Sunday, November 18, 2012

JFK 50 recap

Going into this race, people tried to psych me up (which I appreciated) by saying things like "you've already done this!". That seemed to make me more nervous, because having already done a 50 (55) miler, I had a clue what I was in for, and running 50 miles is no joke. But I did it, and running 50 miles was a lot easier than running 55 miles!

Here's how it all went down. We all know I'm pretty verbose so settle in.

Friday night I got about 4-5 hours of sleep and woke up at 3:45 am Saturday morning. I slathered Body Glide and sunscreen everywhere and gulped down some coffee. My friend Matt was supposed to meet us at our place at 4:15, but he overslept. That's my biggest race fear! Luckily he woke up, somehow, naturally at 4:15 and was able to meet us at a Park and Ride so we could still drive together. 

Eric worked at the bar Friday night (after a full day of teaching), got home around 3:15am, and didn't sleep a wink until we were in the car on the way to the race. So that's a 17 hour workday, followed immediately by a 14 hour race spectating day on no sleep. He wins all the husband gold stars times infinity. 

We got to a local high school for packet pickup about 6am. I found Abbi right away. I'd emailed her the day before asking if she would pick up a JFK jacket for me at the expo - apparently if you don't get one there, you're out of luck, and I wanted one so bad. Abbi is amazing and was like "sure, random internet friend I've met one time, I'll shell out my hard earned money and trust that you'll magically find me in the crowd of 1,500 people to reimburse me". I'm so, so happy to have a jacket and I'm planning to wear it every day forever, because I didn't run 50 miles to not brag about it.

There was a pre-race safety meeting at 6:20, so Matt and I decided to get our packets, go to the meeting, then drop our stuff back off at the car and head to the start. This turned out to be a big mistake.

High school gym full of crazy runners

Taking iPhone pics during the meeting, like any good teacher
 After the meeting, there was a major bottleneck trying to get out of the gym, then we forgot where we parked, so it was about 6:50 before we went back to the school to head to the start. We woke Eric up and dragged him with us. I found Jessica here and was so happy to see her and get some last little tidbits of veteran advice before I was off!

Jessica and I leaving the school - do my Gus make my butt look lumpy?

I knew from the race website that the start was 900 yards from the school but good lord, I'm a runner, give it to me in mile increments! Apparently that's further than I realized, and we missed the start.

This is where we were when the race started. That little red arrow gives you an idea where we needed to be.

When we got up to where we thought the start was we were devastated to see there was no mat - the race was gun time, even though we had chips, meaning we'd just lost at least two minutes. We'd also spent those two minutes sprinting up a hill to the start, which was an excellent use of energy. Furthermore, this meant we'd be in the back of the pack on the AT trail, which has a lot of single track portions where you can't pass people. 

Despite our tremendous mistake, I still felt good at the start. The race starts on roads going up huge hills before you reach the trail, and nearly everyone walks. Matt kept asking me "is this the big hill?" and I kept telling him I was pretty sure it wasn't (and I was right). We were chatting and laughing and I was just excited that I was finally at the race after months and months of training!

After we entered the AT trail, we hit "the hill". I tried to take a picture of it, but hills never photograph well. Just trust me - it's killer. Walking up it had me gasping and my heart pounding like I was in a dead sprint.

I was pretty nervous about the AT trail section, which you may have guessed since my only goal here was "don't break any bones". It let me down. Compared to Fire on the Mountain, it was a freaking piece of cake, and I kept thinking "when do we get to the hard part?". Sure, it was rocky, but nothing like FOTM, and my Brooks Cascadias are super rock shields. I only fell once, and it was on a nice leafy part and there was no blood, so I'm not sure it even counts. I stumbled later and sent a huge rock flying into the side of my big toe (no rock shields there) which hurt like hell, but I screamed out "OW!" instead of "F$%7!" like I normally would have, and I was so proud of myself for controlling my potty mouth that I was able to ignore the pain. 

We were disappointed because we ended up doing a lot of walking when we couldn't pass people on sections that we considered runnable, due to our late start, but it was our own fault. Lesson learned.

At 15.5 miles, we exited the trail at the first spectator station. We had a major freak out moment when we couldn't find Eric, but I called him and he was just a little further down the course, away from the crowd. He had our bags with our road shoes to change in to, which wasted a little time but felt great on my feet and was so worth it. 
Shoe change!
While we'd been getting ready that morning, Matt showed me the bag he'd packed for Eric to bring with everything we could possibly need - bandaids, vaseline, KT tape, that cream that makes things that hurt stop hurting, etc. I told him I'd also considered our race needs and packed something for Eric to bring us.

Had a few of these babies on the trail and thought I was in heaven.
Good thing this was early on, bending like this was not possible later.
We said goodbye to Eric and headed out for a marathon on the C&O canal. I tried to pretend I was back at Hartford, just arriving for the start of the marathon, and it worked decently. Also, doing the math to figure out what mile I was on in my marathon distracted me a bit.

The canal basically all looks exactly the same, and it's boring. Sure, there's pretty views of the water, but those get old fast. Still, I didn't hate this section, I was determined not to let the monotony get me down. I refused to admit it out loud, but by mile 20 my legs were sore, and our conversation had dwindled a bit as we both started to feel the mileage. We ran a portion with three guys who were doing a 28/2 run/walk, and having some fresh faces to chat with helped. 

I was so excited to see Jessica at mile 27 and run with her, and that was really helping to keep me going. Unfortunately, we somehow missed each other, which was quite a blow. I tried not to let it get to me and at this point Matt and I switched to a 5/1 run/walk ratio. We determined that our pace per mile was actually faster this way, and mentally, it was much easier to tackle running for five minutes than running for 23 more miles. I hate to look at my watch during races though, and having to constantly check it was really irritating me.

At mile 32, it was time to split up. Heading out alone is always scary but 18 more miles felt extremely doable. I was feeling really good here, and decided to run to the next aid station. Tthey were all 2-4 miles apart on the canal, and I'd walked a bit through all of them. I passed a lot of people, got a lot of "wow, looking strong!" compliments, and even clocked a 9:15 mile. One guy seemed to think I was going to fast for that section, but in my experience, you have to take advantage of those times you feel good. I mean, 9:15 isn't exactly a sprint.

After the next aid station (which had little tiny mini sugar cookies with frosting - fabulous!), it was 4.3 miles until the mile 38 aid station, which I was looking forward to so much. It's the famed red velvet cake station, and was also my next meeting spot with Eric. Even so, my strong feeling had disappeared, so I went to a 10/2 run/walk ratio. I used pretty much every running strategy in existence for this race. This worked out better since I didn't have to look at my watch too much, and I was leapfrogging with people who were running the whole time.

It seemed to take forever, but when I finally arrived, a nice woman started telling me all the different options that aid station had, and I just pathetically demanded "isn't this the one with the red velvet cake?!". 
Red Velvet cake aid station!
She gave me a (luckily tiny, because I would have eaten any size she gave me and probably thrown up if it were any larger, that's what she said) piece and asked me if I wanted a fork, and I said no and threw the plate away and just started shoveling it into my mouth (that's what she said, sorry this race was a gold mine for them). Naturally I had to eat the cake part first and save the frosting, and just as I took my last bite of cake and was looking forward to licking all the frosting off my fingers (yes, I'm gross) I saw Eric coming towards me, and just held up my fingers and yelled "RED VELVET CAKE!" at him. 

He didn't get a frosting shot

He walked with me while I ate frosting and washed it down with some coke, then I gave him instructions for the finish and headed out. Leaving him was hard, but nothing like my horrific experience of barely being able to put together a sentence when I saw him at mile 39 at Stone Mill.

He asked me what I needed - I said a Segway
There were only 3 more miles of my "marathon" and I was thrilled to get off the trail soon, just because it was a milestone and change of scenery. I got to the "vest of shame" station at mile 41.8. Runners arriving here after 3pm were required to wear a reflective vest because it was assumed they would finish after dark, and while I'd known for awhile it was unlikely I'd avoid it, I'm good at denial and my heart sank when I saw tons of runners walking up the hills in vests. I had no idea what time it was and thought maybe I had been close, but it was 3:24. 

The vest was annoying but the girl who put it on me was nice and cheery, the station was blasting music, and I was OFF THE CANAL. The miles I had left were now in the single digits, and I started to get a little choked up realizing that I was actually getting close to finishing. 

There was a huge hill to start this section, which everyone walked up, and then there were just rolling hills. The hills weren't that big, which was kind of a disappointment because I wanted the mental break of walking up hills! The downhills were nice in terms of effort but they were killing my quads after 27 miles of completely flat running. This section had mile markers counting down to the finish, and each time I saw one it was wonderful. 

I was exhausted, bored, mentally drained, and my legs were killing me. I desperately wanted something to take my mind off running. I hadn't really thought about any of my pre-planned topics, my thoughts were 95% "keep running". I tried to strike up conversation with fellow runners but no one was really going the same pace as I was. 

At mile 44, a miracle happened - I found Kristin! I'd seen her briefly at the high school but with all the craziness I'd never found her again. I was ecstatic to have someone to talk to. Her sister was with her, but was leaving at mile 46, so she was equally happy (I think). We chatted for the entire rest of the race and it was an immense help getting through those last few miles. 

Spoiler alert - we did it!

Kristin figured out that we could still reach our A goal of under 10 hours (my watch died at mile 47) so we ran the rest of the way, other than two hills that I begged her to let me walk, and we walked through aid stations. Seeing the "1 mile" sign felt like Christmas morning, and about half a mile later we whipped off our vests of shame so we could look good (ha!) in the finish line pictures. 

Kristin was sprinting like a maniac to the finish and I nearly died trying to keep up. My official time was 9:53:16 (in daylight!), which I'm thrilled with. At mile 38 I told Eric I'd be at the finish in at least 2 hours, and apparently I beat that, so he wasn't even there yet! Luckily my friend Katrina was there cheering, and she let me use her phone to call Eric and gave me all sorts of congratulations and chatted with me as I regained some semblance of a brain. 

When Eric arrived a few minutes later, I was freezing my ass off but that didn't stop us from taking four different finish line pictures until we got it right. I took forever changing clothes, we cheered Matt on as he finished, and then walked the half mile (that's right - cruel!) to Eric's car.

So worth it to do 50 miles again for a medal!
Final thoughts:

I agonized over detail until the absolute last minute and everything I wore ended up being perfect. I was freezing at the start but warmed up quickly. I'm so glad I wore trail shoes for the AT section, and my socks didn't slide down and give me huge welts like at FOTM. I ditched my arm warmers, gloves, and ear warmer after the AT trail and felt completely comfortable for the rest of the race. I also ditched my hydration pack then and used a handheld, and I'm so happy that I did, it would have made me extra hot and my arms hurt today as it is!

I only peed twice in nearly 10 hours of running, and those who know me in real life (particularly Lily) know this is absolutely shocking. I have no way of knowing how much water I drank but I tried to keep it on the low end to avoid a million bathroom breaks. After the AT trail, I alternated between taking Gatorade and coke at each station, and drank about half of one of those little cups each time. Here's an attempt at listing what I think I ate:

  • About 3/4 of a bagel with almond butter and banana (pre-race)
  • Half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Tiny sugar cookie
  • Red velvet cake
  • 3 potato chips
  • Pretzel sticks - no clue how many, I took two at a lot of aid stations
  • Several small handfuls of M&Ms 
  • 4 chocolate/vanilla sandwich cookies
  • 6 candy pumpkins
  • 2 Gus (although one I didn't finish, because I fell and lost it in the leaves)
  • Spearmint starlight mint at the mile 48.5 aid station, it was so delicious
  • Handful of Cheeze-Its on the car ride home from the race
  • Lots of salt pills - probably 5 or 6
And that's it - it's 9:30 am now and I haven't eaten anything else yet. My stomach is starting to feel better so that will change soon!

It's funny how when you tell people you are doing these races you get comments like "wow, you're so healthy" and then I just spent a day eating the worst diet imaginable. At first, the M&Ms and cookies were delicious, but after awhile I was just grabbing them out of habit because I knew I needed them to keep going. I did feel hungry at all the aid stations until mile 41, and then I was force feeding myself.

I never got nauseous during this race, which was highly exciting. I'm also really proud of how strong I stayed mentally - my low points were nowhere near what I experienced at Stone Mill. I had times where I struggled and felt overwhelmed by the distance I had left but I really focused on staying positive and mentally chunking the race into distances between aid stations. Obviously I felt like hell consistently from maybe mile 35 on, but I still enjoyed the race as much as I reasonably could.

I got so many texts, Facebook messages, tweets, blog comments, and emails wishing me good luck, and I appreciate it so much! Having so much family, friend, and reader support is amazing and was definitely on my mind as I ran. I really don't know what I would have done without Eric. I can't get over how much I lucked out finding this one.

We didn't do four tries for this picture, I was fading fast after dark.

TL:DR - Holy crap, that was hard and fun. That's what she said. 


  1. I can't believe you missed the start haha, what a way to begin a long day of running!

    I had the same mental low point at mile 20. That's when the adrenaline of getting off the mountain wears off and you realize there is a long ass way to go.

    I also only peed twice during the race. We're such twinsies. Except that I beat you.

    I thought you'd get a special medal since it was the 50th year, but it looks the same as last year's. Was the jacket at least special (like did it say "50th year!" on it?)

    I beat you stomach wise too because I went out for Chinese food post race and then had a Bob Evans breakfast the next morning.

    I really enjoy all the ways I beat you. This is taking the sting out of not being able to run right now.

    1. I beat her too. I mean, not in time, but in the important aspects:

      * Her watch died at mile 47. My watch died with 47 miles to go.

      * She had so few falls she was embarrassed to even give her total. I had the awe-inspiring glorious total of (I think) 8 falls!

      * I had soup with noodles at about mile 45! Woohoo! Then I kept tasting it and worrying it might come back up for the next three miles, so all kinds of great excitement there.

      * I had the same fabulous finish as she experienced last year -- run uphill up the road, then turn and run up the grass hill to the tennis courts, then tiredly plunge into the woods (where it is hard to see the path), then run up the really steep hill to the people at the finish line.

      * Drive the wrong way around the beltway b/c there was construction on the other way the night before, and hit congestion in Virginia (where we weren't even the right STATE)

    2. That finish was seriously the worst.

    3. Oh, and we had chips this year! And a mat at the start! Hahahaha.

      Of course, they've posted our times, and we all got the same gun time as chip time, even those of us who started late, but let's not get distracted by details....

    4. PS: I was expecting the steep uphill sprint to the finish line, of course, and that stupid part in the woods where you're almost there but you can't see the stupid signs..... but I forgot about those uphills immediately before that. What a joy it was to re-experience all that.

    5. PPS: Even in the daytime, that part in the woods is stupid and hard to follow. See, this year was educational for me; I didn't know that before.

  2. Great recap! you are awesome for running 50 miles and even finishing under 10hrs. great job!

  3. Wow! Amazing! Congratulations! You look really good and deceivingly fresh in your finish photos (I probably would have looked like death). But you've inspired me to do a 50 miler (someday). JFK50 made it onto my bucket list now. Enjoy your hard earned Wegman's Peanut Butter Cream Pie while rocking your JFK jacket!

    1. There's a much better 50(+)-miler the same morning in the same county. Ask Alyssa for details.

    2. Everyone just ignore this comment and don't ever do a cheap 50 miler.

    3. Because it's always better to get more bang for your buck and do a cheap FIFTY FIVE miler!

  4. Congratulations, Alyssa! That's so fantastic-what a great race and a strong finish, way to shed that reflective vest!!

  5. Harrison told me to tell you that he thinks you are the most badass aunt ever! He can't wait to give you a big congratulatory hug!

  6. Nothing I can write can be worthy of what you did yesterday, so all I can say is that you are incredible.

    Also, maybe the title for this post should be "that time I PR'd by almost 5 hours"

  7. This is so awesome. Seriously, congrats! I cannot even fathom running 50 miles. I want to, but I can't even wrap my head around it yet.

  8. Awesome job! Your husband is probably the best husband ever. Mike would have been a whiny bitch.

  9. Does the jacket fit ok? Now I understand why you passed me on the trail near the end. I figured you were way out in front of me and surprised I saw you. I swear there were less rocks or the leaves covered them better because it felt largely runnable to me too athing I've heard others say the same thing. Weird. You had an awesome race, Congrats on the great finish time...hope you can eat soon

    1. Less rocks this year? That makes my time from last year EVEN MORE AMAZING.

    2. There were not less rocks - what did the rock fairy come collect half of them? We were better prepared having already ran it and doing FOTM!

    3. I admit it, I'm the Rock Fairy.

    4. I'm teaching Avery about the Rock Fairy, way cooler than the tooth fairy.

  10. Congrats! You are absolutely amazing! You can't even tell you ran 50 miles. that first hill is a bitch. i think it looks tough in the picture so i can't imagine what it's like in person. at least it's in the beginning.

    enjoy all the chocolate you get to consume :)

  11. Alyssa awesome race and so glad I finally got to see you at the ned! Congrats!

  12. You are amazing! Congratulations!! Also, you are far too smiley at the end, I'm not sure I believe you ran for 10 hours and are still smiling :)

    Now you and Kara can come out here and run the Leona Divide 50k or 50 Miler at the end of April. It's part of the Montrail Ultra Cup series, just like the JFK50. I can offer housing 40 minutes from the start and I will be an amazing aid station volunteer for you.

  13. The pic of that hill is bringing back bad memories. That was seriously a WTF moment. Also, do we look really good for having just run 50 miles or is it just me?

  14. One of the top three 50-milers you've ever raced, right?

    Hey, they told me (other runners during the race yesterday) that breaking 10 hours (on a qualifying 50, which includes both JFK & Stone Mill) qualifies you for Western States.

    I just went and checked, and it does qualify you (congratulations) -- but actually it is 11hrs, so I made it as well (but no chance in hell I'm going out to fall off a mount).

  15. I'm really disappointed that there are no vest of shame pictures. Also, I want to see a picture of this badass jacket. Anyways, great job and congrats on running an actual 50 miler!

  16. Wow, a big huge congratulations! I still think you are all nuts for running FIFTY MILES, but also think it's crazy awesome ;-)

    Way to go!!!

  17. congrats chica! you are totally badass! way to go!

  18. You are seriously amazing. You should be so proud of yourself; congrats!!!!!!

  19. Seriously awesome! Congrats on such a great run!!!

  20. Congratulations!! I am so so impressed...a sub-10hour 50miler?? That is a KILLER PR! You rock!

    Also, I love that basically got Perry's race recap by reading the comments here. Congrats, Perry!

  21. I'm so impressed with how awesome your race was. I feel like the sheer mental challenge of getting through 50 miles without something to listen to is crazy, let alone actually running the distance.

    So, do you need to run it again next year to find out what your "real" time is, since you missed the start and had to walk behind people at the beginning?

  22. I'm a big fan of your race recaps. You add the perfect amount of detail. I wasn't able to finish reading it, last night, and actually got up & turned on my PC, this morning, with the sole intent of reading the rest.

    You're a badass. You've inspired me to *almost* want to think about running that many miles...
    Congratulations. :)

  23. nice made me nostalgic for the run. i recall riding the bus back to our car last year thinking "well that was fun but i'll never do it again" i kinda want to :)

  24. Congrats!!! I'm with Sarah, I want a vest of shame picture.

    Totally impressed with the lack of falling or puking stats!

  25. Congrats Alyssa! You did a wonderful job coming in under 10 hours. That's impressive (you always impress me with your finish times!). Hope you are feeling good today!

    If I decide to do a 50 miler at some point I'm going to have Eric coach Allan on how to spectate and serve me for a 50 mile race. Eric really is the best! I can't believe all of that after he'd worked all night. Is a 100 mile race a possibility in the future?

  26. Belated, but congrats on the JFK finish! Sounds like you had a pretty awesome day out there.

    I've been looking for JFK 50 reviews because I'm looking to do it this year myself. I'm a triathlete, but I decided to give ultra running a try this year with a couple 50ks and a 50 miler. I have to say, knowing you have Red Velvet Cake to run to would certainly be a motivation for me. After that point though I might slow down a bit. I mean, you do want to have the best choice of pieces (more or less frosting!). Haha

    I found your blog from Abbi @ Higher Miles. Keep it up!!


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