Ugh, I’ve been dreading this moment- sitting down and putting all my thoughts together about the JFK 50-miler in blog form for the world to see. I kind of just want to skip it, make pretend the race never happened, just make it go away. But I know I can’t fully process this thing until I write about it, gotta put it down on paper and give it away so I can let it go.
This was supposed to be the race where all the proper training finally paid off- I had done so many quality runs leading up to this race, I felt so damn fast and ready. That’s the weird thing about ultramarathons though, you can adequately prepare in 9 of 10 categories but that one you don’t prepare for will get you every time… more on this below.
So five weeks out I crushed a 50k training run:
That’s my 50k PR by like 24+ minutes, too. I had been running a lot of faster stuff, sleeping well, eating everything in sight, hitting the foam roller hard and generally recovering really well. I had also been trying to do the whole 40 feet of elevation gain per mile prescribed by Jason Koop in his book, since JFK had about 2000 feet of climbing I made sure I did that on all my key runs.
Then two weeks out, my last long run was a super sick workout (h/t to Hoka NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario, he had Matt Llano do this workout two weeks out from the NYC Marathon in 2016):
I had practiced running with all the nutrition I planned on using, wore the vest I was gonna wear, ate the same breakfast before almost all my long runs, and had the audacious goal of going for sub-7 hours. I know, it sounds crazy but I thought if I could just run back to back 3:30 marathons, I’d be fine.
I had run that solo 50k at 7:41 pace, then another 28-miler at 8:05 pace, a 24-miler at 7:25 pace, a 20 at 7:43 pace, and an 18-mile progression run with that last 9 miles at 7:00 pace. I was doing technical downhill trails a few times per week, a lot of threshold and tempo-paced workouts and even had been in the gym two days a week actually lifting free weights! I felt so damn strong almost every single run.
I thought I did everything right EXCEPT…
…appropriately prepare for the weather. Or I should say I didn’t “practice running while cold and wet”.
Damn. I literally saw dudes pass me on the C&O Towpath and thought, “that’s a lot of clothes, bro…” and damn me if I didn’t beg to have tights and a little bit better of a rain shell after mile 30.
I’ll skip all the pedantic crap about the drive down and dinner the night before and sleep and breakfast – that stuff was all great. No complaints, nothing eventful. Hooked up with my homie Donnie Knight as I checked into the hotel, which was gifted to me by my other homie Mike Coupland that wasn’t able to race JFK. We had pancakes for dinner at Denny’s, it was delicious.
Anyway; woke up, got dressed, followed DK over to the school near the start line, caught the last few minutes of the race briefing, dropped off my finish line drop bag and was ready to go.
Actually started right off the line, maybe 2-3 rows back of the leaders, that was weird. Hey there’s Mike Wardian, hey that’s Emily Torrence, oh, cool- Eric Senseman!
I knew I wanted to hit the trailhead area at around 24 minutes, came through there at just under 22. Felt fantastic. Was joking with some runners about trying to catch falling leaves, but being that far up in the pack (somewhere in the top 50 I think) those guys weren’t in the mood for joking. Only serious runners up here.
The Appalachian Trail section was the best part of this race, in my opinion. I felt really engaged, felt flow-y over the rocks and roots and leaves, just clicked off miles effortlessly. Kept myself in check big time. Wanted to hit the Weverton Gap split at mile 15.5 at 2:20 but came through at 2:40. Thought, okay- I’ll run a 7:30 today, that’s still an awesome 50-mile time, I can do that, just chill out, be patient…
Was hopping on to the Towpath right at this first rain started to dump heavier. I was still moving well here, clicking off mellow eight minute miles. Everything felt fantastic until the aid station at mile 25-something; I was just past halfway at 3:56 and thought, even if I implode I’ll still run sub-8, this is awesome! I stopped at that aid and took all the stuff out of my back zippered area, refilled my bottle, put my rain shell on (it was steady now) and started off again, was stopped maybe 3 minutes.
These next 10 miles were basically between 9 and 10-minutes per with a lot more frequency in the pee breaks; oh no- the dreaded cold-induced diuresis is back! Shit!
Why do I keep getting this? Anyway, I had to pee every 7-10 minutes for the next like 4 hours. I should’ve learned at Bighorn, then again at Eastern States- when I get cold while running I have to figure out a way to stay warm. I could’ve used dry clothes right now, but with no drop bags allowed at JFK there was no way to remedy this situation- tights or running pants in a drop bag would’ve been a lifesaver.
Those guys I scoffed at earlier- fucking geniuses. Those guys would all run their goal times I bet. Oh, I am such a silly little douchenozzle. When will I learn? Just keep faking it until you make it.
Anyway, I still maintained a positive mental attitude, even though I was mildly shivering and my hands were frozen inside of wet gloves. I kept laughing with the aid station folks about how absurd this sport is.
Hit the 38.4 mile aid station split at 6:29, thought, “okay, now we really have to run and generate some heat!” but yeah, I had nothing. I was so stiff from being frozen that I simply could not stretch out my stride. All that awesome training has just literally gone to waste. “I’m so fit tho” means NOTHING when you haven’t prepared. Dammit, I was a Boy Scout, that’s like our motto. Be prepared.
Off the towpath, 7:10 through now and on to the country roads and more shuffling, but now at 10-12 minute pace! Oh, the humanity. I’m watching myself as a train wreck in real time, completely unable to do anything that remotely resembles real running.
The last six miles, which in my mind were going to be the easiest, were by far the hardest miles I ran all year.
The last six miles of Eastern States 100 were easier, at least I felt better for those. My buddy Dave told me when he ran this race years ago as his first 50 he got passed by a soccer mom in a full pink and purple LA Gear outfit being all like, “great job, honey!” while he was like “WTF is happening- THIS SPORT IS AWESOME!?!?”
Yeah, that was my experience tenfold.
I got passed by a barefoot runner. I got passed by so many people in the last eight miles, maybe 45 people. “You’re awesome!” “Go get it!” …and I meant every word of that, because I sucked that day.
Luckily for me Donnie came up on me at mile 48.5 and we would run, actually run the last 1.5 miles in together, that was a really cool feeling. My plan was to shuffle in at like 14-minute pace but he had another idea. Sometimes you get the help you don’t ask for but needed so bad.
Anyway, lesson learned. Overdress when the forecast says “a windy and rainy 43 degrees today”. Or at least dress appropriately.
But having a decent attitude will always be more important than having good, dry clothes. I can suck, and can KNOW that I suck, and have a really shitty day and still have more fun than I thought. I can laugh at myself for the absurdity of thinking I could run fast rather than hold myself in contempt for not hitting my goal.
I always told myself that I’d quit this sport once it no longer was fun, and it’s still always going to be fun as long as I remember that I’m the luckiest person alive that I get to go out and disappear for upwards of eight hours on a weekend morning to go “run” in the woods.
Luckily for me I don’t have to fake the love I have for this amazing, silly, humbling, crazy, awesome, inspiring, ridiculous sport.