Review 19.6

Day 200 Fall Review

My running season (7th) is finally over, with a cap of successfully completing the JFK. It has been an intense roller coaster ride. I went through the highest of high and lowest of low in my runs and in my personal life to get there.

My last report from Day150, was from early August. Instead of a report of every 30 days, I lengthened to 50 days, so I don’t have to write too many reports. A monthly or bi-monthly report has become a seasonal report. My one year of blogging just passed and I reflected on that recenly.

At the end of summer, I was ready for fall training for the JFK. I trained for about 9 weeks and then I don’t know what happen. I stopped. I still ran but I didn’t log my miles and basically went off the training schedule. Luckily I didn’t blew my JFK race. However, if I have kept to the schedule, I might have done better. I did well, but who knows how much better I could have done.

I wrote a race report on the JFK. The ultras that helped me to train up to it were OldGlory and MCM50k. I also did the Baltimore Marathon and Morgantown. I had a good time in both. I did couple earlier marathons (C&O1 and Altis) in September, however, I did not enjoyed those as much as the ultras and Baltimore. I thought it was an intense season, but now looking back, it was just about right.

When I was not running, I had several good backpacking trips. The whole season was a struggle between training and doing other things, which I also liked. Roan Mnt trip was pretty good. At Dolly Sods, our hiking group learned a good lesson. Our trips to Mt Pleasant (occurred in the summer) and to Wild Oaks were also memorable.

This season, I struggled with many things: my diet was totally off. I struggled with staying on my training. I don’t have a record how many miles I ran (tracked only up to week 9). I don’t think it was that much, around maybe 300 miles. I was lucky, indeed, and did not DNF on my races. I was also struggled with schedule conflict between racing/training/and other commitments.

There were always trade-offs and sacrifices. I had to cancel the High Bridge Ultra and plus a hiking trip to the Triple Crown — both had lasting effects that haunted me and I hate to have plan changed on me. One word on trade-offs, neither choice have the same value – say trading a race for a hike, or a hike for a race, may seem like doing the same thing, but is not. In life, I don’t think there is ever an equal/fair choice. I hurt those around me with my choices.

I dealt with couple times of low spirit in this season and sometimes I skipped my runs, especially the short runs. In fact I am still in the thick of it; yelp, season is over, but I still think about running. I skipped some of my races – big ones too, first time ever. I had to dig deep to find and regain a motivation to run and to overcome the busyness to train; too many things happened, things at my job at work and my relationship with other people. And even my weight training program was stopped. Only constant theme though was pushing on. I finished the JFK at a great cost. The season was a longer version of the race itself, except there is no finish line to cross and no crowd there to celebrate and no medal to receive. However, I am satisfied that the goal was accomplished and that is a reward.

Luckily I have been healthy throughout. I had short period of pain and shin splint and various ankle rolls and such, but over all was healthy. There was no injury serious enough to sideline me.

Looking ahead, I scheduled quite a few races for next year. It will be just as intense season like this one. God is good!

JFK race report

Day 198 / First 50 Miler / Long Post

It has been two years in the making. The race was within my expectation. I was (well) prepared and finished the race within my expected time. It was long but was not too hard. I was feeling great throughout the race. We had near perfect fall running temperature. I was well pleased with everything.

I heard about this race from my friend Jenn, who ran it in 2017. At that time, I had ran three marathons and really no desire to punish myself to do an ultra. 26.2 miles was my thing and no longer distance than that. I thought people who ran ultra were crazy.

But Jenn was something else. She is always so cool, and speaks with a Hawaiian ascent. She left me with a deep impression after she said she did the JFK. When she said she did the JFK, I had to asked her a few times what was that. Apparently it was America’s oldest ultra. It is quite famous in the running community especially in our area. This can be considered a local race, with an hour from the nation capital. I was the only one of budding runners who was clueless about it. She set a dream in my heart there and then that I wanted to run the JFK too.

My goal was, to do the JFK, so that if Jenn was going to run a longer ultra like a 100 miler, I would be ready to pace her or be part of her handlers.

I know at the time even with three marathons under my belt, I was in no shape mentally or physically to do a 50 miler. In fact I couldn’t comprehend how far 50 miles is. Some might feel they could train up in a year, but I was a little wimpy. I felt I would need at least 2 years to get there.

I decided to only take a baby step and planned to do a 50k ultra by the following year. I chose what now looking back was one of the easiest ultras. I glad I did it. You can read my report all about the First Landing 50k seashore marathon (I will provide the link whenever I get to it). I thought at the time, that was the hardest thing I have done. That was the end of 2018.

Now brought us to this year, with a new confident of having done the 50k ultra. I was itching to sign up for the JFK. I don’t remember when I signed up, probably sometimes in March/April after a careful consideration. The rest then was history.

I ran a few other 50k this year before doing the JFK. Three of them: Eastern Divide 50k, Marine Corps 50K, and Old Glory 50k. They were helpful. Eastern Divide was one that was planned as a training run for JFK, while the other two were incidental. However, they were great, looking back, in getting me ready. The Eastern Divide and the Old Glory were much tougher than the first 50k. Having done the Old Glory, JFK’s mountainous trail portion was truly a joke.

I also signed up two other ultras that in the end I didn’t do: High Bridge and Iron Mnt. I’m not sure if I have done those, would I have been overtrained? Praise God for how things turned out.

My JFK race was pretty much in line with my expectation. My goal was to finish within 12 hours. The course cut off time was 13 hours. I set a stretch goal (A-goal) to finish at 75% percentile, which is 11 and half hours. I did it (close enough to call a success, by finishing at 11:30:30).

What I did not anticipate was how long and tiring the middle section was. I had planned to treat the race in three phases, the first trail section, the middle canal section, and the final rolling hills on the road. I expected the first segment would not be exhausting because I would walk with everyone else due to most people are not good at running on rocky trail. I placed my hope that I would still be fresh by the second part. The second and the third part was supposed to be like a 50k ultra, with couple miles extra.

The trail section was 13 miles, and the canal section was 26 miles, and the final road section was 8 miles.

At the start, there were a lot of people. They said the race was sold out. There were supposed to be 1500 1200 entries. However, I don’t think everyone came. I was at the bib handling out table the morning of the race and saw many bibs were uncollected by runners. I felt maybe only a thousand of us crossed the start line.

We staged at the Boonsboro High School and from there walked about 800 yards to the starting line because there were not enough parking spaces in the downtown area of Boonsboro. The town was really small!

I started at the end of the pack, but only 1 and half minute had elapsed as I crossed the starting line. I figured, I was not a strong runner. This was my first 50 miler and I already expected to finish around 75 percentile (meaning 75/100 will be finishing ahead of me). I didn’t mind starting at the back. Besides, if I am fast, I could pass people.

The first two miles were on the road to Old Mountain Inn, where we would enter the Appalachian Trail. These first two miles out of the town were 1000 feet climb (maybe 1800 over 5 miles). Most people walked. I ran and passed a lot of people because I did not want to get stuck behind those who I believe couldn’t run on the trail. If they refused to run on smooth pavement, they likely would not run on rocky trail as my logic goes. I arrived at the Old Mountain Inn in 30 minutes (doing a 15 minutes pace). The pace was not fast but, compare to people who were walking, it was a fast pace.

I entered the trail with great enthusiasm. I was surprised that people in front of me did not slow down (meaning I had caught up with my pace group). The first part of the trail was downhill. Then it got a bit technical as the trail narrows. People started stopping. The people behind me impatiently murmured that you supposed to run down hill. People were walking downhills and it was on a single trail and was difficult to pass. I kind of expecting this. I told those people behind me that the trail would widen up ahead, since I ran this section before during the preview event, I knew.

Personally, I don’t think the trail was not hard to run. There are some technical parts, but the trail, since 56 previous JFK events was stomped ‘flat’ by thousands of feet. When the trail widen out, people in the rear passed me and I along followed and passed the slower crowd up front. It did not take me long to pass most of those who were more cautious in handling the trail.

It was outside of my plan to run fast on this portion. However, I think this was the best part of the race. I ran hard compared to the rest of the race. Some might view this being stupid because I used up my strength when there were still 35 more miles to do. A few times during the trail portion my calf seized up as I leaped across some rocks, but luckily, it passed without further incident.

I entered the second segment, the canal, one and half hours ahead of schedule. Originally, my plan was to enter at near the cutoff time. However, I finished the trail in 3 hours, this included the half hour on the road section. The trail only took me two and half hours to do. This time was even faster than my preview run. At this point, I was with the 30 percentile people – there were only 300+ people ahead of me.

The canal segment was not that exciting. However, my friend David was first to greet me and cheered for me. He was my support team. My other friend Brian was supporting me remotely! It was my first race with a crew. He had everything with him. I did not depend on him beforehand, so did not tell him what I need. He came up with some of my favorite snacks and candies. I had hot spots on my left foot. Unfortunately, my friend did not bring with him any cream or powder; he had band-aids. He was right, I did not ask him to bring those. Luckily, I had an extra pair of socks and I swapped the sock of the left foot. My foot was fine for the remainder of the race.

The canal section was a whole marathon length. We had plenty of aid stations. Many people I passed earlier on the trail passed me back. It was expected because most people were road runners. I was doing around 14-15 min mile and I think people were running at around 10-11 min mile. I felt each mile was very long.

I knew I could do it. At the same there was the uncertainty of how many miles longer I could keep going. The whole canal section could be a hump. My goal was to get to the next aid station. Usually, they were about 2-3 miles apart. The longest distance apart was closer to 5 miles.

Also I had couple goals, and one was to get to Antietam Aqueduct or Taylor’s Landing, where my crew would be. It was very emotional each time I saw David. Taylor’s Landing was the hardest for me, because that was the last time I would see him. He said I only have 11 miles to go. It seemed short but at that time, it was beyond my expectation to say I can do it. There was only two miles to get off the canal from Taylor’s Landing and we would enter the final road section. It was a long two miles. Rain started falling. I was feeling cold.

In fact, I was cold the whole day. I dressed in two layers a short sleeves and a long sleeves technical shirt. I had a pair of shorts on. I thought in the morning when the temperature reached 50 degrees, I would get rid of my long sleeves, I was never warm enough to do that. As the rain fell, I regretted not to carry along my rain jacket. Originally, I thought I wouldn’t mind the rain, however, as you were getting cold and I was not running fast enough to generate enough heat, an extra layer, would be a welcome. The rain did not last. I was saved. If it had come down hard, I might have called it quit with 8 miles left to go.

The last 8 miles boistered my spirit again. I think the time was around 4:30. I had been running for 10 hours. It was longest and fartest I had ever run. I found the rolling roads were much easier to run on. In truth though my pace did not change that much. We passed people who were walking or were doing walk-run. Three hours to do 8 miles, we were more certain even if we were to walk, we would make to the finish by cut off. My goal then was to get within the final 3 miles. We had three aid stations spread out for the final stretch.

The reason I used ‘we’ here is, someone caught up to me and was following from behind. I felt she had the power to overtake me, but she did not do so. I did not turn around but kept on going until we got to the first of the last three stations. At first I found it was annoying of her tailing me. She seemed to be just a step behind me – not really drafting, but I felt she was very near, the feeling she was on top of me. However, I did not say anything. Readers, if you remember, I like to follow other people too, so I tried not to mind, if she decided to follow me.

After the aid station, implicitly, she was running by my side. We exchanged info and such. She said, don’t mind her if she is running slow and I shouldn’t mind to leave her. I don’t mind pacing next to her. I believe she was a stronger runner than I, now after reviewing her pace from the whole race, the segment she was with me was much slower and she was running much faster earlier. Regardless, she paced with me and me with her to the very end. It was very good to have a companion at this final stretch. (Fair to say, another runner, Kim, paced me through a hump for 5 miles to Taylor’s Landing).

As we got to the 2nd of the 3 aid stations, the sun had set. We put on headlamps. Some/many did not have them. Just the two of us were prepared and I was glad we had them. People on the forum said we did not need it. True, we probably could do without because the terrain was easy, but it was good to have. There were many places without street lights and it was total darkness.

The last aid station was far compared to the first two, it was 3 miles instead of two and it was just within a mile from the finish. My companion, Marnie kept at my side. Couple times, I felt I wanted to tell her to leave me, but she stayed. We finished. I hit my goal. I felt I had superhuman strength to run the last eight miles. With Marnie, I did not walk at all. Many people we passed at the last segment, were walking. I would be walking too if not for her.

The race itself compared with my previous ultras was pretty much kind of a cakewalk. I felt the Old Glory was much more enjoyable and challenging. JFK was just long and (can be a bit boring). What I got out was friendship and experience, which is invaluable.

ETC: total number registered was 1200 not 1500. At least 959 people started, and 867 finished within the 13 hours limit.

final prep

Day 197

I am feeling much better this morning. I remember that last year around this time between the last race and the new year, I suffer similar the feeling of blue.

I think I got over it by signing up races and training in the winter specifically to prepare for this coming weekend (a year out).

In those dark nights, I think the only thought was to run and survive the cold. This morning my thought was, regardless the circumstances I will focus on something unchanging. I know I will get through it. I am just happy to be out there this weekend and run.

I am pretty excited about the race. It will be a big weekend. It is considered America oldest ultra marathon (50 miler). You can read about the history at their website JFK50Mile.

I learned a bit about out current race director. RD for a big race usually would not make a different. But they are usually the one to be blamed for anything that goes wrong. In recent history there were some high profile races where things went horribly wrong. However, I think this race, we have it in a bag.

My friends too are excited about the race for me. Some will come out to the course. There are people making cookies and cupcakes. I will be looking forward to those.

A guy at my church came up to me and said he ran it in 1981 when he was a young man. How cool is that?

Am I nervous? A little because I have not done that distance before and I am not sure if my body will hold it together. However, I break down the course into two segments and neither of them are too bad. The first is the trail portion about 13-15 miles. I think I will do fine.

The second segment is a 35 miles (actually 24 or 26 + 6 or 8), isn’t too bad. I believe I have the strength to do it. When I start faltering, I think would be the final 2 or 3 miles and I trust that my experience in long distance running will push me through.

ETA: My logic doesn’t make sense. Breaking a long race into two halfs doesn’t shorten it a bit. What I left out is the first part is fairly easy. I will mostly hiking on the mountain so by the time I get to the second part, I should still have plenty of energy to run 35 miles, of which the distance is closer to what I have done before.


Day 196

I am going through a phase of soul searching. I know why I run and I already have next year planned out. I registered for a few of the races this week. And I am very excited. One of the races I signed up was the Richmond Marathon. I have been looking forward to this race for ‘many’ years. Richmond is the capital of my state. I read it is an amazing race to do. Couple of my friends has done it. I want to do it too. Virginia just has so many races, I can’t do th quick enough.

A second race I signed up but couldn’t get in was Grayson Highlands. I was put on a wait list. I am in 6th place so there is a high chance I will get in as the race approaches. The race is next May. I can’t tell how excited this race means for me. I hiked there last year.

My soul searching was not about to run or not to run. I know my interest in running is very high. Yet I feel some internal struggle that I can’t explain. I want to be totally devoted to running next year because I will be attempting 100 miles by end of the year and if I have doubt, I won’t able to do it.

The feeling is hard to explain. I was trying to understand it. Whenever I run, I have clarity on everything, however, when I don’t run, my head is in the cloud.

I came closure to what I am seeking. I call it ‘essense’. It is like the ultimate reason why I run. The real me. I think when I have clarity, I would be at peace with myself.

I came close to finding my answer when I think out what I want three/five years from now. I have a plan for this year and next year, but I can’t see what myself is like in 5 or 10 years as a runner.

It is kind of silly, because I don’t really see myself as a runner but a person who runs.

Does it mattter? It doesn’t. I just do what I have been doing, sign up race and go out and run without much thought.

Anticipation: I will have my first 50 miler this Saturday. I just don’t want to think too much about it. I am anticipate a fun weekend.

Lazy weekend

Day 195

I had a lazy weekend. I did a small 9 miles hike up to Old Rag on Saturday. It took whole day but it was not because the hike was hard but because we had to wait at several times before we could ascend in the crowded section. We might have lost couple hours waiting. Serious hikers don’t go up on Old Rag for that reason.

Also, I could have done it in four hours if we ran down, but the person I was with is not a runner. It was kind of her first time hiking in a long time. I had a great time nonetheless.

I slept mostly whole Sunday from the afternoon into the next day. I felt lazy. I also caught up on anime, I might have binge watched for at least 8 hours and slept 14 hours.

People asked if I am ready for my 50 miler race. Yes I am! I still have ache and pain in various places but I should be ready. I wish I could sleep 14 hours right before my race, but I have to work on Friday.

Some self motivation/reflection

Day 194

I run for the high. I felt I was doing something important during racing. All the hard work, planning, go into the race and I usually at my top condition.

Now it has been a week since my last race. Things are calming down. I feel now I am searching for a purpose to run again.

I can still go and run. It is a weird feeling. People know running a marathon is hard. For people who don’t run though, I feel they don’t get it. I don’t get it myself. These past feel days there were times, I think I got it (it was like a light bulb going off) then it disappeared. At the end of the day I ask myself so what?

I run not for the medals. I run to beat my own time on the course. There is also the feeling being faster than others. I run to train. I also run because it makes my body feels good. Running loosen my muscles and clear my head. I run for the challenge. Deep down too I run sometimes to get recognition. I am doing something not anybody can do. A lot people around me can’t run at the intensity I am doing.

I am looking ahead to next year. I want to some day soon to do a 100 miles run. I need crew supports. I wish there are others around me who I can do a 100 miles with. I might do the first 100 mile race without a crew.

I don’t feel like running tonight. It is not just tonight, but the other night too. I sometimes just want to chill and coast through life.

I did something useful between last night and today. I started planning for next weekend 50 miler. I had my pace chart prepared. A friend is going to watch me at certain points on the course and I have now a ball park estimate when I will pass a certain places. I am pleased with my accomplishment.

These funky feelings usually occurred after a big race for me.