Despite my slacking on writing race reports… I can assure you that I’ve been a racing fool. 2018 was my “Ultra Year” and this race was my 7th since March. I haven’t been writing race reports for a few reasons. Mostly because some races just weren’t that eventful for me, and/or I had no photos. If a race doesn’t have free photos, then I have no photos to include or post anywhere. I always thought it was dumb for them not to find an amateur photog to get at least 1-2 photos of everyone and give them to the runners for free. And to the amateur photogs, THANK YOU!
But I digress. My 2018 before JFK was:
- HAT 50k on March 24th, 2nd place in 4:00:41 on a slushy, muddy, snowy course
- Dirty German 50k on May 12th, 1st place in 3:39:02 on a muddy course (some mud skating in road shoes)
- Highlands Sky 40 Miler on June 16th, 2nd place in 6:20:54 on a surprisingly tough and rocky course
- Finger Lakes 50s 50k on June 30th, 1st place and course record in 4:19:20 on what was said to be pretty dry (still muddy to me) but really hot day
- Vermont 100 on July 21st, 4th place in 16:54:40 for my first hundo
- Water Gap 50k on October 14th, 1st place in 3:22:11 on a great, fast course.
THAT’S LOT OF RACING! (for me)
Once my body and mind forgave me for Vermont 100, I started to slowly get back to structured training. Earlier in the year, I had fantasized about running Boulderfield 50k and going for the course record. What a silly idea that was. As that date approached I was still trying to get my shit together. My recovery after Vermont was slow and ugly. I had thought about running Tussey Mountainback 50 AND JFK 50. But as the gravity of JFK 50 and the possibility of throwing down a competitive performance, it was a pretty easy decision to not run Tussey. I wasn’t going to be in great shape by Tussey anyway.
The Plan & Training:
Looking at prior performances and gauging myself against those runners, I knew I had a good shot at breaking 6 hours. Even on my first try. I thought that hitting the C&O in 2:00 was reasonable if not conservative and running the rest of the race with an average pace of 6:55 per mile… I’d be able to do it. That pace didn’t seem hard in training, and man did I TRAIN. The only real unknown was the early hills and the trails. Sure, the last 8.4 miles were on rolling hills, but none looked worse than the hills that are pretty much unavoidable road running where I live.
For training, I once again mostly followed Sage Canaday’s Advanced 50m-100k plan. I did add a lot of miles to the runs and had a stepped pyramid buildup. I noticed a lot of prior top JFK performers would string together 2-3 medium-long to long singles. So the week ending 4-week before the race I had three 15s in a row followed by a 22. The following week I ran 20/20/26. The first 20+ run was moderately hilly, the 2nd was hilly and 3rd was flat. The week after I did more fast runs and then tapered. I was ready for that taper.
You know what they say about plans. A few days before the race in snowed 6-8″ on the course. The next two days looked hopeful as the temperatures looked pretty high and the sun was supposed to shine. But that just didn’t happen. Instead, it was cold and cloudy. I was thinking my sub-6 goal is out the window so all I could do is compete. And was there going to be some competition!!
Among the runners who I saw on the entrant list were: Jared Hazen, Seth Marcaccion, Eric Senseman, Jacob Puzey, Tommy Rivers Puzey, Tyler Sigl, Anthony Kunkel, Jim Sweeney, and Ian Torrence. Then The North Face 50 Mile Championship in San Fransisco was canceled and at the minimum, Zach Miller and Alan Spangler jumped into JFK as well. This list includes huge names in the sport, no less than 4 National Champions, and lots of fast, young guys. Easily the most competitive race I’ve ever also tried to compete at. I ran Cayuga twice with decent fields, but I wasn’t as serious about running then.
Top 6 at JFK 50 gets money and I WANTED TOP 6!
The final thought on planning: I have to thank Iain Ridgway, Cole Crosby, and Michael Owen. All three of these guys ran JFK 50 and answered a lot of question and gave helpful advice.
The Trip Out:
My friend Matt Auchter volunteered to help me with the race by crewing me. I rarely have crews as it just makes me feel bad for asking for and receiving favors. Matt loves to help out (which I appreciate and results in less guilt) and I set him up with a duffle bag full of anything I might possibly need. We tried to scout a couple trailheads the night before and saw a lot of snow. Not cool!
The Gear & Nutrition:
For this race, I planned on running in Adidas Boston 7, but the snow made me switch to the Salomon Sense Ultra from last year. I had a brand new pair in the box and figured the weight/grip/protection ratio made them the best possible choice. I had the Bostons in my crew bag but never switched as even the C&O was a bit sloppy. I also wore the only socks I race in, Swiftwick Aspire. I also wore Adidas Supernova half tights shorts, Territory Run Co. singlet, Territory Run Co. arm sleeves with some thicker Brooks arm warmers over them until I was warm enough, the awesome TrailHeads Convertable Gloves, and Salomon RS Pro headband (until I shed it). I also used the amazing Naked Running Band.
For nutrition, I continue to keep it simple and reliable. Just a Hydrapak bottle for water and a CrankSports e•gel every 30 minutes and one 30 minutes before the race. I skipped the last gel at the 5-hour mark and drank coke until the finish.
For those who don’t know this, the JFK 50 Miler is the oldest and biggest 50 miles in the country. This was the 56th year. The race can be divided into thirds. The first 15.5 is long and sometimes steep road climbs, before a trail section that travelAppalachianlchian Trail before losing close to 1000 feet in 2 miles. At mile 15.5 you enter the C&O Canal Path which is a flat but ever-so-slightly uphill 26.3-mile path about the width of a car. The surface is dirt and crushed stone with some washed out sections of larger stones and patches of deep mud. At mile 26.3 you leave the C&O and enter the 8.4-mile road section. Right away you’re greeted with a 140-foot climb in .3 miles and then it’s rolling hills between farms until you turn onto a major road and cruise to the finish.
The JFK 50 Mile starts in downtown Boonsboro, Maryland. For such a huge race (close to 1,000 starters) it still felt a little laidback. I totally missed the pre-race speech in a nearby school as it was so crowded outside the gym. A mass started walking away from the school and I followed assuming we were walking to the start about a half mile away. It was pretty cold but with Matt with me, I could wear a jacket. As we approached the start, I was surprised that there was still traffic as the roads weren’t closed yet despite all these runners wandering around the streets. Again, laid back.
I found Cole Crosby and we squirmed our way to one row from the front. Once the race started a pack shot out ahead. I mean, the group I was in was moving pretty well with a 6:35 first mile that included some uphill. The lead pack of Miller, Hazen, and Senseman was reported to have run that mile in 5:45, which is 25 seconds faster than when Jim Walmsley set the course record. Call that crazy, call that dumb, call that what you want. That’s how the front started and I wanted nothing to do with it! The opening section of the course is pretty much all uphill on what was then a closed road and you climb close to 500 feet. I felt like I was working a little too hard but still chatting with Cole as we joined Jim Sweeney and a few other guys. Leah Frost, who was the women’s winner in 2016, was running with us as well. Which was impressive, but she sounded like she was working very hard one mile into the race. That never bodes well and she ended up eventually falling to 4th (she wasn’t the only one of front to have a less-than-desired outcome). But our little group swapped places here and there on the road climb, along the trail section connecting and the 2nd road climb. Jacob Puzey was another notable member of our early group.
Once we hit the Appalachian Trail section the race changed quite a bit and was very far from what I imaged for the last few months. The trail was either snow-covered, wet leaf covered, muddy, had freezing puddles up to 10 inches deep or rocks. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate rocks. The trail was so sloppy I was looking for rocks to land on. It was that bad. Easily the worst trail conditions I’ve ever raced or run on. I tried to stay relaxed and just be safe to avoid injury. I still worked harder than I wanted to as anything uphill resulted in so much wasted energy. Sometimes I got gapped and sometimes I found myself stuck behind guys. I said out loud that I should have just run the Philly marathon that weekend. I could not wait to get to the C&O Canal Path.Eventually, I was pretty much alone and gapped by my former group. Coming down the Weaverton cliffs, which is the tail-end of a 1000′ drop in 20 miles, I found myself navigating the switchbacks by running quickly from turn to turn, but basically walking each turn. I looked down the switchback and saw my former group bunched up, At the very bottom I caught up to them and saw the large crowd waiting to great up by the timing mat. I heard someone yell out and point to the front of our group “That’s 10th place! First out is 10th place!” which placed me around 15th.
As soon as we hit the pavement, I felt like a sports car spinning its tires and finally finding traction. Asphalt meant traction and I immediately surged by everyone and was suddenly in 7th. Jacob Puzey and I commiserated about how crappy the trails were and the pace (around 6:20) felt a little spicy for me. I told Puzey the same and he ran ahead then just stopped gapping me. I yelled ahead to him, “You’re supposed to gap me!” I caught up and we shared about 7 miles together. I wasn’t sure if he was Tommy or Jacob…apprently Tommy had a work commitment and didn’t start the race. Jacob said I looked familiar an apologized for not knowing my name. I assured him that there was no reason whatsoever to know my name as I’m a nobody. We chatted about out big feet, shoe preferences, our love for Territory Run Co., and other topics. It was great to share some miles and have a conversation on what’s a pretty boring part of the race. The pack behind us faded and one runner drafted us for a bit and passed us. He ran ahead a bit and the gap stopped. I felt like our pace was a little stale so I leaned in a bit and picked it up. I separated from Jacob, caught the runner who had passed us and again sat in 8th place.
Around mile 28 I passed Tyer Sigl who was dropping. Then I passed a runner who told me he broke 50k which was the furthest he’s ever run but his legs were toast. Soon after, I was suddenly told I was in 5th as last year’s winner Eric Senseman dropped. My legs were starting to feel the miles and who-knows-what damages the slippery trails did to them. For miles, my pace on my watch for the C&O was creeping over 7:00 pace. I think I even saw 7:15. Considering I thought that 6:30-6:40 pace would be feasible on a great day, this was not good. The miles were just going by so slowly and doing the math in my head, I thought I was headed for a very slow time. At the 2nd to last aid station, they had a sign with the mileage and I realized that my watch was showing 3 less miles than I actually ran. WHAT A BOOST! I started to realize I was actually having a pretty good run on the C&O and before I knew it I was onto the roads. I pushed the hill and started to grind out that last section. Just running against the clock and hoping to be as close to 6 hours as possible.
With about 4 miles to go, I thought I saw a runner ahead but it was briefly and the hills and turns limited my view. Then coming into an aid station where you turned right to get to it and then left after it… I saw the runner across the field walking. I couldn’t believe I was going to snatch another position. I filled my bottle, walked while drinking some coke, then got back to running. As I caught up, Seth Marccacio started to run again… but slowly. Seth’s a hell of a runner, a former Candian XC National Champion and won Cayuga 50 in under 7 hours last year. He’s a much better runner than me but the course chewed up both his Achilles and he was struggling. I passed him and just kept driving my by now totally shot legs. The roads aren’t marked except for miles-to-go markers, which I appreciate. Not too far from the finish, a police car was blocking traffic and I saw a few cones by a curb on the left. I wen to make a left turn and a cop yelled that I was going the wrong way. Did I mention this course is pretty much unmarked?
The miles ticked by, a little more coke for good measure, a directed left turn onto Rt. 63 running on the shoulder of a pretty busy road with just over a mile to go. As I approached the finish I let out a couple screams claps, fist pumps, etc. I was so stoked by how my race went down and couldn’t believe this 40-year-olf nobody was 4th place behind Jared Hazen, Zach Miller and Allan Spangler. I suddenly got really emotional which never happened before. I think the amount of work I put in, the caliber of the field, and how much the last 20 miles hurt made this performance so important. Easily the greatest of my life.
My official splits were 15.5 miles in 2:08:09, 26.3 miles in 2:57:49, 8.4 miles in 58:05. I ran 6:46 miles for 26.3 miles on the C&O and 6:55 miles on the 8.4 mile road section. Hazen, Miller, and I were the only runners to break 3 hours on the C&O as Spangler ran the trails much faster than me and I ate into his lead fo rthe rest of the race.
In summary, I found myself standing on a podium with some of the best runners in this sport, some really young and fast guys, my finish time is the 53rd fastest out of 28,358 finishes and as a performer, I am ranked 41st out of 14,405 finishers. That’s all just crazy to me. If the course was dry, and I came out of the C&O in under 2:00… who knows that I could do. The master’s record is definitely in my sites. I might be able to do it on a great day. Will that day be November 23rd, 2019?
As of writing this, my next race in the Boston Marathon. After that, I’m running WESTERN STATES!!! After “only” 4 years in the lottery, I got in. I may run the USATF Road 50k National Championship at Caumsett 50k before Boston, but I’m not sure. Talk about a step up in race profiles… JFK 50, Boston, possibly Caumsett, and then Western States. I’ve got some hard work to do. Please snow, stay away. Please.
Great race report! Wish I could’ve seen you all emotional at the finish. Funny how that happened at this race, and not the ones you won. Makes sense, though, with the competitive field, knowing you more than held your own among some true elites. Congrats — great race, great writing! Can we reprint this in the Pagoda Pacer Newsletter?
It was a strange swing of emotions! But yea, winning a small race against a local field is nothing compared to 4th at this race. Sure you can reprint it!