JFK 50 Mile (alternate title: Survivor AT)

"Pink Ladies" before the 7 am start 
As part of President Kennedy’s push to increase the physical fitness of the country, the inspiration behind the JFK 50 came from Kennedy challenging military officers to be able to cover 50 miles on foot in 20 hours to maintain their commissions. As the oldest 50 mile race in the country, this event has been referred to as the “Boston Marathon” of ultras.

After proving my qualifying time and receiving an acceptance earlier this summer, goals for fall running changed. I no longer thought about setting personal records in HamptonNewport or Thunder Road. Those marathons were now training for the JFK 50.

I made plans to run with 2 fantastic women: Katie, who I met during the early miles of my first 50 miler, and Monica, a coworker turned race partner who completed 2 Ironman races alongside training for this event.  We are all self-admitted "girly girls", so it wasn't surprising to find ourselves wearing the same shade of pink shirts on race morning- totally unplanned, very fun!

No headphones allowed due to terrain
Walking a half mile or so to the start from the briefing area reminded me very much of the walk to the start of the Boston Marathon- nervous tension in the air, excited chatter among participants. The first 5K was a steep road incline that gained 1100 feet in elevation. By the start of the Appalachian Trail (AT) section, we were all gasping for air. I had a reality check when someone mentioned the Alpine Rescue Team's availability for injured runners on "the mountain"...in my mind, we were just going to be on a big hill, not an actual mountain.

I'm no expert at technical trail, but it was immediately apparent that the best preparation I had for this portion was all of the hiking Trey and I did in New Hampshire last month. The terrain was similar to the rocky single track at Mount Monadnock, only this had a layer of freshly fallen leaves that made the path difficult to navigate. I felt like I slipped or turned my ankle every third step and was forced to go frustratingly slow. Seeing folks ahead stumble and hearing several hard falls behind did not help confidence. We learned later that medic had to provide a number of stitches for wounds and splints for broken bones. I just wanted to get off the trail in one piece, at whatever pace. Flashbacks of friends saying, "you're running the Appalachian Trail?" months prior now made sense.   
Towpath extends a full 26 miles

After about 4 hours, we got off the trail at mile 17 (yeah- you read that right, math major) we finally began the canal towpath portion. Why do people complain about this section? Scenery along the Potomac River was beautiful, the surface was forgiving...and after flirting with death on the switchbacks coming down the mountain, it provided a nice opportunity to relax.

Having been conservative in the early miles, we settled into a more aggressive pace. Usually uItras are quite lonley, but this was different with 1100 participants. Most of us were constantly leap-frogging each other due to stops at aid stations and run/walk strategies so it was easy to recognize others and make friends. Others called us the "Pink Ladies" and we soaked up advice from experienced JFK veterans.

Wearing the "vest of shame"
 I was able to keep the calories and hydration up- something I didn’t do at Dances with Dirt 50K or North Face Endurance Challenge, when my body rejected food after about mile 25. With aid stations situated every 4 miles or so, I focused on keeping whole foods going in as long as possible. No stomach issues this time at all- in hindsight, it's because we took a little longer than usual at the aid stations during the first 35 miles and I actually had time to chew my food thoroughly and went with items that were easy to digest: boiled potatoes, tomato soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels, M&Ms, cookies. Having said that, I'm probably the only person who ran 50 miles out there and didn't end in a calorie deficit!

If you get to the aid station that completes the towpath after 3pm, the policy is that you have to wear a reflective vest the rest of the way. The one handed to me was bright orange and horrible. Didn't these people know I was trying to look cute during all 50 miles?

How do I feel? Like I've been hit by a truck.
The course description in the JFK entry mentions "gently rolling" roads during the final segment. After 42 miles, these roads were not gentle to my already beat up legs in the slightest. My body didn't begin hurting until this point- the combintion of the hills with the hard surface was brutal. Even though it was painful, I still felt better than a lot of folks we saw (or maybe we looked that bad too and just didn't know it?!). A testament to incorporating crossfit into race training, we passed at least 20 people in the final miles. Since I've already completed B&A Trail Marathon, this didn't count as my Maryland...but that didn't damper my excitement when I finished mid pack in 11:07:39.

Pavel looks exactly how I felt receiving this medal

When asked about his greatest strength, David Riddle- winner of this year's race who broke an insanely fast 17 year old course record (still not convinced he isn't a mountain goat)- said: "Years of consistency. I have never quit running. I’ve never stopped training consistently."  I'm no Olympic caliber athlete, but can certainly relate to that. My journey to the JFK 50 finish line began a long time ago. 

Better with Age

Pavel made an alarm clock unnecessary
When invited to the 50 sub 4 Marathon Club, I joined without really thinking I’d ever complete the task of running all 50 states in under 4 hours. Then I met Shannon Hays. And then I started getting consistently faster. Before I knew it, I had secured my 17th sub 4 hour race in Rhode Island. And that is how a stretch goal is born…

I ran what is now Thunder Road as my second marathon in 2004 and finished in 4:39. It doesn’t get any more game-time-decision than registering 36 hours before the race, but there’d be no better time to secure my NC “re-do”: convenient location plus I’m in shape for the JFK 50 mile next week. Added bonus? This would be the first time I’d repeat the same course- an opportunity to measure success.
No potty lines for us!
Our neighbors, Kevin and Anna, were both doing their debut half marathon and offered a ride to the race. Imagine my surprise when I learned that we’d be warming up in the gym at Kevin’s workplace, only 2 blocks from the starting line. VIP style! Not only did we enjoy a heated warm up area, it was the first time I’ve ever NOT had to wait 20 minutes in a porta potty line prior to the start.

At 30 degrees during the first few miles, I was grateful to have opted for a warm jacket instead of a t-shirt. Second to an injury, the worst thing for next week would be getting a cold. Just as I hit the 10K mark in 49:55, the best sign of the day appeared: “Worst Parade EVER- Where’s My Candy?!” 

While the gradual hills I remembered from this course were present, the many turns were more so what threatened one’s time- we never went longer than a half mile without turning. Despite this, I was able to maintain 8:20ish miles and felt fantastic at the half, clocking 1:48:37.

The race organizers held this event one month earlier than in previous years- good move. The Fall weather brought spectators out in full force, tailgating the race in parking lots and front yards of residential areas. As I ran by, one of the groups started screaming, “Alaska girl! Alaska girl!” As it turns out, we ran a 10K together a couple weeks prior. Even among 5000 participants, there is a unique small world camaraderie among runners.

The best moment of the day happened around mile 18, a point where I usually struggle. My best friend, Allison, goes to a crossfit gym that is situated on the marathon course. Between heavy ropes and tire flips, she caught sight of me and ran out to give me a big hug. She also confirmed how fabulous the bright pink flower in my hair looked! I was high off of that encounter for at least 2 miles afterward and hit mile 20 in 2:46:32.

Mom would NEVER say "Almost there!"
My best attempts in striking up conversations were unsuccessful- there simply weren’t a lot of talkers at this race. Something I would have loved to discuss with a running partner: Kanye West blaring from the speakers at a Boyscout hosted aid station around mile 23. It tickled me to grab water from an 8 year old alongside some pretty obscene lyrics!

Just to get it on record, here’s what you don't want to say to as a spectator: “You’re almost there!” Until I’m about a quarter mile from the finish line, I want no part of that and am positive others would agree. A final 5K might seem like ‘almost there’ within the scope of 26.2 miles, but a runner would rather hear something like: “Nice legs!”, “You’re a machine!”, or “Will you marry me?”

137th/900 runners, 21st female OA
Despite being well within my 4 hour goal, I'm competitive and put the hammer down during the last mile to pass a few ponytails in front of me. I was able to see Mom on the final stretch with her cowbell and sign that read “The Suz”- perfect! Finishing in 3:39:42 not only fulfilled my sub 4 hour for NC, it was a full hour faster than my younger self on the same course.

At age 23, I remember getting up the morning of this race and thinking, "26.2 miles will be the longest I will ever run." My goal was to beat P Diddy’s NYC time of just under 4:30. Post race, I was worthless for a good 48 hours.
This is not a post 26.2 face plant, it's mid-burpee.

Seven years later, I own over 30 marathons, three 50Ks, and a 50 miler. I have completed the Boston Marathon, which took a qualifying time 45 minutes faster than P Diddy’s. In attempting to run a marathon or ultra in each state, I’ve crossed 32 off the list. Post race, I’ve done another marathon (in running circles, that's a “double”) on 2 occasions. Today I did burpees.
Better hardware than '04, too! 
Regarding my stretch goal, will it be realistic to run sub 4 hour marathon “re-do” states in my 40s? Sure. Ginette Bedard, 3:45 marathoner at age 77, has a more simplistic approach to the long term, though: “I just want to get out there and EARN my day”.