50 miles is a rather daunting distance. After I completed my first 50 miler last fall my cousin had exclaimed, “I get tired driving 50 miles!” I remember thinking at the time that he had a pretty good point, driving 50 miles definitely isn’t something I like doing.
Am I saying that I may prefer to run 50 miles than to drive it? I think so.
A lot can happen in a 50 mile race, but sitting and waiting in bumper to bumper traffic definitely isn’t one of them. Although there may be parts of the race where you feel like you are “crawling,” running 50 miles is much better than a car ride. A 50 mile race takes your through a wave of emotions, it brings on feelings of delirium, fascination, anger, pain, and most importantly pure joy. You will learn things about yourself and you will feel unimaginable things. And no matter how hard you prepare for a 50, it will still hurt, it will definitely still hurt.
Going into JFK I may have forgotten how much 50 miles does in fact, hurt.
“I’ve done a 50 mile race before, therefore this one will definitely be easier than my first one!”
These were my thoughts going into the race with hopes of breaking 7 hours and dropping into the 6 hour and 30 minute time zone. Based on my increase in preparation this time around, I was pretty confident that I would hit my goals. Heck, there was no way this one would hurt as bad as my first one did, right?
My training in Boulder, CO had gone extremely well for the past 5 weeks since I had moved there. The endless trail system and vast mountains made it easy to find difficult terrain to tackle everyday, and I was hitting more mileage than I ever had before in my life. So, being the novice runner, let alone, ultrarunner that I am, I was pretty confident going into this race.
The race started in downtown Boonsboro, where over 1,000 runners were shivering in the balmy 18-degree temperature. La Sportiva had given me some awesome warm weather gear, so I felt pretty good at the start.
I was extremely excited for the beginning climbs that would lead us to the Appalachian Trail. I knew that the climb (about 1100 feet in four miles) wouldn’t be too difficult, and since it was the only way to get to the trail, I was eager to tackle it.
The gun went off and the front crew was off. I stayed back in the second pack, next to the eventual overall winner, and felt comfortable hitting around 7:20 min/miles for the first 4 miles leading up to the trail. Once we hit the trail I couldn’t stop grinning. I am such a “trailnerd” that I couldn’t help myself, the Appalachian trail was a beautiful, dense, runnable single track, and I never wanted it to end.
About an hour in I decided that it was now “warm” enough to ditch the gloves and I quickly shoved them into my pocket and zipped it up. Since it was still below 20 degrees, about 20 minutes later I realized that I could no longer feel my thumbs and frantically tried to get my gloves back out and on. But my zipper, which was now covered in spilled frozen water from my bottle, had other plans and wouldn’t budge. So I covered my hands as best as I could and mustered on. Then coming up on mile 11, my clumsy self, re-sprained my ankle, and had to take a couple of minutes to walk it out. But an ankle is an ankle, and I ignored it and started running again. To my disappointment, after only a little over 2 hours I was done with the beautiful trail.
After the trail came the first spectator area and my far from smooth, shoe change. My parents, my sister, and my roommate were all waiting for me as I emerged first female out of the woods. My parents did as they were instructed, had my shoes unlaced, a Lara bar opened, and were ready to help. However, with too many people handing me things, telling me things, racers passing me, and my numb hands’ inability to assist in anyway, that shoe change was not my greatest idea. Needless to say, next time I will keep my superb Helios on the entire race.
Then came the toe path, the same relentlessly flat, hard, path for 30 miles. Eek. Here was where I had planned to drop the pace to a 7:20/mile for a good portion of the race. After the first mile and a half, the second place lady passed me, and went on to run a phenomenal time! I couldn’t find my stride and after only about 4 miles at a good clip I soon found myself in a constant mental battle to hold an 8-8:20 min/mile. I am not sure what went wrong, whether it was the pressure of holding a certain pace, or my legs inability to find their natural, faster stride, but I struggled through this section from the very beginning.
My first 50 mile race was the Tussey Mountainback, which had areas for your crew to see you every 4-5 miles. The motivation and goofiness of my crew at those areas definitely helped me avoid a good amount of dark mental places. However, at this race, I only got to see my crew at mile 28 and 36, and I was not handling the time in between very well. Sure, the views got me excited at some times, but mentally I couldn’t find my happy place for the second half of this race. That is when I started to slow down and doubt my talent and preparation.
In the late 30 miles, I met a fellow runner who was also struggling mentally. We ran together for quite awhile and it definitely helped the both of us a lot. A 50 is tough, and if you can share the struggle with someone else, it always helps. We both got quite the enjoyment out of a random fan pedaling down the path with a giant speaker. Music always brings a smile to my face and air drumming to the hands. ‘Twas great.
One great thing about the JFK race, like many other ultra races, was the crowd and aid station support. Every time I entered an aid station there was countless amounts of options, smiling faces, and words of encouragement. I really cant express the level of gratitude I have towards the people who dedicated so much of their time to this race. The volunteers are what make the race doable. Thank you so much!
Finally, coming down the home stretch, which consists of hilly roads winding through the countryside, I got passed by the second place female. Mentally I wasn’t able to sprint the last 5k to overtake her and angrily struggled on. I eventually made it to the finish line, sprinting as fast as I could as I saw my friends, to finish in 7 hours and 14 minutes, third place female, and 29th overall. Even though this was a way slower time and lower place than I had wanted, it brought to light a lot of flaws that I can work on and improve for my next race. Having a bad race only makes us stronger and I know that mentally I have never felt stronger as I think about how poorly the race went, how well I still finished, what I could have done differently, and how well I can improve in my future races.
As I gimped around the auditorium waiting n the award ceremony, I had never felt as at home as I did being surrounded by so many fellow crazy runners, as well as my friends and family who have provided me with continued support towards my crazy dreams. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my support crew.
As I chatted with many of the racers, I relished in the fact that everyone was there to find their own running place, whether it be in the front of the pack or the back, we were all chasing the same thing. We are in search of that place where nothing else matters except the sound of our own breathing as we prove to ourselves that we can do whatever we put our minds to. Limping up to the podium as the baby of the champions, I realized that I have so many years ahead of me, and that one day I can be the one being helped onto the dangerously high first place step of that podium.
Thank you to my sponsors La Sportiva, and Ultraspire, as well as my support crew, the race directors, the volunteers, and that guy on the musical bike around mile 38.
Happy running all!
Overall race usage:
La Sportiva Helios and Mizuno Evo Levitas
La Sportiva Libra jacket, windblocker headband, technical racing team hoodie, and Crux tights.
My sisters touch screen-friendly gloves
Feetures merino wool socks
Ultraspire Alpha Race Vest
Peppers Polarized Sunglasses (awesome)
4 power bar double latte gels
2 strawberry banana Gus
a couple nibbles of a lara bar (the rest was probably eaten by a squirrel on the trail since I threw it)
4 oz of Starbucks coffee
random swigs of electrolyte drinks and cola at aid stations
*Note : This is by no means what anyone should do, as I am still working on my nutrition and just barbarically grab food towards the end of races