Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2014 JFK 50 Miler Race Report

Everyone has recurring bad dreams.  Either you've shown up to school wearing only your underwear (if that), you're falling, or even that you've forgotten to attend a class all semester, erroneously thinking you'd dropped it, so goodbye GPA.

My bad dream has been different.  For MANY months leading up to this race, I'd have the same variation on it:  I was trying to run --not away from anyone-- but just trying to RUN.  Either chasing after someone, or trying to get somewhere, or to just . . . run.  Except in my dream, I start to run, and then realize I'm not really GOING anywhere. My speed would be gone, and the distance ahead would almost telescope away from me, becoming much farther and farther. Even in the dream, I'd think, "I'm way FASTER than this -- why am I moving so slowly?" And I'd realize that my destination was actually moving AWAY from me, becoming smaller and smaller in the distance. The efforts to overtake it become more and more frantic, and then I wake up, stressed and far from relaxed.

Actually, just admitting to that dream is an example of why this report was such a very hard post to write, and finally click "publish" on. Part of the problem was trying to convey just how much went on in the days leading UP to this race, how much happened DURING the race itself, and how much I learned from the race.  Not just "Eat Pray Love" personal growth type stuff, but also how much I actually learned about this race, ultra running, and even what the hell "Gators" "Gaiters" are.

Oh, and also the new Star Wars trailer came out, so THAT (one) weekend when I actually had free time to write was shot to hell.

X-WINGS.  The Millennium Falcon.  X-WINGS!!!!

But -- I'm so happy I did this race. It's been said that you should do some things, or take on some challenges that scare you, and this race fit that credo perfectly. I actually came out of this experience feeling almost . . . sated. I don't know if the demons that normally fill my head while I run finally shut up. I don't know because, for once, I ignored them.

This race report is going to assume you know a few things about the JFK-50 Miler, but in case you don't, here's a quick primer:

Tai Fung's Three (basic) Things to Know about the 
JFK 50-Mile Run:

1.  It's actually 50.2 miles. (ha!)

2.  Except for certain charity runners, elite seniors, and people who've run it so many times that you'd have a serious WTF moment about their sanity, runners have just 12 hours to finish this race, as they're given from 7am until 7pm to do it (the charity runners, and older folks get to start in the dark, two hours earlier at 5am).  

The cutoffs are unforgiving, and year after year there are stories of people being within sight of the finish, or the checkpoints, but having their races end, or watching the organizers switch the timer off seconds after hitting 12 hours, while they are within sight of the finish.

(foreshadowing --- stay to the end of this report and I'll blow your mind about this aspect of the race)

3.  This race is, essentially, three courses in one:  

--First, there's a very difficult, at-times-very-rocky 15.5 mile portion taking you up hills, then over the Appalachian Trail ("AT"), then down a 1,000 foot series of switchbacks.  Prior to the race, I read Kara's race report and marveled at her finishing this thing in under 9.5 hours.  I also read Alyssa's report as well. It was interesting to see their different takes on the dreaded AT portion of the race.  Kara found it particularly hard, like she was turning her ankle every third step, whereas Alyssa noted that it was almost a letdown (although she did have a fall at one point).  The AT portion really kept me up nights.  It was such an unknown, and really a section that can literally harm your race at any errant step.

--Next, that portion is followed by about a 26.7 mile run along the flat, gravel C&O Canal Towpath.  Some people complain about being bored here, but I just don't see how that's possible.  You run straight.  If the road curves, follow it.  Keep going until you're at the Fabled "Dam #4" near Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

--Finally, after all that, you're led to the final 8 miles on paved, rolling roads along and through the backwoods of Maryland.  You'll meet some of the nicest locals EVER along this portion (you'll see them along the C&O too, they just seem more festive late in the course).  They will look you up by bib number using the JFK race program and cheer you by name.

This point-to-point course is the oldest ultramarathon in the United States.  It's a race this country, as well as the running community can be proud of.

The Washington Post did a great story about this race, highlighting a runner named Kimball ("Kim") Byron who has run it (this is true) 46 times, or, to REALLY make you understand how nuts he is, he's run it at least once in each of the past SIX DECADES.  The WaPo included this wonderful map of the course, complete with little tidbits about it.  Look at this monstrosity, including the elevation profile at the bottom.  Here's a thumbnail, and here's a link to the full-size image:  That's Kim in the picture, getting cake at mile 38. 

Again, foreshadowing:  Kim figures into this race report later.

3D JFK 50-Miler course map

When I originally signed up for this race in April 2014, I knew it would be difficult, but I figured that by the time late November 2014 came, I would have at least taken a few steps to prep myself for the task of running 50-miles under the notorious cutoff system.  Specifically, I figured I would do three things to prep for this course:

Tai Fung's Three Things He (Should Have) Done Pre-Race:

1.  Do a few practice runs on the AT portion of the course, to get used to the rocky conditions, and at the very least, practice falling down without cracking bones,

2.  Have done at least one 50K ultra, just so I wasn't being so ridiculous as to go from 26.2 all the way up to 50 miles with nothing in between, and,

3.  Have some sort of race plan beyond, "Survive the AT portion and then trot to glory."

You'd think I'd have done ONE of those over the 7 months between mailing in my registration, and toeing the starting line on 22 November 2014.

You'd think that, because, unlike me, you're not insane. 

I never found a good weekend to go run the AT, because I was trying to train up for the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon, and I really NEEDED my weekend road runs to get up mileage.

Next, I realized that almost ANY trail race I did would NOT simulate the AT, because most trail races didn't involve the levels of rocks (often hidden by leaves), roots, and sheer lunacy that JFK just STARTS you off with.

Finally, I decided that even PLANNING for what to do on the C&O canal was getting ahead of myself -- it almost felt like buying a "140.6" sticker BEFORE you do an Ironman race. 

I just had no idea if I'd even make the cutoffs to get off the damn AT in the first place! It became too overwhelming, and seemed almost cocky, to plan what to do after I got off the AT, so I just . . . didn't. The more I tried to plan, the more I'd get all lightheaded and gripped with worry.  I should have planned better for the cutoffs, because I missed a really basic point about them prior to the start. You'll see how/where eventually.

Regarding the cutoffs, they are all "clock time" -- runners wear chips, but that's mostly for bookkeeping.  The clock is key.  And that's what ANYONE running JFK needs to keep in their mind, because the cutoffs begin at mile 9, and are enforced all the way to the finish line.

Pay attention to these times!

Over the year of training, I quickly learned a few things about me, and my ability to Run Slow On Purpose.

Tai Fung's Three Things About Running Slow:

1.  I walk damn slow.  Like 17 minutes per mile slow.

2.  As soon as I start to trot, like anything above a shuffle, I "skyrocket" up to no slower than 12:00-12:30 per mile.

3.  Obviously, when I do a run/walk, my pace is somewhere in between those numbers.

After training for much of 2014, particularly on the C&O Canal Towpath, I learned these numbers by heart. I had them locked in my head, and would think of them often once I got off the AT portion of the race.

The race is on a Saturday. I drove up Friday, and found my hotel (and stumbled upon some trucks having an orgy):

This seems like the Tea Party's worst fear re same sex marriage?

I was trying to project an air of calm about this race, although (this is true) I did inform the poor front desk clerks at the Ramada that I might die, so I'm not sure how successful I was.


Channeling Beaker, before packing, I had already taken the obligatory "Flat Tai" shot:

Note the Beakertude undershirt!
One cool moment the night before:  I had NO idea where to eat, or really even WHAT to eat.  So I left the Ramada and drove across a highway, thinking I'd find some pizza.  Instead, I found a new restaurant called, "Noodles & Co."




I walked in, and a woman in the initial alcove said, "Are you here for the event?"

She explained that the restaurant was NOT open yet, but they had announced to select locals that they were doing a "soft opening," (meaning, the restaurant was doing a "practice" of serving food, but it was more focused on working out the kinks.  Kinda like Spring Training for the food service industry).

I just said sorry, and that I was here for the race tomorrow, but was happy to excuse myself out (I'd missed the sign noting that they were "opening SOON" (oops) in my haze of perpetual panic).  She gently tapped my arm and said, "Oh, it's ok.  Here's a ticket.  This will get you a free entree, appetizer, drink and dessert."

You complete me, lady with meal tickets.

So I went in, ordered to go, and scurried back to my hotel.

Um, I'll have the free pasta with a side of pasta.

I had the expected, "I can't sleep" jitters, but people giving me love via Twitter and texting were wonderful, and I finally passed out.  I think I even got as much as 7-8 hours sleep, which isn't easy to do if you wake up at 4am.

This race starts damn early, because not only do you have to toe the line at 7am, but you must attend a pre-race briefing at 6:20am in a school located near the starting line. "Near," as in, you will walk 1K from the gym to the start, you know, on a day where you are ALREADY running 50 miles OMG WTF NO SHUTTLE.

We gathered in the gym.

It was time for the race briefing.  I looked around the gym, and literally EVERY OTHER PERSON looked faster than me, more experienced, and WAY more relaxed.  I felt like an imposter.  The guy next to me asked if I'd done this race before.  "Nope," I said.  Then he asked how many ultras I'd done.  "Oh, more than I'd like to admit," I said.

Yeah, well that sentence was partly true buddy, but let's just not worry about that.
Time for the briefing.  The Race Director, Mike Spinnler, a cheerful guy who's WON this thing twice, briefed us, and gave what turned out to be a pretty good piece of trail racing advice, which I will paraphrase here:

"If you're running behind someone on the Appalachian trail, look where they put their feet as they run.  If they don't slip, then you put your foot where they did.  If they DO slip, put your foot somewhere else."

That's pretty damn smart, when you think about it.

Me like good points.

He pointed out that the "standard" qualifiers to this race have a finishing rate better than 92-95%, and that the reason the numbers often seem lower is that the 14-hour charity runners sometimes drop out a little more numerously, often having "bitten off more than they can chew."

Great.  So, as a standard qualifier, I of course focused on whether I'd become one of the few folks who DON'T make the cutoffs.  No pressure.


The briefing was over, and I stood up to slip on my Nathan hydration vest.  As I did, I felt something on my wrist pop loose.  I knew exactly what it was:  

My fucking Garmin 610 strap had broken.  Again.

I have small wrists, but not THAT small. I have gone through -- no exaggeration -- at LEAST six Garmin 610 watch straps, to the tune of about $20 per strap replacement.  I don't wear my 610 cinched up like a corset.  Yet I experience break after break (note:  I eBayed this watch with a NEW strap after this race).

And now, I didn't have a way to wear my watch.

I was less than 30 minutes from the start of the race of my life, and I'd already had a disaster.

Too late for whining.  I slipped it into my left front vest pocket and marched out into the cold.  I followed the herd of folks, and tried to collect myself as I walked in the cold air towards the starting line, which was right in the historic part of Boonsboro, Maryland.  My race plan was already swirling, because I'd wanted the ability to look at my Garmin easily while I ran.  So much for that.  Gear fail.  What about everything else?

Nutrition plan?  Check - I had SIX scoops of Tailwind in my 2-liter Nathan pack.  Another stashed baggie held a second batch of six scoops.  I had some milk chocolate bars (no gels) in another pack pocket, which I would eat post-AT for more calories.  I also planned to rely on the aid stations, and their fabled, glorious food.  But, let me say, Tailwind is FREAKING MAGIC POWDER.  Seriously.  I'm not a Tailwind "Trailblazer," and as I've said before, I do not serve as "Runbassador" (barf) for ANY product.  I don't begrudge ambassadors.  I just follow the DC Rainmaker model.  No endorsements, no strings.  If I say I love something, it's because I do, and because I think the product is great.  Tailwind is great EFFING MAGIC.

Pacing plan?  Check - I knew if I kept moving with runners, not walkers, I'd keep myself ahead of the cutoffs.  After all, 50.2 miles with a 12 hour cutoff was . . . 14:20 minutes per mile.


Foreshadowing alert:  I'm an idiot.

As for clothing, while I'd obsessed over tights vs. shorts, I was already glad to have gone with tights.  I'd bought a throwaway hat, and planned to send my gloves to their doom eventually as well.  I was also wearing my hand socks.

Hand socks.

Look, trust me on this. My hands get DAMN cold in the winter, and a sitting judge (no, I won't say who it was, and yes, this is one reason I try and keep my professional life separate from this drivel) gave me the idea of putting old socks OVER your gloves.  It works wonderfully, and has made a huge difference for keeping my hands warm.  Here's a recent demonstration not from the race (photobomb by the #RedShoesOfDoom)


With that, we arrived at the starting line, and I was falling in love with Boonsboro, MD.  True to form, the barber shop was ALREADY open, pre-7am, and some (non runner) guy was in the chair.  This was small town Americana at its finest.  The national anthem played, and, incredibly, the guy next to me tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out something -- we were wearing the SAME pair of shoes.

Well, no, not literally.  But we EACH had on our own pair of The Red Shoes of Doom(!).

It turns out he doesn't call his that, and he kinda backed away after I'd mentioned I call MY shoes that. Alas. Making friends all over.

All of a sudden, there was a BANG (an actual starter's pistol!) and we were off.

Race start:  7:00am
Time to goal:  12 hours

We settled into a nice spread/pace for the first mile plus, and eventually hit a long, not impossible climb upwards.  I slowed, and then, like many/most runners around me, began to walk.

Stay calm. Don't burn your energy this early. Relax. 

It helped that a guy struck up a conversation with me, and we compared race plan notes, which, like many, did involve treating this as three separate races in one long course.

Soon, we were running again, and we had a brief (about 1 mile) stint on the Appalachian trail. We hippity-hopped over and through some woods (I guess it was the trail?) and then hit 

The Hill.

This initial hill is pretty fabled in JFK lore.  It's freaking STEEP.  You WILL walk it.  It flattens out here and there, which I know only because I would periodically run in spurts and then move right back into walk mode.  I felt like I had a decent pace when I actually WAS running, though, and seemed to be making quite good time.

NO, of course not.

Duh, it was more like this, uphill.  #Lies
It was about here that I realized my Nathan pack had frozen up as I ran, so I sucked HARD at the nozzle and STOP I CAN HEAR YOUR JOKES MINDS OUT OF THE GUTTER PLZ.

After I cleared the ice, I started to really settle into a certain pace, tempered by walking every time we turned uphill.  During those times, people would chat. I met a really enthusiastic man named Mike, who had run this race 3-4 times previously, and he was infectious with optimism. He assured me that I'd have fun on the race, and that it was a Great Day for running.  Mike was fun, and was a font of positivity.  I tried to put on a good face. 

Ha ha! Sure Mike! This will be great! (goes pee pee more)
As we got farther along up the mountain, a tall man, who with his build and look kind of reminded me of Lance Reddick of "The Wire," fame, said to me, "There's the tower."

I said, "Ah! Yes. Hmm, Yes. The tower. Yes."

Me looking at the tower.
--Ahem.  Well, no sense in having any pride.  Time to speak up.

--"Um, exactly why is that important?" I said.

--He had a good answer:  "That's where we'll enter the AT." 

It was time.  The series of steady uphills were one thing.  But now it was ON.

Mile 5.5 (roughly 11 hours until the cutoff)

I'd like to say I knew what time we were entering the AT proper, but, as I'd mentioned before, my FUCKING SHITTY GARMIN 610 STRAP WAS BROKEN (but I wasn't bitter), and I was fairly confident that I was still in the thick of runners - they couldn't sweep us all at this point!

So into the woods we went, with the intent of going over a mountain together.

We were clustered into a relatively tight conga line of runners, but eventually little "pods" of runners (it looked to be anywhere from 2-8 people) would break ahead from the group, and eventually that was much of the line of runners.  A pack of 6 here, a gap, followed by a pack of 8, another gap, followed by a pack of 4.

My group was about 5 people.  Our lead runner was the Lance Reddick guy, who we called "Red" because of his running jacket.  I was behind him, and there were 2-3 people behind me.

I stepped where Red stepped. I avoided anywhere he might have hobbled, which wasn't that often.  But that piece of advice from the briefing stuck with me, and was paying off by following in Red's footsteps.

Red, as it turned out, had run this thing close to 10 times. I think this was his 9th JFK.  He pulled our little crew through this portion of the AT.  I tried to put on a brave voice with some of the WORST jokes imaginable:

"Ugh, why did they have to build a mountain out of ROCKS?"
"I'm not saying we could get lost, but if anyone sees some dwarves with pickaxes, we probably want to turn around."
"Nobody said this course went through Mordor." 

And so forth.  I honestly don't remember everything I said, but I got enough polite giggles that I kept it up. Maybe they liked the chatter, because all of us bantered the whole way. Maybe they were plotting throwing me off the mountain. Whatever. We got along great.

As we made our way, I noticed Red would often step on these logs that were along the trail (almost serving as steps), and I tended to hop over them.  I later learned that was a mistake on my part.  I just felt like it would be extra pounding on my knees. I really should have just done EVERYTHING he did.  It would be one of many mistakes I made out on the race course that day.

After a steady diet of rocks, hopping over logs, and my bad jokes, w
e went rather sharply and dramatically downhill (!).  All of a sudden we were there -- our first aid station and cutoff checkpoint.  Specifically, it was the mile 9.3 aid station.  We figured we were about 45 minutes to a full hour ahead of the cutoff, so our little pack congratulated each other.  Most of them went to the aid tables and/or the port-a-johns.

Knowing I still had plenty of Tailwind left,
I took off, furiously sucking on the Nathan nozzle SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.


I was too concerned about cutoffs to wait for Red, and I didn't think it would be fair to have him pull me through the entire AT portion anyway.  He'd done enough.  He'd gotten me from 5.x to 9.3.  So into the woods I went.

From the aid station, I quickly started up another hill.  There was a funny moment when I saw a woman turn LEFT (down a hill) instead of right (towards the woods), and I, along with a police officer, called after her to keep her from going the wrong way, I don't know if she just didn't hear us, but I actually went after her.  She smiled bashfully when I got to her, and that was that. I don't know how far she would have gone, but I can only imagine the terror upon realizing she'd gone the wrong way. 

While the cutoff clock is STILL RUNNING.

Anyway, I turned up into the woods again.  From here (mile 9.X), it would be pure terror in the form of "The Three Ws" (woods, wrocks, and wroots). 

Pretty quickly, I met a nice, cheerful runner from Georgia, who like me, had never gone beyond 26.2 miles.  She had run the Little Rock Marathon the year it was cancelled for lightning, and had a couple of other "exciting" events during a couple of other marathons she'd done.  I'd hoped this would be less eventful, weatherwise.  We ran for a bit, but again, I was just too concerned with time, and just kind of took off, building gradual space ahead of her.  I was still running VERY cautiously, but I found myself moving along at what seemed a passable pace.

Over and over, it would happen again.  I'd come up upon a runner or two, gradually make my way past them, and keep trudging on.  Every step I took meant I was that much closer to getting the Frak off the AT.  I wanted OUT.  OUT OUT OUT.

"My favorite Disney Princess . . . is Leia" could very well be my last words.
I witnessed a few falls during this stretch, and it just reminded me how important it was to ALWAYS LOOK DOWN while I was in the woods of the AT.  I came back upon Mike, from earlier in the race, and he was nursing a hurt forearm from a fall he'd taken.  He introduced me to Michael, a soft-spoken JFK veteran who'd run this thing a few times himself.  We continued to make our way, not so much in a "pod," but more of a spread out single file line.  Eventually, I passed them too.

Finally, incredibly, at one stretch, I actually looked up, and took a second to soak in the beauty of the woods and you can guess where this is going:

Womp womp.

WHAM.  Almost immediately, my foot caught a tree root, and I stumbled forward, narrowly getting my legs under me, but ratting my teeth darn well.  I kept going, but having jammed what felt like every muscle in my my back.  Ouch.

Humph.  Lesson learned.  Screw the scenery.

I pressed on, and then, incredibly, realized I was running lonely.

No, not THAT Running Lonely.

It was just  . . . me on the trail.  Seriously.  Nobody I could see ahead of me, and nobody was behind me.

Uh oh.

I am NOT confident in my sense of direction, as history has taught me:

I mean, it wasn't like there were course marshals every hundred yards directing.  This could go Very Bad, Very Fast.

Fortunately, there was enough of a clear(ish) path worn out in front of me that I generally hoped I was on the path.  I kept on.  After a time, I came upon a nice woman trotting along.  We chatted for a bit, and she mentioned that she had to, um, make a pit stop.  I noted that the woods, while they WERE all around us, were rather spread out.  She wouldn't have much cover.  She just laughed and said, "Screw modesty, I gotta pee."  She peeled off (and then peeled off, amirite???).

Why don't you have YET ANOTHER SEAT.
I kept running, and came upon some EMT personnel sitting around an ATV.  I was REALLY interested in what mile marker I was on, since I had had ENOUGH of this freaking trail, so I just said, "Excuse me guys, but where am I?"

One of them smiled broadly back at me and said, "You're on the Appalachian Trail!"


I pressed on, and eventually became part of another "pod" of runners.  We were roughly at mile 13 or so, and we were starting to climb. A LOT. Meanwhile, the rocks were getting far, far worse. They were larger, more jagged, and you were forced to hop from rock to rock more and more often. We were running along the jagged edge along the top of the mountain. The runner behind me (I was 3rd in my pod of about 5) said that he had a name for this stretch.

He said called it, "The Jagged Edge."

Well thank you very much DON DRAPER.

It was REALLY hard here not to push past my pod and just scream, "I WANT OFF!  I'LL ROLL DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, I DON'T CARE!" But, instead, I held on, and as we got to mile 14, we began to almost have to "fast walk" this portion. Ankles were turning.  Someone behind me fell (picked himself back up). We all quieted down. No more banter. Focus on your feet. Watch those rocks.  "Jagged Edge" guy dropped to a slow walk.  We left him.

Then it finally happened.  The turn downwards. The "switchbacks" (these are sharp downward angled zig-zags in the path to get you down the mountain fast) had begun. We would drop over a thousand feet in about half a mile.  Our pod now consisted of 4 people -- the lead of whom was in Vibrams (ouch?), and we worked our way down.  There was a time or two where we turned UP (?!) and I almost asked Vibrams guy if he knew where we were going, but honestly, we were all trying not to fall, and we DID seem to be gradually lowering our altitude.

Plus, my sense of direction means I have ZERO ability to goof on anybody else's.

This way? Or this way? No, THAT WAY!

I learned that the surest sign in this race of good things ahead was the presence of cars. Or spectators.  It meant that there was parking.  And where there was parking, there was usually an aid station checkpoint.  Progress.  I started to hear the cheers in the distance as runner came down off the mountain, and both my spirit and adrenaline soared.  The freaking AT had been beaten.  I'd made it off in once piece.

This called for the removal of the hand socks.  Gotta bear in mind the race photos of course!  They didn't get MANY pictures of me on this race, but the series of me coming off the AT tell you a lot about where my mind was as I exited off the mountain.






Total time on Appalachian Trail:  3 hours 45 minutes 
(I'd had 3:30 as a goal).
Cushion to next cutoff:  45 minutes!  

I high-fived random people who were waiting with drop bags for loved ones, and pressed on, with one thing in mind.


Like, WOW, 2 liters of Tailwind-infused water and OMG POTTY PLZ.

Fortunately, as I made it through a chute which guided people over to the C&O Canal Towpath, I found a set of portajohns, and a couple of people actually let me go ahead of them since I was racing.  Things were looking better and better!  I hustled along a path, under a bridge, and eventually came to the actual aid station and next checkpoint:

Mile 15.5 (Weverton Aid Station)

Suffice to say I was in a REALLY good mood when I hit this aid station, and as a guy helped me refill my Nathan pack, he remarked that a lot of runners had been using Tailwind (he watched me mix in the second pack of six scoops).  He then said, "Ok, you're all set, and you're about 30 minutes ahead of the cutoff."

I didn't pee THAT much!
Fishing out my watch, I knew he was right.  Between the trotting, the pit stop, and trotting to the checkpoint, I'd blown FIFTEEN MINUTES.  A lot of the work I'd put in on the trail had been lost because I did the equivalent of hitting the snooze button once I'd gotten off the AT.  This part of the race had been such a fear, that I'd almost focused more on just doing THAT part, vs running the WHOLE DAMN RACE.
Time to Mile 15.5 (Weverton Aid Station):  4 hours.
Cushion to next cutoff:  30 minutes.
Remaining distance:  34.7 miles.

I knew that as long as I kept ahead of the 14:xx pace per mile, I'd be ok on the C&O portion.  So I wasn't panicking much as I stood up and started over to see what food was available.  It wasn't like there was an oncoming train headed for me.

Oh wait.  There WAS.

I missed hearing the train whistle, but the volunteer pointed over to some nearby train tracks, and said, "The train's coming.  You better cross now before it does or you'll be stuck awhile."  That was when, this time, I actually DID HEAR THE FREAKING TRAIN WHISTLE HE WASN'T KIDDING.

Screw the cookies.  GO GO GO.

I went and RAN to those tracks.  I'll never forget this next series of events: 

1.  A course marshal was still waving people across the tracks, but was clearly starting to look for a good "hold up here" point.

2.  I got actually ONTO the train tracks, and (seriously) in the distance, I saw the single light of the front/nose of the train.  It wasn't super close, but damn right I saw it.

3.  At that point, I thought, "Holy crap this would be the funniest selfie."

So I paused on the tracks, and tried to fish my phone out of my shoulder pouch.  The marshal hadn't looked back at me yet, and was instead focused on whether anyone else was coming up to cross.

I mean, a selfie of me with a TRAIN bearing down behind me seemed absolutely freaking HIGH-LAR-IOUS.  That's when a different part of my brain offered its opinion.

Good point.
Screw it. It would have been funny, but that marshal could have been TICKED off.  Plus, you know, a train was moving towards me.

I scurried.

Within a few steps, I was on the C&O Canal Towpath, and off to my right I saw the train pass by.  It was a LONG train.  There were runners caught behind it.  They were stuck.

I silently thanked myself for being rational for once, and pressed on, eating a milk chocolate candy bar, which was a little hard, because I had ZERO appetite.  Two guys passed me, whom I thought of as "The Black and Blues," based on their outfits (I'm sure they thought of me as "the chubby sausage-looking guy all in black").  I ran/walked at this point, and frequently took out my phone to double check my pace calculator that I was ahead of the 14:xx overall pace.  I was.  Whew.

Curiously enough for THIS section, it wasn't long before I started getting rocks in my shoes, which wasn't often, but which WAS annoying.  I finally understood what those things around people's shoes were ("Gaiters"), but found it funny that I made it through the entire AT without a rock, but barely went one mile on the C&O before I had to stop.

Bah.  Whatever.  Press on.  At this point, a SECOND train passed, this time from the opposite direction, headed back towards the checkpoint.

Oooooh.  That's going to screw some runners.  Damn you are cutting this close, dude.

I had no idea how right I was.

At the mile 19ish aid station (not a checkpoint), I tried eating some potato chips, but still just had no appetite.  I said, "Hey!  Just a 50K to go!" and took off.

The C&O Stretch

I differ with people who call this section boring.  First, you don't have to look at your feet every second.  That's RELAXING!  Next, you're going to run with a lot of the same people you were with on the AT, and if anything, it will be something of a reunion.  I found Michael, the soft spoken gentleman, along the way, and we leapfrogged each other for a bit.  Other people, like Red, and the ever-friendly Mike, passed me by.  Good for them.  I was in for the long haul at this point, having tossed my various "A/B" goals and was focused on goal C - finish this race without being swept off the course.  My legs were feeling ok, not great, post-AT, but I had no idea how they'd react once the mileage topped 30, 35, or even 40.  Better to conserve them and not risk a disaster.

Once I'd started on the C&O, I went ahead and turned on my Garmin 610, but that was an unmitigated disaster.  With the broken band, I had to continually fish it out to check pacing, and the mileage was already not syncing up very well with the aid stations.  In hindsight, I should have just focused on the clock, and trusted what I learned about myself and my various paces from running, walking, or a combo.

I hit the halfway mark, what I think mile 25, in just UNDER six hours.  With the deliberate slow pacing brought on by the AT, that was to be expected, but I was moving much better here on the C&O.  I still wasn't worried.

I should have been.

I made a point of noting when my watch estimated that I was past the marathon distance, and immediately thought of Sam from "Lord of the Rings."  There's a scene in it that really spoke to me, when he says:

The road goes ever on and on.
Many years earlier, during my first running of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, we passed the 10K mat, which was the longest distance I'd ever run previously.  I realized that with every step, I was setting a PR for distance run.  10 miles had seemed unfathomable when I was mainly into weight training.  Now, it was barely beyond a daily training distance.

Back to JFK.  I pressed on, knowing that every step was my new distance PR.

Not much longer, I came ambling into the next checkpoint/aid station.  This one was at mile 27.1 (Antietam), and we had to be here by 1pm.  I didn't even look at my watch.  I was moving WELL.  

Well, not "well."  

Seeing this sign would have helped A LOT.

I was moving along with all the speed of someone who had nowhere to be, and LOTS of time to get there.  I was cruising.  I was relaxed.  Hey there random photog!  Look!  Take my picture, what's my hurry?!  Just running a race where elapsed time is central to all things!

Beakertude inside.

I passed by a guy holding a clipboard, and he eyed my number.  No biggie.

Just as I was grabbing a cup of warm chicken noodle soup, a guy behind me asked him, "Did we make the cutoff?"

 I scoffed to myself.  Heh.  Dude, we had 30 minutes just a few miles back!

The man with the clipboard said, "It's close, but not too bad just yet."


THEN Clipboard Guy said, "You're about 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff."


Somehow, another 15 minutes of my 45 minute cushion had evaporated.  

I mean, from 45 to 30 I could KINDA figure:  Trotty, Potty, and Trainspotty ate some time.  

But from 30 to 15??? 

This was bad.  This was very bad.  

I went into a portajohn to reasses (and pee).

Mile 27.1 (Antietam Aid Station) 
Cushion to next cutoff:  15 minutes.
Remaining distance:  23.1 miles.

I exited the john a little pissed (ha!) at myself.  I'd REALLY taken it easy post-AT, and hadn't pushed myself hard enough.  15 minutes of cushion??  I was so mad at myself.  I passed the aid station goodies and tried to focus through my anger.

I was also in a mild form of disbelief, and did my best to reassert myself on a pace, and tried to cut out walk breaks.  My Tailwind was getting low, and I still had NO appetite.  During one walk break, I collected my thoughts, and realized I'd have to hit the next checkpoint, mile 34.4 by 3pm.

With more of my delays, it was less than 90 minutes to go roughly 7.3 miles.  So about 12 minutes per mile.  Ordinarily, easy.  Except I'd just had a 27+ mile warmup.  And I couldn't understand this.  I was LOSING time no matter how hard I increased effort.

Wait. No, not this. No. No.

This was like those freaking nightmares I'd been having.  Except it was ACTUALLY happening to me.  I was slowing, and the destination was getting away from me.

I pushed.  I tried.  I also fretted, and, ridiculously, would walk so I could take out my phone and recalculate what my pace needed to be.  The Scientific Skeptic in me knew that I wasn't ACTUALLY experiencing my nightmare.  The Pragmatist in me couldn't avoid seeing it.  The friendly Georgian passed me, smiling as she went by.

I got to mile 30, and realized I had less than one hour to get to mile 34.4, the fabled "Miracle on 34th Street"-themed aid station.  I recognized a clipboard guy from the briefing, and said to him, in a not-too-calm, hello-I'm-panicking-voice, "Um, are we going to make the cutoff????"  He was busy with his microphone.  No biggie.  I kept going.

Ah!  But wait!  He ran me down as I passed the aid station goodies (no thank you folks, still no appetite, got my Tailwind).

He trotted after me, and assured me . . . .

. . . . that there were PLENTY of buses and vehicles to sweep any runners who didn't make the cutoff.

This race is SERIOUS about enforcing those cutoff times.

Mile 30:  How bad do you want to finish this?

From the moment I left the aid station area, the stakes were quite clear.  Just like Brad Pitt said in World War Z:

Movement is life.

Movement is life.  

Walk, and this race ends early for you.  It ends in failure.  Every slow, walking step is just loading another round into the gun for a game of Russian Roulette. It's running that will keep you in this race.

Movement is life.

I'd come so far, and I was in disbelief as I watched my Garmin report that I was going slower and slower even though I tried harder and harder.

This is your dream.  But those weren't dreams.  Those were premonitions.  Visions.

SHUT UP.  The Garmin is giving screwy numbers. Your pace is fluctuating because you're stopping to walk and recalculate.  Just quit doing math and make like Alec Fucking Baldwin.

Trust me on this.

You read that right.  It was time to make like Alec. Baldwin.

Going somewhere with this.
Everyone has a running mantra.  Something they say to themselves as they run.  

I have one. 

It came from a long run one summer evening when I was spent and woozy from the heat, and, while I ran, I wrote a parody sketch of "Glengarry Glen Ross" of an Alec Baldwin-esque character reading a bunch of runners the riot act. You remember the scene in the movie, don't you?
You know what it takes to sell Real Estate?

I was so pleased with the parody that I ended up writing it as a comedy sketch.  A co-worker's daughter, a recent film school grad, and I are working on a way to produce it as a short film clip.  Just a vanity piece.  But from that hot afternoon came my mantra:

Always Be Churning.  


Always. Be. CHURNING.


Churn those freaking legs.

So I did.  And I experienced an AMAZING mind/body disconnect.  We're talking a major disconnect between head and body.

Specifically, during miles 30-34, I experienced lightheadedness.  My head just kind of . . . flopped . . . from left to right to left.  I'm surprised an ear didn't hit a shoulder.  Meanwhile, my body was like, "Ok, his brain's out of it.  Let's go," and just . . . churned.  I couldn't focus.  I don't know if this was a panic attack, or just stress, but I felt a little . . . out of it.

Churn.  Churn.  Movement is life.  
You walk, you're done.  You trained for this.  You've worked for this.
Do.  Not.  Walk. 

I pressed on, passing quite a few walkers, or even a smattering of slower runners.  I hadn't seen soft-spoken Michael, and I hadn't seen the "Black and Blue" runners.  Some other runners I knew from the AT section still hadn't passed me.  It meant that there were a lot of people back there.

This was bad.

Finally, I started to notice more and more people in the distance.  They were teens, I think from the local girls' cross-country team.  They were running towards us, away from the direction of the next aid station/checkpoint.  It just HAD to mean I was getting closer, right?

That was when I saw them.  That was when I (started to) hear them.

I could hear them shouting towards me/us as we approached a gate/checkpoint in the distance:

Stock photo.  Close to this in appearance.

In between the opening of the gates stood another guy with a clipboard, watching us approach on down the trail.  I still was aware of them shouting at us, but I couldn't understand it.

What the hell are they saying?

"you did it?"

"you did it??"

Seriously, I'm too far to hear it.  I'll hear it when I get closer.  What exac

Oh, no.


I was closer now.  I could hear them:


So.  It's gonna be like that, is it?

It was.  I was less than two minutes from the cutoff, and damned if there wasn't ANOTHER guy with a clipboard between the gates.  He was going to enforce the hell out of these cutoff times.  JFK does NOT mess around.

Here we go.

I began . . . to sprint.

I my mind, I'm sure I looked totally badass and cool, sprinting after having run over 34 miles.

Barefoot running, haha how lame.

 Instead, I'm pretty sure I looked like this:

Actual video from the course.

According to my Garmin's real-time tracking, I'd gotten down to actual 5K pace during this short stretch, so clearly I had SOMETHING still in me, although any sense had long since left.

I mean, if that gate had closed, I suppose I could have gone through it.

But no need.  I ran past clipboard guy, and could still hear the girls shouting times behind me.  I immediately turned to the aid station staff at mile 34.4, and basically screamed at them, "DID I MAKE IT?  DID I MAKE THE CUTOFF?"

A nice woman wearing a string of Christmas lights and a Santa hat said, "Yes, you did.  We have Coke here, and hot drinks at the end of th--"

Sorry lady, done talking.
At this point, I had already walked on, and was grabbing Coke cups, guzzling them, and moving on.  I really feel bad, in retrospect.  The women and girls were done up SO nicely.  They had lights, Christmas music, and they all really went for the "Miracle on 34th Street" theme.  All I knew was that I was in trouble.

Mile 34.4 (Snyder's Landing Station) 

Cushion to next cutoff:  NONE.
Remaining distance:  15.8 miles.

I had to cover 4 miles in the next hour, which is of course child's play.  Unless you've just covered 34+ miles already, and have blown out legs from hopping over logs, instead of stepping on them.

I walked from the aid station, trying to breathe, and trying to get some sort of control over myself.  I'd made it, and now had one more hour of life in this race.  This was no longer about getting to 50.  This was about getting to the next cutoff point.

Just then a woman runner walked next to me.  I believe her name was Cheryl.  She shook her head in a mixture of disbelief and dejection, and said, "I've never come so close to being swept off a race before."

I'll bet, Cheryl.  And I'll bet you haven't been dreaming about this for months either.

We commiserated as we trotted a bit, and I tossed a half-eaten chocolate bar into a trash bag by the path.  It was time to churn again.  Over the next hour, Cheryl and I kind of slingshotted past each other.  My head was settling down by this point, I wasn't as dizzy.

Neither Cheryl nor I understood how we'd lost time as we went on, since both of us thought we were on pace to beat cutoffs (answer below).  But we pressed on.

Movement is life.

You did it once.  You can do this again.  Four fucking miles.  FOUR.

I pressed on, and incredibly, in the distance, I saw something beautiful.

Holy crap.  Are those Parked cars?

They were.  Parked cars meant people.  People meant an aid station/checkpoint.

As I got closer, I started to point ahead, and asked (a little too aggressively), "IS THAT THE AID STATION?"

Sympathetic spectators said, "Yes, you're right there, just X away."

I churned a little more, and ran past another person with a clipboard.

I was at the even-more-famous "38 Special" Checkpoint at Taylor's Landing.  With a little time to spare.

Mile 38.4 (Taylor's Landing Station) 
Cushion to next cutoff:  8 minutes.
Remaining distance:  11.8 miles.

I didn't even LOOK for the fabled homemade Red Velvet cake that makes this aid station so famous.  I grabbed a handful of M&Ms, some more Coke, and kept walking.  I came up to a runner who was walking and crying.  She'd lost friends at miles 27 and 34.  She was the last of her group.

Trying to cheer her up, I pointed out that we had an hour to go just 3.4 miles, to the next checkpoint at mile 41.8.  She sniffled a bit and said, "I think it's less than that?"


She said, "I saw a sign there with the 38 crossed out, and 39 point something written."

Hmm.  This was interesting.  I'd taken MORE than 12:30 per mile to get here, but if I'd gone FARTHER than 4 miles, I could make a LOT of time to mile 41.8.

Suddenly, the Alec Baldwin method was feeling better and better.  I pushed on.

Along the way, I met a great lady named Shonte Shaunte (oops, sorry), who had infectious enthusiasm and spirit.  She was NOT getting swept.  Fine, I thought.  Just stay ahead of her, and you should be good.  The spectre of the cutoff times kept looming in my mind.

They'd been so scary before.

Now, I was starting to think I was regaining ground, and time.

Also, Shaunte laughed at my jokes.

I tried to pick up the pace, re-passing the "Black" of the "Black and Blues" (the other half had apparently been swept off earlier).

That was when it happened.  We came to Dam #4.  The end of the C&O Canal Towpath portion.  And there were the volunteers, armed with "Vests of Shame Courage"

Mile 41.8 (Dam #4) 
Cushion to next cutoff:  25 minutes.  Really.
Remaining distance:  8.4 miles.

I was dumbfounded.  Either I'd increased speed like crazy (honestly, I really HAD pressed my advantage from 38.4), or the mile marker at 38 was really more like 39.something.  Because here we were at mile 41.8, and I had GOBS of extra time again.

The sky was darkening, and my mood was brightening.

Just a bit of sunlight to my mood.

We trotted up a VERY steep hill, about 4/10 of a mile, to the backroads of Maryland, and there it was:

Eight miles to go.  EIGHT.  MILES.  With almost half an hour of cushion to pad me.  
The roads were paved, and I'd just beaten the toughest 10 mile stretch I could have imagined.  My head was clear.  I was ready.

I really think miles 30-40 were harder than 40-50.

No, I'm not setting this up for a "Whoops!" moment.  I really was ok.  And this was, for the first time, where I started to believe I was going to make it.

The next 8 miles were a party. I was ready. Every aspect was working. Legs, nutrition, attitude.

 It was along this way that I'd meet runners, and we'd chat for a bit.  The usual line was something along the lines of, "Have you done this race before?"

It was then that I came upon a guy, and said that line.  He answered, "Yes, I've done this about 45 times."

How many?

Then he introduced himself.  He was Kimball "Kim" Byron.  

Recognize the name?  That's THE guy.  As in, THE GUY FROM THE WASHINGTON POST GRAPHIC.  The guy who's run this thing almost every year they've ever HAD this race.

I was running the JFK 50-Miler with the equivalent of this race's Cal Ripken, Jr., no big deal.  I mean, the winner's trophy for this race is only named after this guy's FATHER OMG

We chatted, ran, walked the uphills, and Kim just told me a few quick tales.  All of this was in between my not-so-subtle fretting over the possibility of missing the cutoffs.  He looked me up and down as we went, and said, "Ah, you'll make it.  And you'll have about 20 minutes to spare."

(It turns out he was right, within two minutes.  This guy is Cal Ripken crossed with Obi-Wan.)

He found it funny that I congratulated him (at first) on his "legacy," and later referred to his "career" at doing this race.  He was a cool as they come, considering his accomplishments.

He was as easygoing and chill as any other runner.  He even said funny stuff like, "Yeah, the road has a slight uphill by that telephone pole," and then sure enough the freaking road would grade upwards right the hell where he said.

For one mile, we ran together, chatting, but then, despite knowing my cushion, I still pleaded being worried about missing the cutoffs, and that I was going to keep going at our next uphill/walk. I waved goodbye, and moved along.  By mile 6, I had so much time that I could have gone 17:30/miles (i.e., walked) and made it.  This was getting WAY more fun.

Along the way, the kids (teens) who were helping with race support were armed with race programs.  They saw me coming, looked me up by bib number, and then started calling for me by name.

With 4 miles left, I had an hour and 20 minutes left to go, so I was in FULL run/walk mode at this point.  I was stopping at random stations, getting drinks.  I got hugs along the road from spectators, and generally was just loving life.

Then, there it was.

I savored this.
One mile to go.  It was about 6:30pm, so I had about 30 minutes to go one mile.

Trot, trot, walk, trot, walk, trot.

Into the trash went my hat and gloves.

Closer.  You're so much closer.

In the distance, up a long, gradual hill of about 500 yards, I saw a whole lotta bright lights.  That was it.  The finish line.  I started to pick up just a touch of speed, not a lot, but I felt the adrenaline "propel" me forward.  

This was no nightmare.  This was an actual happy dream which I would not awaken from.  It was real.

Once I got within sight of the finish, I recall a few things:

1.  One arm began windmilling in total abandon.
2.  The other arm was fist pumping.
3.  I could hear the mic man call out my name and where I was from, but only barely, because I was screaming.

I screamed the guttural scream of someone with not an ounce of self-doubt left.  

I screamed to release the tension and worry of missing cutoffs, of scary bugs and slippery rocks and nature in general.  

I screamed, because I was so happy. 

I swear 50 miles made me GAIN weight. Damn you, race photos.
I crossed the finish line.  (Roughly) 11 hours and 40 minutes after I'd started, just like Obi-Wan Kim predicted.

After some REALLY high comedy as volunteers attempted to cut off my timing chip (I'd tied it through my laces), I took this iconic (to me) photo:

At this point, my phone basically melted from texts, tweets, and an attempted call or two. I read EVERY mention.  I was grateful for EVERY one of them.  It meant a lot, and reminded me how wonderful social media can be.

Do NOT feel bad for me that I finished this race and was alone.  I had SO much support for this race.  And the train wreck that was my personal life in 2013 was long gone.  Things are good.  I was fine finishing alone.  Who the hell would want to SMELL me??
By the way: The next day, Felog, of suggested a slight change, since, you know, ultrarunners love having beards:

Hahahahahahahaha!!!!  No.
I finished close enough to the end of the race at 7pm that I hung out at the finish and cheered in runners (like the "Black" half of the "Black and Blues," Shaunte(!), and of course Kimball!).  I later learned that Cheryl had finished a little earlier, as well as the friendly Georgia runner"Motivational Mike" and Red both crushed the course.  We lost a lot of good runners to the cutoffs, but many, many people gutted this race out and made it.

Then, the mic man, and the RD were talking over the intercom, and there he was -- a finisher was coming in with just a couple of minutes left.  Yay him!  He's apparently done some insane number of marathons, so that was great to see him come in.

They take the cutoffs SERIOUSLY at JFK.  They are sacrosanct.  I was about to find out how much so.

All that was left was the countdown.  They do an ACTUAL countdown of the JFK race clock before they switch it off.  I managed a quick video of it (I used IG, thus the jump in the time).  You can see the RD shaking hands at the 12 hour count, because the race was OVER.

They were emphasizing that there were only TWO shuttle buses left to take people back to the race start (where my car was), so I was about to leave.  That was when one guy on the mic said, out loud, "Oh, I think someone else is out there."

There was.  A person hadn't been swept at mile 46, or he'd made that cutoff.  Something. But he'd missed the finish.  He was running on pride alone, because he wasn't going to be recognized as a finisher.  No medal, no finishing time.  He'd missed it by about 3 minutes.  We stood along the railing and cheered him in anyway.  Wow.  Heart-wrenching.

Unfortunately, there was very little time to dwell on that, though.  I was on my own, and I had a bus to catch back to my car.  I caught the penultimate shuttle, which was a large school bus.  I found a seat next to an older gentleman (the level of effort to go up the bus stairs and then sink down into a bus seat was hilarious).  Within minutes, we were chatting.

He was a local runner, and was in his mid-late 60s. He'd done the race quite a few times, and I let him just . . . talk.  I listened, happily. He talked about running the race years ago in sweatpants, and how they didn't have gels when he first started out.  He talked about some of the snowy years of this race, all the while discussing the bus driver's chosen route back to the start line.  He was a gem, and quite the badass.

Booyakasha!  Much respect, Yo.
The bus driver got us back to the start, and as we stood up, I told him he was 10 times as tough of a runner as I'd ever hope to be, and thanked him for chatting me up.  He said, "Anyone who can pull this thing off is plenty tough, have a good night."

I then stepped off the bus . . .

. . .  and realized I'd forgotten where I'd parked my car.

It was COLD out there.  I wandered the school parking lot, looking for whatever little side lot I'd parked in earlier.  Well, this would be a fun end to the day.

Of course I found it, but once inside it, I had a sudden bout of about 10 minutes of just uncontrollable shaking.  Very hardcore trembles, very scary.  I ran the car to try to warm up the engine, but there was a definite, "Uh-oh, I've dorked myself up" moment.  I seemed better after a bit, and managed to drive back to the Ramada.  I still don't know if it was the cold, or finally being alone after 12+ hours, and all the tension just left.

Once back at the hotel, getting out of the car, I had to re-fish ALL of my crapola out of the trunk, including a rolling suitcase, because I'd checked OUT of the Ramada, and was going to now re-check back in (they said that the night OF the race has a drop-off of guests, so they thought I'd be fine to rebook).  If I'd missed the cutoff, I had zero intention of staying there.  As I struggled to walk back into the hotel, still wearing my bib and my medal, dragging my suitcase, I walked slowly past two couples standing outside whatever restaurant is built into the Ramada.  There, we had the following exchange:

Woman #1 in group:  Excuse me?  Was there some kind of race today?

Woman #2:  Oh, did you run a marathon?

Woman #1:  Wait, is that from the 50 mile race?  Did you run that?


Woman #1:  THAT'S GREAT!  So, um, can you take our picture?


They wanted a picture to commemorate eating at a Ramada restaurant on a Saturday night out, and who better to take it than a guy moving like a 90-year-old dressed like a chubby sausage with bright red shoes?

Here's what I should have done:

But, instead:
I'll show you assholes.  I'll take the shots in PORTRAIT not Landscape!

 I (finally) got back to my room, and peeled out of my clothes.

The shower was "Princess Bride Perfect Kiss" level.  It was AH-MAY-ZING.  I then went downstairs, because the Ramada was hosting a free reception (cash bar) for JFK finishers.  I had ZERO appetite still, but I knew I should eat.

Beer and cake FTW?

I got a chance to chat with Mike Spinnler, the JFK RD, and he told me more about the principle of stepping where the person in front of you steps, why you don't jump over logs, all that stuff.  Surprise, he couldn't have been nicer.  I still had no appetite, and really didn't get it back until Thanksgiving, when OH HELL YES IT CAME BACK.


Also, and here's the answer, I finally did the math on why/how I lost all that time in the middle of the race, and how I got it back.  

Simply put, I failed to prepare.

All I did was just take 50.2 miles, divide it by 12 hours, and that was that (so roughly 14:20 minutes per mile).  I kinda thought the cutoffs were spaced to keep you at that pace. But they are NOT, and with good reason.

When I finally sat down and crunched the numbers, I ran math on what pace people would have to maintain to make the cutoffs BETWEEN each checkpoint, not just to finish the race. Here they are. 

First, for the 7am starters: 

Start to 9.3 miles: 16:07 minutes per mile pace.
9.3 to 15.5 miles: 19:21 minutes per mile pace.
15.5 to 27.1 miles: 11:38 minutes per mile pace.
27.1 to 34.4 miles: 10:16 minutes per mile pace.
34.4 to 38.4 miles: 15:00 minutes per mile pace.
38.4 to 41.8 miles: 17:38 minutes per mile pace.
41.8 to 46.0 miles: 14:17 minutes per mile pace.
46.0 to 50.2 miles: 14:17 minutes per mile pace.

Anything jump out at you?

The thing is, they give you EXTRA time on the AT portion to get through it in one piece.  But then they have to get you OFF the C&O Towpath before dark.  So you have to make up that time.  Basically, if you can make it to mile 34.4, you're in good shape.  If you can make it to and through mile 38.4, you're in great shape.  If you can make it to mile 41.8, you're almost assured of a timely finish (except for that one poor guy I saw).

Next, here are the pace requirements for the 5am starters:

Start to 9.3 miles: 22:34 minutes per mile pace. 
9.3 to 15.5 miles: 19:21 minutes per mile pace.
15.5 to 27.1 miles: 12:55 minutes per mile pace.
27.1 to 34.4 miles: 14:23 minutes per mile pace.
34.4 to 38.4 miles: 18:45 minutes per mile pace.
38.4 to 41.8 miles: 17:38 minutes per mile pace.
41.8 to 46.0 miles: 14:17 minutes per mile pace.
46.0 to 50.2 miles: 14:17 minutes per mile pace.

Almost the same deal.  Except get to mile 34.4, and you're better off than most.

Sandra, of "So What I Run" did a MUCH faster JFK Race Report than I did, and printed my calculated numbers ahead of me after we were discussing the issue online.  You can read her (very entertaining) race report and see that she struggled with the same issues I fretted panicked over during the race.  Sandra lists a few things do do (and not to do), which I heartily endorse.  I might do a follow up blog post along those lines, publish it without fanfare, and just see if anyone eventually finds/reads it while they Google doing JFK.  What the hell do I care if anyone reads it?  (Edit:  I did.  Here is a link to my revised JFK cutoff times with their new format!)

Remember, I'm not a RunBlogger, I'm a RunBlahgger.  I don't fit in.

Monday at work, post-JFK, I did actually bring my medal in, because I had a lot of support there, and they wanted to see it and chat about the race.  I'd worn my various medals the next day at Disney, after doing 2010 Goofy, but just couldn't really fathom wearing this all day as I typed appellate briefs in my office.  It would have just felt weird.  

Oh, the things I did when my office door was shut.
But I happily produced it when people came to ask about the race.  Still, both M of ReadEatWriteRun and Jennifer each asked me how I was doing, so I briefly tweeted this out (and then deleted it!).

May it please the Court, it's casual suck-it day.
I was running by Wednesday, nice and easy, but moving fine.  By the weekend, it was as if I hadn't done the damn race (and I was full of Thanksgiving leftovers).

There was NO post-JFK letdown.  For once, there was just a certain amount of pride.  If you know anything about me, you know that pride has the same effect on me as sunlight does on Dracula.  But, there it was; I was proud of myself.  I wasn't proud of making one cutoff by under TWO FREAKING MINUTES, but so many people were stuck behind trains, gates, time cutoffs that I can't be too upset with myself.  The JFK facebook group noted that this year featured one of the highest amounts of people being swept off the race for some time.  No idea why that was.

Will I do this race again?  Well, first, I'd have to re-qualify for it.  That will take another year of training to run FAST again, not just long periods of running slowly.  

But . . . yes.  I want to try this again.  One more.

I want another crack at this course, because now that I know what the AT is like, and what the pacing situation is like. I'm in a place where I'm not scared of the training, and it's no longer a huge unknown.  For someone who grew up perpetually afraid of his own shadow, this race gave me just a kernel of confidence.  You just have to know what to focus on.

It's about time, and it's about:  time.


  1. Wow - brilliant recap. Goosebumps. You should indeed be proud.

    1. Still laughing that we were reading each other's blogs at the same time (blog jinx!). Thank you so much Kim!

  2. Anonymous10:43 AM

    Congratulations on a good race and an entertaining race report.

    1. Thanks very much Mark! Cheers and happy trails!

  3. That is the best race report storytelling I have ever read. It was a roller coaster ride that I felt I was on with you. So glad you made the finish!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, and that's high praise, I'm really grateful!

  4. I've seriously signed in like 3 times trying to post on this thing!! Great story!! Loved every minute of it!! This is Shaunte'...oh you might remember it as Shonte'...lmao!!! This was posted on the FATRUMPS Facebook page! Congrats on your finish, hope you decide to do it again!!!

    1. Heya Shaunte!! Yeah, unfortunately, I don't know much about blogging. Or running. Or webhosting. Really, I'm a mess. But I'm so glad you came to stop by!! You and your running partner were a breath of fresh air for the final stretch. <3