Yesterday I ran the JFK 50.
I don’t know where to start with a race report. It was a huge day. I improvised, thrived, stumbled (several times), worked my way out of two dark patches, let go of my preconceptions about pace, settled into a new threshold and then held it for three hours. I learned once again that the mind is more powerful than any other part of the body.
I ate 12 Gu packets (including three or four Roctane), drank at least 200 ounces of fluid including water, Gu Brew and soup stock, inhaled two bananas (1/2 at a time) and twice failed to swallow the tempting cookies on offer at aid stations. Once I snagged a small handful of M&Ms and another time I added a Nuun tablet to my 18 ounce handheld flask.
On the way to the race start, my stomach went into a lava-like meltdown. I spent 35 of the 45 minutes that I had allotted for pre-race preparations in line for a toilet.
I had planned to meet up with Ignite teammate Austin to give him a bag that he could deliver to the aid station where we come off the AT and onto the canal trail. It had a dry shirt and sleeves. I never found Austin, gave my bag to a friendly lady at the start who promised to deliver it to the station where she was crewing for a friend. I got there before she did and ran the whole day in the same clothes. True to the spirit of the race, my bag was waiting for me at the gymnasium adjacent to the finish line.
I fell. Four times in all, I was Captain Faceplant. The first time was uphill on the AT around mile 12. It stung but caused no damage. The second time was on the precarious switchbacks coming off of the AT. After 2:30 of running I was suddenly bouncing my knees, feet, forearms and shoulder off of a bunch of old fashioned, hard and sharp mountain rocks. Five minutes later I did the same thing but on level ground after stumbling over another rock only this time I landed with a big stick under my right thigh and after bouncing my knee off of another rock. The final tumbling humiliation came on the smooth canal trail as I ran in time with a group of three others. Suddenly at the 21 mile mark, I managed an ungainly summersault featuring an impressive skid across the leaves and gravel to come to a stop like a big turtle stuck on its back. It was this last maneuver that turned my left hip into an fair impression of hamburger.
I saw a bear. It wasn’t of the ursine variety. Rather, it was a bit of curiously shaped log bathed in some mindbending dabbled light with oak leaves blowing all about.
This was no autumn walk in the woods. I put a hurt on myself a few times. Coming onto the C&O Towpath, I spied my friend Erin up ahead by the her coral-orange shirt and gray backpack. I ran 7:47 and made the catch.
She was running with a guy named Dink — who I believe must be a ultra and trail legend. He has done nearly 80 marathons, several Ironmans including three in one seven week period, and scores of ultras. He knew people who passed us. He knew people we passed. He knew their stories. He was not having a great run — said he felt a little tight — but was having a great day and was genuinely happy for the opportunity to once again be on this course. Dink is the ultra community embodied.
They chatted and set the pace. I zoned out and went along for the ride at a perfect pace. A little more than 10k later I was skidding across the gravel thinking that I was probably too much in that zoned out headspace. Once I righted myself, I chased for about 15 minutes but could not close the gap and realized that I was now solo for the entire second half of the race.
I visited with Austin around mile 27. Around mile 35, a lady who had stopped to pee next to the trail by bowing her knees out and pulling her shorts to the side looked up, smiled and waved. I laughed and waved back. I walked 30 seconds with an aid station worker coming off the canal trail so we could talk about the dam and old fashioned dynamo located in a stone building across the river.
I passed half a dozen people in the last eight miles. The road rolled, but mostly it was lonely and I think that got to people more than the hills. The shadows were growing, the temperature was dropping and I see why so many people struggle there.
The day was long. It was full of beauty and calm. I spent time thinking about a few hard things. I reflected on my father, his life and death. I spent a lot of time reveling in the beautiful tree-lined corridor. I don’t know where to start with a race report. Neither do I know where to end.