on this, it should be a wash (tie). But I actually got off the canal about 45 minutes earlier than last time. The math confused me.
I was not hurried. I told myself, I don’t need to chase anyone and I don’t need to fight for a position placement. This was totally different from the first year I ran this. If someone passes me, let it be so. I run my own race. I kept watch on my body. When I felt I became too focused (stressed) I would ease up. A couple times I took a walk. Whenever I walked, I told myself, don’t stay at the pace for too long. I think I kept my walking breaks brief to only 2 minutes each time.
Soon I reached the end of the Canal portion. The time was around 3:45. I do want a 5 pm finish now. We had about 8 miles left. I knew I had to be slow and steady. 8 miles could be as long as two hours. Unlike a previous year, I could still run. My feet were heavy but running was still possible. I ran with the same group of people I started with earlier in the day. No one was passing and I was passing no one. They were not letting up on the road portion, so I was not letting up either. It was funny that I was expecting someone to bonk so I could pass them, but everyone was holding up well. They were well trained. This time around, I did not see anyone bonking hard, like I did at Stone Mill.
With only a few miles left, we got to the finish line. Some sprinted in. I held my pace steady. I finished the race in 10:45:00 at 5:15 pm before it got completely dark. I was happy to finish in the “day time”. It was just a little over 5 pm but I was happy for set a personal best. At Stone Mill last weekend, I broke my own record by finishing a 50 miler in 11:16, and this week I broke it once again and got the record down to 10:45.
My two other friends were having much difficulty with their runs but they finished. One finished in 12 hours. The other finished 20 minutes later. We all decided that this is our last time, well who knows. I had fun. They were proud of their accomplishments too. The struggle was real for them. I was happy to able to have two more friends to be able to see and experience a 50 miler run. If I have time, I would go much into what this means. I was happy though my two friends were able to share in the struggle of ultra running and they completely it.
There were a few friends I saw on the course. Blaine, and Caroline were running this. Billy, Mike, and Gretchen were out there supporting. I like to mention them because they made my race special. I also met a runner Trevor, who ran Stone Mill the week before. He stopped and said, hey you ran Stone Mill too last weekend. It was a bond we share.
Running ultras is like life. I know I have a destination to get to. Sometimes being rushed doesn’t get us there sooner. Only way is to keep a steady pace.
Link is here to my 2019 race report. I reread it and found it interesting. I met up with Marnie at C&O 100 in April this year, and we were arguing who was pacing who at the JFK in 2019. She was correct to say she paced me. After reading the report, I had to agree. At the end, we happily concluded that we were pacing one another.