The Last Few Weeks
So I got a little lax with with posting leading up to JFK, but if you care you check out how things went the last few weeks HERE. In short, the taper went about as well as I could have hoped for. I ended up at the starting line feeling pretty fresh. The only blemish was a intestinal bug that knocked me out the penultimate week. It only lasted 24 hours (Monday-Tuesday), but it took me until the weekend to get my legs back. The snow held off until the Thursday of race week which was an unexpected bonus. I was sure I would spend some portion of the taper running on the treadmill.
My feeling pre-race was that I wasn't in the best shape I'd ever been in, but I was in the just about the best shape I could be in given the abbreviated training cycle. I ran a 10 mile race Halloween weekend in 54:38, which was considerably slower than I regularly ran 10 miles when I was in my best ultra shape. So in retrospect I should have been more conservative in my top goals, but I thought I was in better "ultra" shape than 10 mile race shape and I hoped for a bump on race day.
1a. Finish (I'd dropped out of 3 of my past 4 ultra attempts, and the one finish was a 50k.)
1b. Have a good time with Andy.
2. Top 10
4. Top 3
We timed our trip with Charlotte's appointments in Milwaukee. Katie took her for the weekend and I flew out from MKE with Andy. Andy was the best man in my wedding and my best friend. He is very calming to be around so who better to crew during an ultra? Given that we both had 1-year-olds at home it was a sort of break - a chance to sleep in some and recharge the batteries.
The lone "incident" on the way out was the TSA fondling we received. We both got pulled out, probably because we were two men with beards traveling together. The pat-down is a violation for sure, but I was aware that was part of the new search procedures. What got me was that they went through my wallet, took everything out of my bag and did the whole business in front of everybody. We've become accustomed to our civil liberties being eroded inch-by-inch, but this felt like 3-feet.
We stayed in Frederick, MD, about 25 minutes from the race start. Both of us commented that we were not aware that western Maryland was this beautiful. Obviously with the Appalachian
Trail it would make sense, but until we saw the topography and the forested hills with near-full fall colors it never really occurred to us.
We got in about 11:45pm and since we were both starving we went to IHOP for some pancakes. They had scrapple on the menu. Andy put his Iphone to good use since neither of us had heard of scrapple before. "Pork" and "mush" and that's about all we had to read.
Friday we luxuriously slept in until 8:30 a.m. After getting some coffee we drove down to Weverton along the Potomac River. This is the point on the course where AT meets the CO Towpath. We ran out and back along the towpath, throwing in a couple 800m surges on the way back. It was weird to see fall colors and leaves on the ground. We made it as far as the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers at Harper's Ferry. I failed to bring a camera along for this trip but here is an googled image from above:
I'd been having some stomach issues in the mornings leading up to the race, but I was hopeful it would work itself out on race day. It wasn't the worst it's been Saturday morning, but I did walk up to the starting line with a bit of pain going on. I don't know exactly what heartburn is supposed to feel like, but it is around the general area the Pepto Bismol commercials show. As usual, however by the time the running started it eased up and I was running smoothly.
It's quite an experience starting out a 50 mile race with 1000 other people. Within the first 1/2 mile I came up to Afton 50k Director John Storkamp and we ran together up the first hill. Andy and I had driven the first couple of road miles the day before on our way back from packet pick-up so I wasn't so surprised by the grade and length of the climb, but it was challenging by road standards. All those hilly loop runs in training served me well and I eased up it running 7:10-7:30/mile pace. This put me in 11th going onto the AT. And then this happened:
The Appalachian Trail can only be describe in explicatives. I knew it was going to be rough, but it far exceeded my expectations. But I was still having fun. The trail is beautiful as well difficult and while you spend most of your time staring at the ground hoping you don't bite it, it's hard not to smile while doing it.
I backed up a little place wise along the trail and twisted both ankles multiple times, but I did manage to avoid falling. I did underestimate the effort of running on the trail and did not adjust my fueling accordingly. Andy had electrolyte drink and a gel for me at 9 miles (Gathland Gap), but as I could tell on the way to Weverton that it wasn't enough for how hard I was running. My thinking before the race was to keep my stomach issues to a minimum by avoiding carb drinks until I got off the AT (~2 hours into the race). I took electrolytes and gels up until that point. But I still had a heavy stomach at coming off the trail and going onto the towpath.
I got onto the towpath and slipped into my approximate long run pace of 6:40s. I got the sense right away that it wasn't sustainable and I slowly backed off. I couldn't get my gel out of the water bottle holder and had to walk for a bit as I wrestled with it. All in all from about 18-23 miles I thought my race would end soon. I was stumbling, bumbling, but not rumbling down the trail. I came into one of the race aid stations and immediately grabbed a handfull of M&Ms and sandwich cookies. I handed my bottle to a volunteer and asked for Gatorade. It wasn't until I was further down the trail that I realized he gave me straight water. Oy vey, when it rains it pours.
The cookies and M&Ms had helped however and I started to get into a rhythm, albeit slower than the one I hoped I would be in. I finally got to the next aid station about 20 minutes later and went for the flat Coke. That was the ticket.
I saw Andy at 27 miles and it was good thing because I was in a bit of a low point again. He gave good encouragement and Coke (I think). I set off again with the thought that I didn't have 23 miles to go - I had 11 (the next time I would see Andy). I stopped at every aid station along the way (~3-4 miles in between). Grab Coke and pretzel sticks and on my way.
At 38 I told Andy I was taking a mulligan for this race due to the gnarly trail, but if Mad City 100k next April went badly I was officially retiring from ultras. I was still moving well, but I was frustrated that I was running slower than I wanted and how far back in the race I was. I was running mostly by myself along the towpath, passing the occasional 5 a.m. starter. But Andy kept things positive and I had been on an upswing coming into the aid station. I left 38 miles with a renewed vigor and started off down the towpath for the last 4 miles and then the 8 mile road section.
Coming off the towpath and onto the road I was in 11th place with no one in sight either direction. I thought I would just slip into a steady pace and get to the finish. However a couple miles later I came over a small rise and saw two figures bobbing up and down 1/4 to 1/2mile ahead. I stepped on it a little bit and coming out of the 46 mile aid station I caught them.
From there on I was running particularly strong. I "threw down" a 6:24 for mile 50 and kicked it in the last .2 to cross the line in 6:26:24 and 9th place.
I felt good about my race even if I failed to reach my top goals. I finished first of all and finished strong so I think that will be a big psychological boost in future ultras. I also generally enjoyed the race. JFK is such an "experience." And finally I feel fairly certain that I'm largely going to stay away from a big complicated fueling strategy in my next race. I'll do the VESPA pre-race again because I do feel it works on some level. I'll also use a few gels and Cytomax early on in the race, but after that I'm just going to go with Coke, aid station food and the occasional salt cap. It definitely kept me in the race this past weekend.
On Sunday Andy and I took our time checking out of the hotel and then headed up to Gettysburg before driving back to Baltimore to fly home. Both of us found Gettysburg to be pretty cool. It's hard not to get caught up in the history and we left planning on picking up some civil war books when we got back.
And TSA left us alone going home!