This race report is a bit late, but in the world of a special education teacher, writing IEPs has to come before writing blogs. The JFK 50 Mile did not quite pan out the way I had hoped, but it was still a fantastic weekend full of excitement.
I went into JFK feeling pretty good. My patellar tendon had begun nagging when I fired things up after Tussey Mountain Back, but I didn't think it would be an issue because it didn't bother me in the 10 days leading up to JFK. Even so, I did cancel a few speed sessions that I had planned to do between Tussey and JFK; I figured I would go into JFK with a little extra rest.
On race day I felt good and started out the race conservatively. My strategy was to get through the Appalachian Trail (AT) without getting hurt and then ramp up on the towpath. I came off the towpath in just over two hours, which may have been a bit too conservative in retrospect. I was really glad to get off the AT because near the end on the descent my patellar tendon started to tighten up a bit. It was not anything severe, but it was enough to feel it, and I was hoping the smooth, flat terrain of the towpath would loosen things up. The colder weather, and not wearing anything to keep it warm, may have caused the minor flare-up.
When I began the 26-mile stretch along the towpath, I felt like I was cruising at around 6:40/mi. I could definitely feel my patellar tendon for the first 9 miles along the towpath, but I didn’t feel like it was hampering me. The worst part was wondering if it would flare up progressively throughout the race. Thankfully it did not get any worse, and by mile 24.5 I did not notice it again for the rest of the race. When I reached the 24.5 mile marker I realized I had slowed a bit since the start of the towpath, and I was only averaging just under 7:00/mi pace. Since I came off the AT in just over two hours, I knew I had to pick up the pace. However, my struggles continued and I could not seem to get any turnover out of my legs. I finally was able to pick the pace up a bit when Graham Peck caught up to me just before mile 30. He went past me, and instead of continuing on at my current pace, I went with him. We ran together for the next 8 miles, moving into sixth and seventh place (we had been in ninth and tenth but managed to catch some guys who appeared to have been a bit too aggressive on the AT).
By about mile 38 I was by myself again, after Graham dropped off the pace. I began to slip back into another funk where I could not seem to get a good rhythm going. Once again, I began to hear another runner coming up behind me. This time is was Mike Bialick, a fellow Midwesterner. As soon as he went by me, I sped up and passed him back. We went back and forth for basically the rest of the race before I managed just enough of a gap on the road stretch to finish ahead of him.
I entered the road in sixth place. At that time it had already sunk in that I would not be recording the type of race I had planned on coming into JFK. I glanced at my watch and began to realize it would be a struggle to break six hours, and that realistically it would not happen. I pressed on for a mile or two on the road before Michael Arnstein zipped by me, bumping me back to seventh place. He seemed optimistic. I was unable to keep up with him, so he put about a 2-minute gap on me before the end of the race. When all was said and done, I finished with a time of 6 hrs, 5 min, and 7 sec, and in seventh place.
Before the race, my plan was to be conservative on the AT and get in a solid rhythm on the flat towpath. I had hoped for that rhythm to be closer to a 6:30/mi pace, but it was not meant to be on that day.
The post-race festivities left little to be desired. I was privileged to be able to meet a lot of fellow ultrarunners. It was great to hear Ellie and Max talk about their inspiring performance and get to meet the freshly christened 50-miler Trent Briney, whose debut left him with the second fastest time in race history. I was able to talk extensively to Ian Sharman, who ran to a solid 4th place with a time that would have won the race most years. It was yet again another reminder of how down-to-earth and friendly the ultrarunning community is at all levels.
Later that evening and the next morning I was privileged to meet and talk with many Team RWB veterans from various branches of the military. JFK brings out many of the veterans through the support of race director Mike Spinnler, and Team RWB founder Mike Erwin. They are such a great group of folks, motivated to push outside their comfort level.