Tuesday, November 30, 2010

JFK 50

The JFK 50 in Maryland on November 20, 2010, was an interesting mix of ultra-running and old-school small town road race. For example, when I entered, I sent in a return address stamped envelope which I received back with a little slip telling me I was entered. Of course, I could also just look at the online start list.

At any rate, I seemed to have a good thing going, so after the McKenzie 50K in September, I was on the lookout for another race. I’m happy with how JFK race turned out but in the end, I realized I had lost some of my momentum between September and late November.

My goals for the race included:

1. Run under 6:00 and get a qualifying time to be considered for the USA National 100K Team

2. Score some points for the Montrail Ultracup.

3. PR for 50 mi (6:18 at American River)

4. Get into the top 5 to win some prize money and payback a bit of the cost to get to the race

5. Gain more experience.

6. Participate – JFK is the largest ultra in the USA and has an interesting history.

Start and Appalitaion Trail

I felt good at the start and the weather was just right: sunny and in the mid-40s at 7:00 am. We climbed up a paved road for about three miles before jumping onto the Appalachian Trail. The trail was as promised: rocky and covered with leaves. The footing was tough. I thought the trail section would be my strong suit but when I found myself in the lead, I was a little surprised. I decided to go with it and was rewarded with this live coverage report: “Dan Olmstead of Oregon is the leader, reaching Gathland Gap in 1:05 and looking fit, fast and on fire."

The first 10-15 miles of an ultra are always so much fun. I could probably win most races if I just stopped at 15 and let everyone else keep going.

Tow Path

Around mile 16, the trail dumped us off onto the long flat tow path, a “rails to trails” project. I was still in the lead for a few miles before the eventual winner and first time ultra-runner, Brian Dumm, caught up to me. He was very friendly, and looked comfortable. He was going a bit faster than felt good, so he slowly pulled away.

The tow path had mile markers so I was able to easily check my splits. However, over time I realized they were off. I’d run a 6:45 followed by a 7:45. I really wasn’t sure how I was doing with respect to my 6-hour goal until I got to about mile 30 and realized I was falling behind. Around mile 24, Jacob Edwards, who ultimately came in 3rd, caught up to me and we ran together for a long ways. He also had never run an ultra but had just PR’ed in the marathon in 2:31. He didn’t think we would see Brian again either because he was a 2:27 marathoner. This was mildly frustrating because I have run several 2:26’s. But that was some time ago, and I was not in that kind of shape. A lot can happen in an ultra and I thought there was a chance I would see them both again. I was wrong. Shortly after Jacob, David Riddle, the 2nd place finisher, caught us. As the three of us came into an aid station, two others joined us. By the time I fumbled my way out of the aid station, I was a distant sixth.

A Short Side Note About Aid Stations

My aid stations at this race were horrible. The folks with pitchers of fluid were usually behind the table, busy filling Styrofoam cups. I would stop at the table and start dumping half-full cups into my bottle. After about the fifth cup, someone with the pitcher would usually understand what I needed and would then fill me up. Most of the other guys seemed to have support as best I could tell. I did stash a bag with some Gu’s, a banana and a small bottle of chocolate milk at mile 30. Chocolate milk helps during a slow hilly 100K. At 7:10+ pace, it just makes you a little sick for a few miles should have known that.

It was clear I wasn’t going to get under 6 hours, but I was resigned to stay focused and get as close to pace as my body would let me. Near the end of the tow path at mile 42, I caught Michael Wardian and one other guy. I was now in 4th.

Last 8 miles on paved Road

I was excited about moving into 4th, but was cramping in several places, my legs were trashed, and I was getting desperate. I was taking extra salt, Gu’s, and fluid, anything I could think of to keep me together for a little while longer. With about 7 miles to go, I noticed 5th place moving up. He passed and put on another about 3 minutes by the finish. I was doing about 8 min pace, which, all things considered, I was quite happy with. I scooted across the line in 6:10:30 an average of 7:25’s and was able to hold onto 5th place.

Last thoughts

I’m glad I got to run JFK this year. It was quite a different experience and I really enjoyed the history of it all. I think I made the most of my fitness; I was able to stay in the race mode even when I was really struggling, I set a PR, and made it into the top five. This race beat me up much like a road marathon would, but I’m now feeling motivated to improve my training and get ready for the Bandera 100K in early January.

Congratulations to Amy Sproston and Pam Smith of Oregon who went first and second for the women!