While JFK 50 was my off season project, I am actually taking a true break for a bit! I’ve never been someone to complain about some time out of the training routine, but…..I am normal and am starting to go a little stir crazy. So, I’ve been reading a lot of buzzfeed. That’s clearly what inspired this post: What my real off season is like!
“I should eat all the food”
…..Why did everything shrink.
“I should drink all the beer!”
……I’m not as young as I once was.
“I’m going to try yoga!”
…….Well that made me feel unathletic.
“I can sleep in till 10!”
….But my body still wakes up at 5.
“I’ll clean my bike and get my gear ready for next season!”
It was 8 years ago when I first toed the line to the JFK 50 mile in Boonsboro, MD. With 3 of my good friends by my side, we ran 50 miles in honor of a good friend who had passed away a month prior. With three more finishes after that, I can frame a lot of my recent life around the years when I ran this race. After getting to 4 finishes, I went back in 2010 looking for a 5th. Unfortunately that day wasn’t my day, and I never got to that 5th finish.
While I have personally reached a new level athletically in the time since then, so has the sport of ultrarunning. When I came in 3rd in 2008, I finished in a time of 8:05. I left that day with money and a trophy. The women’s field was competitive, but it was far from deep. Now at JFK, you will get the top 10 women all running 8 hours or better. The money has been extended to 6 deep. And now instead of women who are in their 40’s that are the biggest competition, I’m facing women my own age. This has been awesome to see develop over the past few years, and I am truly so excited for the future of this sport.
Back to this year. As I was working until Friday evening, it was going to be a rushed pre-race routine. I was so lucky to be staying with Alan pre-race. He hooked me up with my bib and got the hotel room set so I literally didn’t have to do a thing. Major thank you for that one!! While I was time constrained, there were no major hiccups and we got to bed nice and early. The morning of was also fairly uneventful. It was a weird sense of dejavu as I entered the gymnasium of Boonsboro high school. Instinctively I went to the back left corner, just where I have in the other years to set up camp pre-race! I found Emily, another Oiselle bird, and then we were shuffled off into the cold of the morning to head to the start line.
As always, the race started quickly with adrenaline and anticipation. This quickly fizzles when you hit the climb up to South Mountain, and I was chugging along nicely already picking off some women who started out quickly in that first mile. It’s hard to describe how much I enjoy running on these trails, but as soon as I hit the entrance to the AT it’s like I am another runner. My brain turns off and my instincts take over. People always ask me what I think about when I run, and it’s no more true than on this stretch of trail that I honestly clear my mind and simply run. I love the varied terrain: a half mile of rocks, a mile of soft dirt on the ridge, hairpin switchbacks on the way down. As I leave the trail and enter both Gathland Park and Weaverton Cliffs I really do have a moment where it’s like WOOSH à back to reality. Back to the race.
During this time of spacing back in as I entered Gathland, I was told I was in 4th place, and that third was just a minute up. (you can see a video of me heading out of this aid station here at 1:50 in) I ended up seeing the 3rd place girl coming out of the bathroom just ahead of me. I followed for a bit before making the pass with another man. I mentioned to the guy to just let me know if he needed more room to pass me and he took that opportunity but then turned me and said “Follow me! I vill block zee vind for you!” (yep, that’s me, typing in an accent). This guy was awesome – it was pretty windy already and while the pace was probably a bit quicker than I would have set for myself, I went with it because I was feeling good. We ended up getting caught by another group of two (dudes) and I found myself sitting third in this little group. As I continued to space out, I was brought quickly back to reality as my ankle rolled, something popped, and I let my amazing vocabulary showcase itself right there. I quickly moved off to the side and the guy behind sounded quite concerned asking if I was alright. I assured him I just needed a minute, but thanks. I was bummed as I watch the group quickly get away from me.
I took a few minutes to try to walk, and one thing was clear: this hurt. Slowly I started to try to jog it off. I had no idea what to do, but I did know that even if I wanted help at that point I really had to make it about 4 more miles anyway, so I better get going one way or another. Little by little I was able to shake it off and I got back into a rhythm. I was pretty nervous at that point as I knew there were still a couple very rocky sections to cross and one more misstep would probably be the end of that ankle for the day. Luckily though I managed to hang in there, and just prior to the last mile of switchbacks on the trail I passed another girl and descended from the switchbacks as the second female.
A quick bottle change with my parents who were crewing for me and it was time for the much anticipated part of the race: the towpath. 26.3 miles of towpath to be exact! Part of the reason I decided to be so aggressive on the trails this year was because JFK is a bit of a unique ultra in that you get a lot of road runners who come to survive the trails, then proceed to crush everyone in the remaining 35 miles. I knew that if I wanted to break into the top group of women I would need that cushion from the trails. I figured it also wouldn’t hurt to try to push the road girls on the trails a little more than maybe they were comfortable with. I was caught by the third place girl a few miles in, but she fell back again. After crossing the halfway point in the race, I stopped to go to the bathroom and as I got back on the towpath I was met by a group of 3 girls. Yikes! I hopped onto the back of the group and my first thoughts were “omg this is going to be so fun! what a race! the four of us can run the towpath together.”
…..and then I got dropped.
Haha. Okay, not quite so dramatically, but as I noted my Garmin was holding 7:30′s and getting faster, I knew it was in my best interest to abandon that idea and continue running my race . Having pushed the trail section left me with quads that felt pretty cooked before the halfway point, so I knew I was going to have to be very careful heading into the back half.
As it tends to go with these races, I had a bit of a low stretch coming into mile 38. My ankle was bothering me (lucky for me it hurt more to walk than run. Who gets that kind of injury?!?!) and it was here that I was passed and put into 6th place. UGH I thought. I thought I had another 2-3 miles on the towpath when I saw Ryan and Graham who told me that the end of the towpath section was just ahead. Wait, what?! They were right, and my math was wrong. Woohoo! I grabbed some coke, managed a smile:
and headed onto the roads. While 8 miles is still a ways to go, this part gets broken up with 3 aid stations, and really, when you know you’re running home it gets a little easier. Ryan and my parents were awesome supporters too, and even requested my favorite Selena Gomez jams at the aid station to get me pumped up! However, the weather gods were working against us. A cold front was moving in and temperatures had been dropping throughout the day. Increasing winds with gusts up to 20mph sent wind chills into the teens. As we ran through the open farm roads, the cross winds were blowing traffic cones!
With about 5k to go I had a guy to run with who conveniently decided I was the better pacer and tucked in behind me! He mentioned that if I keep this pace we should hit the finish in 7:39 and change. Once again: UGH. In my head, a 7:3x was going to feel way better than a 7:4x after all this work. And I didn’t want to cut it that close!
So, I slowly picked up the pace. I opted to skip the last aid station and kept cruising towards the finish. I was so, so happy as it came into view, and my dad took this sideways video as I finished in 7:38:20 : JFK Finish
With this came a 27 minute course PR. It meant sharing the stage with some amazing, amazing women who are going to be in the running scene for years to come. And it meant proving to myself that I can hang with some pretty fast girls in the ultra world, even if it means I run the race my way.
And finally, with that comes the true off season break! More to come in the next couple weeks as I look towards 2014 and making some plans!