The 52nd Annual JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon was on Saturday November 22, 2014. It was my 6th JFK 50 (see previous year’s summaries: 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008). This year my time was about 23 minutes slower than my 2011 course PR. Although I thought a PR was possible this year, perspective suggests that 50miles is 50 miles and there are many more ways to quantify the experience than the finish time.
Throughout the previous years I had focused mainly on cross-training for single leg stance stability and training more aerobically. This year I added adjustments for a low glycemic diet with lots of healthy fat.
Training for this event was close to the plan. I did one long running event (Sloppy Cuckoo 12hr) about 7 weeks before at 32.5 miles. My longest other run was five weeks before at 28 miles; with a back to back 22+14 two weeks before. My approach is always to train on technique and not do too many miles or too many long runs. I had planned to do a 30-35 mile run three weeks before but that did not happen. I tapered about one week with a 13 mile week.
Pre-race consisted of:
- 5:15AM: One Tbps of Coconut Oil
- 5:30AM: Vega Protein and Vitaminal Earth mixed in water
- 6:00AM: UCAN with Vega Pre-Workout Energizer mixed in water
- 6:15AM: 6 oz. of ASEA(*)
- 7:00AM: Race time
The Course (as described on the JFK 50 Miler website), maps:
“The first 2.5 miles are on a weel-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 about 20 degrees and increased to about 40 degrees. There was a 5+ mph breeze from the west which resulted in a headwind at times and a tailwind at times.
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 shirt, light wind vest, loose tights over shorts, Inov-8 F-Lite 195 shoes, Garmin 610 GPS watch, a handheld water bottle and a fuel belt packing UCAN, vFuel and electrolytes.
The first section is about 2.5 miles of road up to the beginning of the AT. My uphill split time to the AT was about the same as in previous years.
The Appalachian Trail (AT):
The next 13 miles you are on the AT; 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) some short sections for efficiency. At mile 5.4:
- Fuel: v Fuel gel
- Back onto the technical single track
At the next aid station at mile 9.3:
- Fuel: UCAN plus Vega Pre-Workout Energizer.
- 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 two Hammer Endurolyte electrolyte tablets plus one Magnesium table 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. I gave him my tights and:
- Restocked fuel
- Had about 5 oz. of ASEA(*)
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 2:48:54. Just onto the tow path, I had a vFuel gel.
The C&O Canal Towpath:
The towpath is upriver (read slightly uphill) for 26+ miles. My goal was to run a 4 hour or better marathon on this section which is about a 9 min/mile. I started out feeling great through about mile 25, then started to slow down a bit. I reached my Dad at mile 27 about 2-3 minutes behind the plan. From mile 27 to 38 I struggled a little bit and my pace dropped; at about mile 35 I knew my towpath goal was out of reach and a new PR was slipping away.
About every three or four miles there was an aid station on the towpath. I stopped briefly at most to add a little water to my bottle, but kept moving. Here was my intake on this section (approx distances):
- Mile 21: UCAN + Pre-Workout mix
- Mile 25: vFuel
- Mile 27 Aid Station: Met up with my Dad, restocked fuel. Had a cup of soup broth for the salt.
- Mile 30: UCAN + Pre-Workout mix
- Mile 35: vFuel
- Mile 38 Aid Station: Met up with my Dad again, had another cup of soup broth.
- Mile 39: vFuel
- Mile 41.8: the end of the towpath.
The Roadway to the Finish:
The last 8.5 miles is on rural roads with rolling hills. Leaving the flat towpath feels really good to have terrain again and because you are now heading directly towards the finish line.
I ran much better here but still did run/walk intervals to manage my energy. I was able to run more and with more pace; particularly downhill where I really let myself go with the hills. My fueling:
- Mile 44 Aid Station: Cup of soup broth and a small cup of boiled potatoes with salt.
- Mile 46+: vFuel
- Mile 48.5 Aid Station: vFuel
From mile 48.5 I started off downhill to the finish, really let myself go and focused on cadence/fluidity. One turn and a last little uphill and then you can see the finish line.
(Finish line image above at mid-stance; a little fuzzy coming off of video but a reasonably efficient stance position with a touch of elbows winged outward.)
We walked to the car right away and I felt much better than in previous years; tense but not tight and fatigued but not wiped. At the hotel, I immediately had about 8 oz of ASEA(*), then some Vega protein drink, then a hot shower. At dinner and afterwards I was moving around well with a bit of mid-quad soreness and a sore right foot from a mis-step on the AT.
The Ongoing “Practice”:
During the run I used a number of technique focus points but more importantly many focus points for mindset. In general I am a fairly efficient runner, and this event was all about keeping my head in the game when the adversity started to creep in.
The focus points all utilized a 3-step “waltz” cadence count to promote a light and quick turnover. For example, on the highly technical AT, where one mis-step could end your day, the count was safe-2-3, safe-2-3, … at times on the towpath it was faith-2-3, faith-2-3 or yes-I-can, yes-I-will, …
This was a key objective and the key take-away. I could have easily folded like I did last year; but now had a few more mental tools to keep me positive which allowed me to regroup at mile 38 and finish strong.
90%+ mental. Always has been, always will.
Sub-take-away: If I want to PR again here I will need to modify my training a bit; cross training for leg strength not just stance stability, looonng run training, breathing efficiency training.
It is easy to get in your head out there; at these distances your “stuff” usually creeps in to test you. But on an ultra marathon course there are so many people to help you through it – the other runners, the volunteers and the spectators all along the course were great. Plus you can’t help but think about all the virtual support from family, friends and colleagues. Thank you all.
And another very special thanks to my Dad for making the trip and being my support crew.
Update: On Tuesday 11/25 I ran to the gym, did a roll out/stretch out and then ran home; a few miles total. 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. Friday 11/28 I did another short run to/from the gym. The next day Saturday one week post-race I did a longer recovery, ooops tempo, run with no issues.
[* Please contact me if you would like to learn more about ASEA, an overall health plus athletics resource that has resulted in numerous benefits to my energy level, sleep quality, endurance and recovery. If your body has cells in it … I highly recommend taking a look at this resource.]
[If you really need to know the numbers: total time: 8:41:37, average pace: 10:24. Finished 150 out of 912 starters/808 finishers. 42nd out of 218 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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