Saturday, November 27, 2010

JFK 50 Miler November 20, 2010

JFK was my third ultra and second 50. As was the case in the last two, saying I covered a certain distance just doesn’t accurately describe the race. Yes, I covered 50 miles, actually probably more like 51 or 2. (My Garmin watch died when it read about 45 miles, so I can’t be sure). The race is more than just the distance; it is also what those miles contain. Yes, 50 miles is a lot, but that’s only part of what makes these ultras hard.

The week leading up to the race was stressful. I was PMS-ing horribly. I was bloated and tender as well as irritable. A joy for my husband I am sure. I also have a weird condition called catamenial pneumothorax. To make a really long explanation short, I run the risk of lung collapse around the start of my monthly menses. Obviously this is something I want to avoid. The greatest risk seems to be about 2 days before and after day I start. I was right in the target zone.

Friday I made the roughly 2 hour drive up to the Hagerstown area in Washington County Maryland. The area is a rural one. I saw many farms, wide open spaces and small mountains in the backdrop. I picked up my race number and enjoyed the small expo with excited runners buzzing about.

I checked into my hotel, which was closer to the finish, and started to fret about the weather. My friend Connie Gardner, on her way from Ohio, would be coming in later than planned. She wouldn’t get in till 9:30 pm. Connie did make it and gave me some of her elite and veteran advice as we laid out our stuff for the morning.

5am came quickly and we were up and at ‘em. We got on the road quickly and made it to the high school in Boonsboro by 6:15am. One of the small joys of ultra running is the smaller percentage of women that do these events. Fewer ladies equal shorter bathroom lines than at shorter distance races. I made my final decision on what to wear and carry and handed the remaining items off to be recollected at the finish.

Still PSMing, I took 800mg of Ibuprophen and hoped it would help. I strapped on my Nathan hydration vest, loaded with lots of stuff I may want. I probably didn’t need to lug all that extra weight around but it provides me a sort of security blanket. We walked the 1000 meters to the start line and at 7am sharp ascended up the 2 ½ mile climb to the Appalachian Trail head.

The initial 2 ½ miles up took me about 30 minutes and was a combo of running and lots of walking up the steeper inclines. It’s frustrating to walk so early, but I heeded the words of many ultra veterans to let people go this early on and just take it easy. I entered the trail in 615th place overall.

The Appalachian Trail (AT) was tougher than I thought it would be. But honestly, I am glad I didn’t know. I was told it was rocky. And it is, but somehow “rocky” doesn’t fully capture the conditions. Connie told me to take it as a fast hike. I am not a good technical trail runner if for only the lack of experience on them. My goal was to stay vertical and not twist my bad ankle. That was accomplished. Others were not as lucky. One runner face planted on the trail, broke his nose, lost a tooth and otherwise was a bloody mess. I came across several runners who had also kissed the rocky terrain. One with a nice gash above his nose, another with bloody knees, many with twisted ankles and one poor guy wiped out right in front of me yards from the AT exit.

I grew weary of the rocks those last couple miles on the AT. I cannot tell you how much concentration it takes to make sure you cover the ground in such a pattern as to avoid your own collapse. My eyes were always looking down, looking at the runner’s feet ahead of me, eyeing for the next solid footing. If my mind strayed for even a second, I would stumble. I was in awe of any runner who pranced lightly past me, more dancing than running. They had a special skill indeed.

There was a segment that was asphalt between sections of the AT. I looked forward to this and thought I would be able to actually run more here. But, the road section was up, up and more up! Steep and long the mountain climb continued.

Towards the end of the AT came the switchbacks. In addition to the rocks you now have steep twists and turns with a substantial drop off the side should you misstep. So close to the end I opted to be careful and get off in one piece.

As I exited the AT, in about 3:45 (almost 16 miles), I was relieved to have made it through, what I thought would be the toughest part, injury free. I grabbed a couple cookies, refilled my hydration bladder and ran off to the C&O towpath.

The loose plan here was to alternate running 8 minutes walking 2 minutes. But I felt really good so I decided to walk when I felt like it and not stick to any structured plan. I did take my time at each aid station, which looking back probably cost me more time than I would have liked. I held on to a nice pace while running the next 27 miles or so, averaging 10-11 min/miles with the walk breaks and aid station stops. My goal going into this was a 12 min/m average, so I knew I needed to run faster than that now to make up for any lost time on the AT.

The Baltimore marathon gave out neon yellow shirts as their official swag for marathon runners. In 2009 I got a similar shirt at the Boston marathon. Neon yellow seems to have made a comeback from the 80s and appears to be the new black in the running community. I do not particularly care for this color and started playing a game of picking off as many yellows as I could. I’d focus in one a yellow and reel them in.

The C&O was my kind of running. What many runners call boring and flat, I call fantastic. I was mowing people down for more than a marathon. I looked for any neon yellow shirt to pass, and then looked for any women. Female and in a yellow shirt? Double points. I think I passed a couple hundred people on this section. I was feeling good, enjoying the themed aid stations, like Miracle on 34th Street at mile 34 with Santa.

As good as the aid stations were, the food was pretty much the same station to station. I was craving a salty boiled potato forever and never found one. (I did here later that they did offer some around mile 45). A couple nice guys were cooking Chicken Noodle soup on their driveway, and that was good. Funny what you will accept in such situations. The dry pretzel sticks were like chalk in my mouth. Thank goodness for the coke they offered. I was trying Hammer’s new Perpetum tablets as my main source of fuel. But those darn things turned to powder halfway through from all the bouncing around in the tube. I think this ended up being part of the reason I hit the wall later. I was not properly fueling.

The towpath was fairly uneventful. Picturesque and perfect temperatures. I kept buzzing by people. One lady used me as her human Garmin for a little while, continually asking me our pace and how far we had gone. Made me a little crazy so I sped up to get away from her. I saw some chickens running around, campers, and people with loaded bikes going on a weekend adventure.

Of course things were getting sore. I thought I felt something in my shoe. A pebble maybe had found a way through my gaiters? But, it didn’t move when I wiggled my toes. Maybe it was the band aids I used to tape up common trouble spots irritating me. Later I find that I was developing some huge blisters.

The outside of my knees started to really scream, right where the ITB inserts. My left calf had an ‘almost cramp’ which I somehow willed away before it turned into a Charlie horse. My back started to ache, most likely from my pack hitting it. I took another 800mg of Advil and chugged along.

I passed many inspiring people who had started with the 5am group. One gentleman really stood out and put my effort into prospective. I am not sure what his physical challenges were, but he leaned heavily to one side, his legs were rail thin, eaten up looking, veins bulging. Not a young man, his body looked like a trap to me. Yet, there he was. There he was. What I was doing was easy comparatively.

As the towpath was coming to an end I thought to myself that I would much rather be finishing the last 8 miles on this than hopping back onto the unforgiving asphalt of the roads. Off the C&O and guess what? A big ‘ole hill. Up I climbed. This is where I got that nice cup of chicken noodle soup from two guys on their driveway.

The roads were rolling and I walked just about anything that vaguely qualified as an uphill. Of course, NOW I had to pee. In the wide open farm lands, I had to pee. My radar was up for a semi-private area but none was found. Luckily the next aid station had a porta potty that I almost fell into b/c of my weary legs. More coke and a couple very dry pretzels. Bleh.

These seemed like the longest 8 miles of my life. I hugged the side of the road. Each mile marker seemed to take forever to get too. I had two side goals going into the JFK. One was to finish before the sun set and one was to finish before my Garmin died. The fact that I was given a mandatory reflective vest leaving the C&O didn’t make the beating the sunset goal seem as doable. Then at 45 miles (about 44 on the course) my watch called it quits.

The miles seemed to drag at this point. Up and down, rolling along, more walking than running. I recall passing a sign stating “4 miles to Williamsport”, our destination. It seemed so far still to go.

I was running with a group about this time. We were all quietly battling our own personal demons. I swear I smelled pot. A strong odor that didn’t seem to pass as I continued. Finally I asked if I was the only one who smelled the weed. Everyone started laughing. I wasn’t alone. Apparently someone was having themselves a good time.

With about 2 miles to go, it was getting dark and cold. I struggled for a moment out of my reflective and hydration vest to put my long sleeve shirt back on. Every attempt I made at running ended quickly with a wave of nausea. I can run through pain. Everything hurt to some degree. But it’s really hard to run when you feel like throwing up. In my mind I also knew that I was on my own that night. I had to be well enough to care for my post race needs. With about 1 ½ or so to go I walked it in. It was frustrating but I am sure the smarter thing to do. Somewhere along the way I didn’t get my race nutrition right. I am pretty sure that’s what the problem was.

Of course, I mustered up enough energy with about 200 meters from the finish, to run in through the finish shoot. Thank God I was D-O-N-E! Medal around my neck, tag removed from my bib and I was heading to the warmth of the school. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug someone and collapse into a friend or family. But, teary eyed, I snapped a quick picture of myself holding my medal.

I was already worried about how I would get some decent dinner. Major props to Moe’s for showing up with the nicest people and serving the finishers a wonderful dinner. It was heaven sent. I inhaled it and headed to the locker rooms for a quick change. The locker room was equipped with showers, and actually sort of reminded me of a Porky’s movie. I guess many ultra ladies are not self conscious. I opted for the privacy of my hotel room.

Thankfully the buses that were transporting us back to the start line didn’t take too long to arrive. Half an hour later or so, I was wobbling around the school at the start looking for my car. It was a funny sight watching everyone shuffle to their cars. Once in my car it was another ½ hour to the hotel. I did not plan this very well, as you can see.

The tub stopper was broken in my shower but I took it as a sort of blessing. My plans to sit in a cold tub were thwarted. A hot shower it was with bags of ice rotating around various achy body parts as I ate some choc chip cookies, drank some recovery drink and watched reruns of House.

On Monday I feel alright. I was a bit swollen all over and especially my knees. I tend to gain a few pounds during these events as well. My biggest concern is a numb toe and corresponding pain on the ball of my foot. May be neuroma. The soreness already seems to be getting better.

And so ended the adventure! I am learning more with each of these. I learned that I am not a technical trail runner and will never be unless I get out on the trails a whole lot more. I like the flat, even, boring stuff.


486/1014 finishers

34/75 age group

10:22:58 12:28 pace

2/4 Crofton runners

top 20 local finisher


AJ Johnson said...

Hi Christine, Nice report and a great time. Some where near the end of your report you said something to the effect that you had 4 miles to go and you were so far from finishing. Funny how 4 miles can seem forever, I know how you feel. Congrats on your finish, any plans on doing JFK again?

Jennifer said...

Great Job!! So proud of my big sister.
love, jenny