The 48th Annual JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon was held Saturday November 20, 2010. It was my fourth 50 Mile Ultra Marathon and my 3rd JFK50 (see last year’s JFK50 Mile Ultra 2009 Summary and the year before’s JFK50 Mile Ultra Marathon Summary). This year a new approach in a few areas which resulted in a course PR and a better overall experience.
Preparation this year was a little more than last year. In the 9 weeks leading up the the event, I ran between 23-55 miles per week with six runs in the 20s (longest was 30+ miles). My goal was to train on technique and not do too many miles or too many long runs. I also focused more on training for the race course itself; so I did terrain specific runs and a 50% event run at 25 miles which mimicked the event course terrain. This 50% event run was 1.5 miles road uphill, 6 miles trails, 13 miles flat, and 4.5 miles rolling hills. The goal here was to practice all the transitions, physical and mental, the course would present on race day. I tapered only about one week with a 23 mile week.
I also used my long runs to test fuel options. I was experimenting the coconut water, eGels from Cranksports, other gels, and added a supplement called ASEA that aids antioxidant production and function in the body at the cellular level. I have had problems with fuel (ie. bonking) before; and this was the first time I had planned to use gels in an event.
Race day started with water, then two ripe bananas with some cinnamon.
The Course (as described on the JFK 50 Miler website), maps:
“The first 2.5 miles are on a well-paved road that climbs up 500 feet to meet the Appalachian Trail. The next 13.0 miles basically (except for two miles of paved road between 3.5 and 5.5 miles) follow this rolling and sometimes very rocky section of the famous North-South footpath. At approximately 14.5 miles the course goes down a series of steep “switchbacks” that then crosses under Rt. 340 and connects with the C&O Canal towpath. The “Canal” section of the JFK 50 Mile is 26.3 miles (from 15.5-41.8 miles) of almost totally flat unpaved dirt surface that is free of all automotive traffic. The JFK 50 Mile route leaves the C&O Canal towpath at Dam #4 and proceeds to follow gently rolling paved country roads the last 8.4 miles to the finish.”
As above, this year I trained even more for the course terrain and its transitions.
The weather was clear with temps between 38 (start) and 58 degrees. At times on the towpath section there was a very brief headwind as the path weaved its way along the river.
Again this year I was also very lucky to have my father join me as my crew so I had the option of changing gear along the course. I started with a baseball hat, cotton gloves, long sleeve tech shirt, light wind vest, shorts, NB 790 trail shoes, and my water belt.
The first section is 2.5 miles to the beginning of the AT. An uphill with one dip and then up a very steep hill. Using the low low ChiRunning gear I again motored right up the hill with almost no effort. This uphill split was the the fastest I have ever started this race.
The Appalachian Trail (AT):
The next 13 miles you are on the AT. At first, some double then single track. At mile 3 there is a fluid aid station. Then you move onto a paved park road for about 2 miles. On the road, there were a number of very, very steep hills; a few sections I decided to walk. Actually I Chi-Walked (ChiWalking) them using this efficient technique with no loss of speed vs. others while keeping relaxed. At mile 5.4, back onto the single track until we pop out briefly at an aid station and spectator/crew location at about mile 9.3. I was able to unload my wind vest here to my father; and got a very nice ripe banana from him. From there we go back onto single track for the next 6 miles.
This section of single track is very technical is spots. There were a few downhill rock fields which really stressed the quads. As I have said before, it is the most technical trail section I have ever tried to ‘run’ and required constant attention, which was mentally exhausting. At about mile 14.5 the trail heads down a very steep decline. Eighteen switchbacks … some of them you had to physically lower yourself around the turn. My goal was to get off the AT at the 15.5 mile aid station in 2 hours 45 minutes, which was 15 minutes faster than last year. I arrived right at 2:43 and left the aid station about a minute later after getting water and having an eGel. I felt good here; and started out running about an 8:30 pace fairly comfortable.
The C&O Canal Towpath:
The towpath is a gradual uphill for much of the 26 miles. About every three or four miles there was an aid station. I picked my aid stations more consciously this year; only stopping when I needed water or fuel. Somewhere between mile 15.5 and mile 22 I lost an eGel from my water belt. I resorted to an untested Hammer Gel at the mile 22 aid station. Not my plan but knew I had to add more fuel somehow. I saw my father again at the mile 27. He had this look of concern on his face. He just saw me take a few sips of cola and a handful of M&Ms from the aid station. For those that know me this means we have entered survival mode. He had a coconut water for me and a restock of eGels. I saw him again at the mile 38 aid station and he said I looked a lot better. The support at this aid station is wonderful. You run down this tunnel of cheering people for about 100 yds to get to the aid station table. I asked at the aid station about boiled potatoes; and this lovely woman said ‘come with me’. She had a hidden stock of potatoes and let me have one. This is the kind of people who support these events. Dad gave me more eGels; 2 in the pack and one in hand. I would not see him again until the finish. From there I had 3.5 miles to get the end of the towpath section.
The Roadway to the Finish:
The last 8.4 miles is on rural roads with hills. Per last year “Call them ‘gently rolling’ if you want, but not after 41.8 miles.” I started off the towpath running well and passed a lot of people on the uphills. Aid stations at mile 44, 46 and 48.5 provided a brief pause, water, and some added fuel. My energy and focus was consistent as a ran well but walked to release some tension. It was probably a 6 min run/2 min walk cycle. I found it easier to run up/down the hills and walk the flats. I made sure I fueled well during this section with eGels. One at about 44 and one at about 47.
The aid station at mile 48.5 is an oasis. It sits up high at an overpass and you know it is mostly downhill to the finish from here. I had a sip of cola, a few M&Ms and I was off. I knew at this point I had a chance at breaking 9 hours. I started off downhill and really let my stride extend out the back. I passed a few people and before I knew it I was turning the corner to the finish. One last little uphill and then you can see the finish trailers. My last 1/2 mile may have been my fastest all day.
The overall result: A course PR(*) by 23 minutes (over 2008) and 50 minutes better than last year (2009). I attribute this to a number of things; training focus, better fuel, better nutrition, the unique supplement called ASEA I was testing … and yet still much that can be done to improve the result and experience.
Support from volunteers, crew and spectators across the course was again beyond any expectation.
Many people ask Why? (do you do this). A few years ago my running was transformed by ChiRunning. The ultra marathon is one of the many tests I can use to see how well I am running; so I can further develop a skill that will serve my mobility, fitness and health for the rest of my life. You can’t help but learn a lot in 9 hours of practice. You also learn a lot about yourself.
Some of the many ChiRunning concepts used this year:
- Cadence: I carried a Metronome with me to support an efficient turnover AND help me stay focused on different aspects of technique as the terrain changed. I switched it on and off over various intervals. I always started a run segment with it on. In particular, I increased my cadence on the AT technical sections to ensure a very quick, light vertical motion in my feet to reduce the risk of tripping.
- Pedaling a Bike (or Unicycle): All you really need to do is pick up your feet (heels) to keep up with your subtle forward fall while staying in balance. To keep my focus on picking up my feet (heels), I imagined my feet were in cycling toe clips and I could only pick up on the pedals.
- Moving my Center Forward: You are running from position and your center moves forward; the rest of your body supports that movement. The simple act of focusing on your center (core) in alignment allows a greater level of relaxation everywhere else. This is particularly useful when the body is on the edge of tension and cramping.
- y’Chi (“e-chi”): This concept suggests you focus your intention on a point and have a soft focus/effort on everything else. This I combined with the concept of a person ahead pulling me forward as if a bungie cord was attached. This kept me aligned and relaxed; and let something outside of me do most of the work.
There were also many lessons which I will be posting about and working on in the next few weeks. The pictures from the course are very helpful to see what I look like at different points on this course. The main technique questions to ask are “How can I have been more aligned?” and “How could I have been more relaxed?”
There is again much to be grateful for; you know who you are. Another very special thanks to my father for making the trip with me and providing the support that made a huge difference.
As we have all heard, the game is at least 90% mental. In the end … I had another [very] good running [and life] lesson.
In the days that followed I felt good physically, but rested with a little tightness in my chest. A did a recovery run about a week later in the trails, then another one the following Monday and Tuesday. Felt very strong; I really like the post-event sense of being in shape with a heightened sense of strength and balance.
[* If you really need to know the number: total time: 8:56:10. Finished 208 out of 1136. 57th out of 294 AG]
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David Stretanski is a holistic health, fitness and wellness coach and Certified ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor. For more information on David, please see his About Me, Contact page or his website at http://www.eChiFitness.com.
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