The 51st Annual JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon was this past Saturday November 23, 2013. It was my 5th JFK50 (see previous year’s summaries: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008). This year my time was an hour+ slower than my 2011 PR, but not my slowest. Although I had aspirations for another PR, in retrospect it was simply good to completed this event after having to miss it last year.
Throughout the previous two years I have been balancing time on my feet with cross-training for single leg stance stability and increasing upper body strength. This resulted in a very strong/stable feeling over my feet. I also started training more aerobically and breathing only through my nose on most of my runs.
Quality preparation close to this event was limited due to schedule and distractions. I did one long running event (Blues Cruise 50K) 6 weeks before. My last long run was two and a half weeks before at 28 miles. My approach is always to train on technique and not do too many miles or too many long runs. I tapered about one week with a 12 mile week.
Two weeks before I volunteered at an personal development seminar for 5 days with little time to sleep let alone try to get a run in. This left me very drained and with a slight chest cold. Then the weekend before I traveled (driving) again to and from NC for a long instructor weekend. Then I focused on rest but was still managing the slight chest cold leading up to race day.
An ongoing area of focus for me has been fueling. My plan was to use UCAN exclusively for fuel about every 6 miles, but my race day conditions did not support that. Race day started with 6 oz. of ASEA and a two packets of UCAN in 16 oz. of water.
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.”
The weather started clear with temps at 30 degrees and increased to about 45 degrees. At times the sun would dip behind clouds and the perceived temp would drop significantly. There was a 5-15+ mph headwind along many parts of the point to point horseshoe (U) course.
My father was my crew again so I had the option of changing gear along the course. I started with a tech hat, gloves, long sleeve tech shirt, light wind vest, shorts, Inov-8 F-Lite 195 shoes, Garmin 610 GPS watch, a handheld water bottle and a fuel belt packing UCAN and Hammer Endurolytes.
The first section is 2.5 miles of road up to the beginning of the AT. My uphill split time to the AT was about the same as for 2011.
The Appalachian Trail (AT):
The next 13 miles you are on the AT; the leaves were down but did not seem to be a major factor this year. I did tweak my ankles a few times on rocks that moved on me. At first some double track then more technical single track. At mile 3.5 there is a fluid aid station where you move onto a paved park road for about 2 miles. On the park road, there are a number of very steep hills up to a water tower. I Chi-Walked (ChiWalking) s0me short sections for efficiency. At mile 5.4, you go back onto the technical single track. Just before the next aid station at mile 9.3, I added UCAN to the rest of my water bottle and finished it. After the aid station, there is more single track for the next 6 miles.
This second section of AT single track is extremely technical in spots; and either up or down. Lots of rock fields which can be mentally exhausting. At about mile 14.5 the trail heads down a very steep decline with 18 switchbacks. I had one Hammer Endurolyte electrolyte tablet at the top which gave me a lift by releasing some tension. At the bottom is a crew/spectator location where I saw my Dad and restocked my UCAN.
My goal was to get off the AT at the 15.5 mile aid station at 2:30. I was a few minutes late and crossed the aid station exit mat at 2:42:40. At the aid station I mixed UCAN in some water and finished it walking about 200 yds.
The C&O Canal Towpath:
The towpath is upriver (read slightly uphill) for 26+ miles. My goal was to run a 4 hour marathon on this section which is about a 9 min/mile. But I was having trouble pacing myself; and at about mile 21 my brain energy was dropping. I could run fine physically, but my brain was not happy and forced me to use a run/walk. This has happened before and I thought my UCAN fueling plan would limit this, but that was not the case.
About every three or four miles there was an aid station on the towpath. I stopped briefly at most of them. Here was my approx. intake on this section (approx distances):
- Mile 21: UCAN mix
- Mile 24: Two orange slices, handful of potato chips and a holiday peanut butter cookie! I did not feel right about not having it when the volunteers were so proud of their creation … yum.
- Mile 27: Met up with my Dad, had a cup of soup and a handful of potato chips. The plan was more UCAN at this point, but I switched to higher glycemic fuel to address the brain energy issue.
- Mile 30/32/34: Had a few orange slices where available, and some hot soup.
- Mile 38: Met up with my Dad again, had another cup of soup and part of a PB&J sandwich. We also added another wind vest since the wind was building and would be directly at me once I turned toward the finish.
- Mile 41.8: A few more orange slices.
Mile 41.8 is the end of the towpath.
The Roadway to the Finish:
The last 8.5 miles is on rural roads with rolling hills. Getting off the flat towpath is an immediate energy lift as you turn and head toward the finish. Once up off the river level, it was clear the headwind would be a considerable factor heading north to the finish. Good thing we added the wind vest at mile 38.
I ran well here but did run/walk intervals to manage my energy/cognition based on the terrain. I was able to run more and with more pace; particularly downhill where I really let myself go with the hills. I made sure I fueled well to keep my brain energy up:
- Mile 44: Cup of chicken soup and a small cup of boiled potatoes with salt.
- Mile 46: A PB&J sandwich.
- Mile 48.5: A few M&Ms.
From mile 48.5 I started off downhill to the finish, really let myself go and again let my stride extend out the back. One turn and a last little uphill and then you can see the finish line.
Not the PR I had been targeting. How did this happen?
- I was undertrained.
- I was distracted by schedule and a number of external factors. Perspective would say I was lucky to be back at this distance given the previous ~18 months of personal distractions and challenges.
- My fuel plan relative to training was not consistent. I do believe people can run long events like this only on low-glycemic fuel like UCAN, but for some reason my current physiology and/or my current fitness level needed more readily available fuel. Lots to learn and work on here.
The Ongoing “Practice”:
During the run I used a number of focus points for cadence, lightness, running from my center, downhill running, uphill running and keeping positive when my goal had unraveled in front of me. I now have a long list of focus areas to get me back to and beyond previous performance levels, plus pictures from the course which add to that story.
You have to respect the distance and terrain; whatever that stretch goal is for each of us. Complacency will not get likely it done. It is a delicate balance of training, fuel and mental focus – to name just a few.
The volunteers and spectators across the course were great. Even though I felt warm running, it had to be very cold standing around. Plus I was reminded of the support from my family, friends and colleagues on the course many times. Thank you all.
And another very special thanks to my Dad for making the trip with me and support my running/health/life lesson experiences. He wants to go back and do it again; so I am inclined to make it happen.
Update: On Monday I ran to the gym, did a roll out/stretch out and then ran home. A few tight spots which are good indicators of what to work on, but overall limited recovery. My core is very sore which is good; and my quads are a little sore due to all the steep technical downhills. Overall fatigue suggests lots of rest, so rest I will for a few days at least.
[* If you really need to know the numbers: total time: 9:20:36, average pace: 11:13. Finished 248 out of 921 starters/857 finishers. 64th out of 186 AG. This is significantly off from 2011 when I finished an hour+ sooner in 8:17.]
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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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