Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jim's intro to UltraRunning - JFK 50 Miler

Race Report: JFK 50 Miler 2007

I met Joe earlier this summer when I was working in Los Angeles and he encouraged me to think about stepping up from my annual marathon routine to go after an ultra. Joe is a very persuasive guy so after coming back to New York in July I took the plunge and signed up for the JFK 50 Miler!

The JFK 50 Miler has been around since 1963 when 11 people ran the first race. Today more than 1100 people run the race annually. The race starts in Boonsboro, MD, winds across the Appalachian Trail for 16 miles, snakes along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath for 26 miles and wraps up with 8 miles of winding country roads.

At 5.00am on November 17th the race kicked off in the darkness of downtown Boonsboro. The adrenaline was pumping as we started off up a hilly 2 mile road before hitting the Appalachian Trail. It was an incredible feeling to hit the trail before sunrise, lit only by runners headlamps and glow sticks, but as the sun slowly came up the route became an ankle pounding 13 mile trek across rocky trails and steep switchbacks.

At mile 16 we descended off the Appalachian Trail to cheers from supporters before hitting the C&O Canal towpath for 26 miles. The towpath was a welcome relief from the trail but seemed to be never ending. The highlight of the C&O Canal section was the aid stations, which appeared every 3 or 4 miles. Fantastic supporters served everything from M&Ms, soda, sports bars, and hot soup to constant shouts of encouragement. The last major aid station on the towpath at Mile 38 was aptly named “38 Special” and was a truly welcome site before heading off to the final section of the race.

After 42 miles the last 8 miles along a winding country road were a real grind – I had never run or walked this far in my life so I had to dig deep to keep going. As the early evening darkness descended over Boonsboro I headed across the finish line almost 13 hours after starting. Incredibly the winner finished in less than 6 hours!

I got to my car cold and exhausted, and found a cheery voicemail from Joe on my cell phone checking in on how I was doing. I called him up and joked that although I was shattered, maybe its time to step up to a 100 miler next year! I’ve not decided yet, but I’m sure Joe will be there offering encouragement if I do!

Lessons learned -
Next time I’ll wear trail shoes instead of regular running shoes – my ankles took a pounding
If you have run marathons regularly this is doable with some extra long training runs.
Most of the battle really is mental.

A big thanks to Joe for all his support and encouragement – good luck to anyone else who tries this next year. I might be back to try and knock a few hours off my novice time!

Cheers, Jim.

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