RR: 2006 JFK 50 Miler

(WARNING: LONG REPORT!) 

On November, 22, 1963, Our 35th President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a holiday parade in Texas. Earlier that year, JFK had faith in the American people, and challenged them to get in good enough shape to hike 50 Miles. That same year, a man by the name of “Buzz”, took JFK’s challenger seriously and started an event know as the JFK 50 Miler.

44 Years after JFK’s challenge and after Buzz’s vision, I had the honor of running the event known as “America’s Ultramarathon.” For the 3rd time in as many months, I was lacing up my running shoes to run a 50 mile distance. I would once again challenge my mind, body and soul in a great test of endurance. My goals have always been to finish in under the 12 hour cut-off. But with times of 10:32 (VT50) and 10:05 (Nifty 50), I made it a personal challenge to finish in under 10 Hours.

Many seasoned ultra veterans and runners alike, told me my 3×50 in 3 months was an insane idea and to do complete that challenge would be impressive. I KNEW then that it HAD to be done. After completing 2 out of 3 of those 50 milers, I have all ready learned why they spoke such as they had. The torture I place upon my body running the long and taxing distances, combined with 1 week recovery, 2 weeks training and 1 week taper… was indeed punishing and tough. But alas, here I stood on a cold morning in Boonsboro, MD; ready to finish my 2006 Ultra Running year in style.
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How Long Of A Drive Is It?! 

Hans Bauer met Sarah and I on Friday morning at 5 AM, ready to go on a 9 hour drive to Maryland. We were all excited for the race. The drive down had some special meaning to me however, and it rounded out the year well. In June I crossed the Hudson river to run a race near Pittsburgh, PA known as the Rachel Carson Trails Challenge. On the way home from that race I stopped in Hawk Run, PA; which I know as my grandfathers childhood home. My grandfather, who passed away from Cancer in April. On our way to Maryland we drove through Boonton and Dover, NJ. My mothers’ childhood home, and the area in which my late grandmother called home. Also nearby was where my grandfather served as mayor and police chief of Victory Gardens, NJ. As we crossed the Hudson again, and through these towns, I thought fondly of times growing up and times with my grandfather as I always do before a race.

Upon reaching Hagerstown, MD; we checked into our hotel and headed down the road for the packet pick-up. At packet pick-up the place was mobbed with runners but we made our way in and out, souvenirs in tow without much trouble. Feeling great about the day to come, we headed to UNO’s for some pasta in typical pre-race carbo-loading fashion. Bib numbers, food, beer and in bed by 8pm… we got in a good nights sleep and hoped for the best.
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Race Day!

Saturday, November 18, 2006
7am Start Time
44th Annual and 2006 JFK 50 Miler

Goal 1: Finish
Goal 2: Sub 10 Hours 

We arrived at the Boonsboro, MD Education Complex with enough time to stretch, take care of any last minute “to do’s,” and of course the lavish pre-race meeting. We entered the school and into the schools gym, where we sat down, spoke with various JFK Veterans on tips, and listened to Mike Spinnler and his pre-race pep talk to all the runners. At the completion of the meeting we left the gym and headed for the starting line about 1.5 miles away right in the middle of historic downtown Boonsboro.

Downtown Boonsboro is a quaint little town nestled at the base of Maryland “mountains.” It had a real “home” feeling to it with its various old school storefronts and people bustling about. We were appalled at some of our fellow runners who ducked into various stores, Laundromats and even the bushes of some of these residents home to relieve themselves. These towns’ people are kind enough to allow us to invade their town early on a Saturday morning and THIS is how some of us thank them. Ignorance.

Hans and I toed the starting line which was VERY cool for me. Hans is an amazing runner and I knew for sure he would do well here today. Him standing on the starting line is no big thing… but me being there is another story. I stood behind course record holder Eric Clifton. I stood with Pacific Crest Trail record holder and overall amazing human being Dr. David Horton and even stood with Ultra-GreatHal Koerner. I was star struck and in amazement. Hans took out his child safety scissors (which he runs with) and we acted like complete children ourselves by posing for pictures behind these amazing runners. It was a great time.
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On Your Mark… Get Set….

A man yelled at the 1000 of us who were about to start to get ready. It was a chilly morning and I was shivering. Hans was jumping around. While on the starting line I stared up this rather long and rolling road with mountains off in the distance. I then thought to myself… “How the hell did I end up in Maryland.” Then again, I never thought I’d be running 50 Milers, or a 3rd in 3 months…. or even traveling for these things. But here I was… I was excited… and.. GO! We were off.

I knew I had started out too fast but for some reason I didn’t care. Hans was ahead.. all ready.. and turned back to find me. As I looked ahead, there he was running backwards, scissors in hand jumping in the air in a star fish like manner yelling “woo hoo!” Yes Hans… this IS indeed great! I told him to go for it and he was off. I on the other hand.. Started thinking strategy.
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The Course

The course has a little of everything for everyone. We start by running 6 miles on rolling paved roads that wind their way through the Maryland countryside. Followed by 10 Miles on the Appalachian Trail. The AT section is said to be “ROCKY” and “Techinical” by most… but being from New Hampshire… I found it to be actually race incredible. In fact, as I sit here now I am still wondering where the heck the rocks were? The course then runs itself upstream beside the Potomac River all the while on the Chesapeake and Ohio Tow Path (C&O). Originally, the C&O Canal was a lifeline for communities and businesses along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, grain and other agricultural products floated down the canal to market. The C&O is 184 Miles long, we ran 26.2 Mile of it. For those who know New Hampshire hiking… just imagine running the Wilderness Trail for 26 Miles! After we get off the towpath, we run 8 miles to the finish through Williamsport, MD along paved farm roads with large hills.

My strategy would be to give it hell in the Mountains, duke it out on the tow path and go for broke on my way to town.
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The Race:

As the road out of town became steeper, I noticed a lot of runners still running. I wondered how many of them were first timers. I decided to pace myself and walk these long hills and run if I felt good on it. I even took time to look back and see the long line of runners. The 5AM start saw 300 runners and the 7AM start (our start) saw 1000. 1,300+ runners were out here, a NEW American Ultra-Running Record! It was an amazing sight.

Which ascending the hill I spotted Dot Helling and a few of her girlfriends from Vermont. Their smiles were certainly pleasant and I enjoyed the talk and encouragement they shared with the other runners.

At the top of the hill we entered the woods and immediately began running downhill on the AT. This was cool because my background is hiking and here I was running on the AT in Maryland of all places. VERY exciting. As we topped out on South Mountain, I looked through the trees and was pleased at a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, rising up through the misty valleys on this chilly morning. It gave me shivers and I smiled… and kept running.

Soon the trail turned more “technical” and the long line of runners started to slow way down. Mountain running is what I am used to and they don’t call New Hampshire “The Granite State” for nothing. I took off down the trail with a series of “on your left” in a safe attempt to pass other runners. I briskly walked up the hills. Soon we entered Gaithland Gap where I saw Sarah and other crews cheering on runners and whopping it up. It was an amazing sight!

I stopped and gave Sarah my glasses and winter hat and took my red ball cap. I also refilled the bottles and an electrolyte capsule. I went to the aid table to search out some fruit but I couldn’t see any! GRRR! I smiled, thanked everyone for coming and took off.

Back out on the trails the line of runners was no much thinner. I was playing leap frog with the same 4 or 5 runners until we got off the AT. Some were good at running UP hill and taking their time down. I was good at running down and waling up. As soon as we made it near Weverton cliffs, I noticed we had caught the 5 AM starters. Many of them were limped all ready and looked tired, yet still wore amazing smiles. It was a warming sight and I made sure to say hello and lend some encouragements. In the woods were ruins of various Civil War trenches. I LOVE history and this was a cool sight as I thought of the many battles fought in the area.

Into the Weverton Aid station I saw Sarah and was in need of a pee break. I ran into the porta potty. Sarah asked if I wanted my watch. Not thinking clearly I said “no” even though the answer I wanted to say was “YES!” I asked her if they had Banana’s and she told me the station was down another hill. So I took off down the trail stuck behind the same line of runners I had just passed on the last downhill. Earlier I watched a guy come barrel assing down the trail, elbowing other runners out of the way. I took the traditional route of saying “on your left.” Well not sure if this one guy heard me or not, but he didn’t step aside.. so I ran in the weeds to his left. He took his eyes of the trail, looked at me and in turn he toed a rock and fell flat on his face. It sounded like it hurt. I felt bad, but this was after all a race and there was nothing I could do for him, so I kept running to the aid station. 16 Miles in at 2 Hours 44 Minutes!

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The Tow Path (Highlights)

I grabbed fruit and crossed the tracks before stepping on the tow path. Now that I was finally on it, I looked up to get a feel of the surroundings. To my left, the Potomac River and across the river was Harpers Ferry, Virginia. To my right… a ditch which gave off various potent smells. And straight ahead…. Tow path and LOTS of it.

I was not feeling good. I was in a funk and couldn’t put my finger on what was causing it. I immediately started doing the run walk and was getting worried. This path was forever long and at this rate.. it was going to take that “forever” to complete. I kept running and walking and running and walking. I was getting frustrated. Soon I saw the Shenandoah River join the Potomac and now across the river was West Virginia. To the right, various farms as well as neat hills made of rock and in those rocks, caves.

All along the towpath, people were running and riding bikes headed the other way. Boy scouts, families, a dude smoking a cigar I choked on and MANY Reston Runners folks. Their club is huge.. and after awhile, though they WERE nice, I got sick of seeing them! Lol. Around Mile 20 I ran with a gentlemen who was “enjoying” his first 50 miler today. He asked me, “how the hell do you do it.” I gave him some pointers and it sounded as if he was going to finish. Though he did park a car at mile 25.

At Mile 28 I saw Sarah. She was in the handler station with a Peanut Butter and Fluff sandwhich. Since it was lunch time I took it. I carried on down the path at a slow pace. My hamstring had been bothering me right above my knee, I got so fed up with it I stopped, sat down, stretched it out and then got up. At this moment it was if the funk was gone. I had energy and I could run. I ran and ran and ran and made sure to walk only to relieve my muscles of the repetitious stress.

At Antietam Aqueduct I saw a possum roaming the leaves. I then smelt something nasty and saw a deer carcass in that nasty ditch. Oh this race had TONS of scenery. I enjoyed conversation with Kendra from Richmond, VA. She had a great pace going and looked strong. I on the other hand had just started moving and my legs were telling me they were tired.
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Into Town

As I made it to Mile 42, we were handed orange safety vests due to the impending darkness. I asked someone the time and found out it was 3:15pm. DAMN! How was I could to run the last 8 miles of road in 1 Hour 45 Minutes. That’s 12-Minute Miles! I got off the blasted towpath and stepped onto the concrete. All I could think about at first was the math… how fast did I need to go. I was 15 minutes behind schedule. It felt like it was impossible to finish in under 10. Most people would have quit, I put my head down and got to work.

With 8 miles to go, this is what I live for. I walked briskly up hills, counted the miles to go as the signs went by and even counted the 56 runners I passed on my way to the finish. At mile 48 I saw Sarah who was standing there with the gear. I asked her the time, all the while still moving and yelled, CRAP! GOTTA GO! She yelled and jumped with excitement, it was now in reach.

The last 8 miles I did more running than I had at all in the last 4 hours. I felt great, I was even running up some of those hills. 2 to go… 1 Mile to go. The last mile!? YES!… YES! I was doing it. Through the tiny town, under the interstate, through the intersection and up ahead… a clock, screaming people… and the finish line. I ran until my legs wanted to cramp. I then stopped to walk just short of the finish line. Sarah yelled for me to get moving. I ran up the final hill, saw the clock… 9:47. I raised my hands to the air, punched to the sky and screamed wildly. YESS!!!!! I DID IT! SARAH!!! I DID IT!!!!
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3 Months – 3 50 Milers – and one sub 10 hour finish!
After the race, Hans and I enjoyed Pizza and new friends. We spoke with course record holder Eric Clifton. I congratulated Dr. Horton and we even spoke with Buzz, the man who started it all in 1963. We had a GREAT time at JFK and found out exactly why it is called “America’s Ultra-Marathon.”

Unofficially, 1000 runners finished the race. This is a NEW record for most finishers in American Ultra-Running History.

I finished 340th out of 1000 with a time of 9:47:53.
Hans finished in an amazing 30th place with a time of 7:16:10

2006 is now over. Next up.. Disney’s Goofy Challenge – 1.7.07
I also wait patiently for the Western States Lottery on 12.2.06

I can’t believe this! WOO HOO!

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