“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”
Much like my current relationship with my country (“it’s complicated”), my relationship with the JFK 50 miler was just as muddled. I had targeted this race as a sort of “bucket list” event – a famous 50 miler with a large field and notoriously unpredictable weather, coupled with my first time on the storied Appalachian Trail. Living in NYC, I don’t do much trail running (the Central Park Bridle Path isn’t a trail?) so any mention of a trail being “technical” makes me very nervous. The first 15 miles of the race were on the AT, followed by 26ish on a flat canal path, and then the rest on roads, so I reasoned (rationalized?) that I could handle the canal path and roads, and as for the AT, it was highly trafficked, so how bad could it be? Ha. Note: when a course is described as “treacherous”, there’s probably a reason. I spent the first 3 hours of the race in a single file line 900 runners long, staring at my feet as we hopped and skipped over rocks while we went 1000 feet up… and then 1000 feet down. I was certain I was going to smash my face and lose my teeth. Thankfully, I managed to avoid any falls or dental mishaps (some of my fellow racers weren’t as lucky), and we finally got off the rockiest, most ankle-turning, quad-busting trail I’ve ever raced.
I was so excited to see dirt at the mile 16 aid station that I downed too many cups of soda (my sugary caffeinated ultramarathon drink of choice). The caffeine kicked in and I flew through the next 8 miles, until suddenly, my belly rebelled. The soda’s carbonation/acidity did a number on my mostly empty stomach and voila, I looked like I was 5 months pregnant. I hobbled into the aid station at mile 27, half doubled over (quartered over?), unsure of what to do: my stomach was a disaster and my 3 hour, 15 mile start to the race was seriously messing with my confidence. I hung out (i.e., leaned against a tree) for a little while as Sam and the aid station volunteers desperately tried to get me to eat. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Pretzels? Potatoes? Oranges? NO FOOD PLZ, CAN’T YOU SEE I’M WITH CHILD? I considered dropping out, but after, “watering” a tree with partially digested soda, I kept down some chicken broth and yogged to the next aid station.
With my stomach slowly deflating back to its original “Kelly Belly” size, I kept going, holding steady around 9:00-9:30min/mi. The allure of the flat tow path wore off after about 15 miles, but it was hard to get too discouraged because the course was so pretty – we were running along the Potomac with West Virginia just across the river. Added bonus: shot gun blasts from your local Saturday morning hunters that made this Yankee wish I wore orange.
Heading out of the mile 37 aid station, the once temperate and sunny Saturday morning (or was it afternoon? Or was it Sunday? HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN MOVING?) turned dark and windy. We knew it was going to rain, but it wasn’t supposed to start yet. Mother Nature had other plans. I used the impending storm as motivation to keep going – running in the rain is fun and silly for the first 5 minutes and then it gets old REALLY FAST… especially if you’ve already been running for 40 miles. As I left the cushiony tow path for the unforgiving concrete roads, it felt like I was either in the Wizard of Oz or about to experience the apocalypse: wind, rain, hail, old corn stalks taking flight in the fields, barn doors slamming shut, and debris blowing every which way.
Sam and a couple he befriended earlier in the race (because it’s Sam and that’s what he does) surprised me at mile 47 with a much-needed windbreaker. The temp was dropping and I was soaked with sweat and rain, a not-good combination. I spastically put it on and was back on my way. Mile 48 in 8:08, past a group of three men who were none too happy to get beat by a girl (but that’s for another blog post), mile 49 in 8:15, I had to beat those men. More rain. More hail. This thing is almost over. I want ice cream.
I crossed the finish line at mile 50.2 (yes, 50.2), soaked, sore, and utterly spent. While my time certainly wasn’t a PR, I was in 265th place at mile 2.5 and finished 135th overall, 21st female. I felt okay about the race, especially given my technical trail inexperience and nutrition idiocy. I managed to drive us back to our hotel (we won’t talk about my stick shift skills) where I insisted on celebrating at Outback Steakhouse, primarily because it was across the hotel parking lot and it had a Bloomin’ Onion, of which I was going to eat every last fried bit all by myself. Of course I ordered grilled chicken and broccoli, and was subsequently teased by the other 50 milers who were sitting at the bar with us, but whatever. It was MY celebratory meal. And it was delicious. Also, my appetizer was a loaf of bread.
Thanks JFK, you were as challenging and memorable and complicated as advertised.