Thursday, November 30, 2017

2017 (55th Annual) JFK 50 Mile: Redemption

I've started JFK 50 Mile in Boonsboro, Maryland five times, but it hasn't been a story of champagne and roses each time. For the past couple years, I've dropped from JFK with back issues. I was determined to not let that happen this year. Determination paid off with a win in 6:27. I now hold two of the top four women's times on the course (three in the top ten).

JFK Finish Line.
Photo by George Banker

The resolution to not having a repeat of the past couple years meant I needed to figure out what was continually not allowing me to train properly. Long story short, allergies abound, I've been figuring out the solution. This year has allowed me to train like myself again and I've been happy to see my training coming together each month.

After recovering from Western States 100 Mile, Ian put together my training for JFK. My usual response at first was "this isn't hard enough" but I quickly changed my tune. Ian always has a grand plan and I knew he'd get me to the starting line healthy, fit and not burned out. He also knew I needed to start out reasonably since I've struggled in the recent past to hit training paces, and to train in general. He made training more challenging when the time was appropriate and his plan worked fabulously.

I used a few local races in my build-up as well:

Machine Solutions 10k - 1st
Big Brothers Big Sisters Half Marathon - 1st
AZ Trail North Rim Marathon - 1st, 2nd overall
Jerome Hill Climb - 1st
Flagstaff Marathon - 1st overall, CR
Soulstice Mountain Trail Run (long course) - 1st

I felt the first step to not repeating the past couple years was to get fitness back, but not to leave any stone unturned, I diligently got back into my strength work starting with once per week, then moving to two times per week with Dr AJ Gregg. AJ has almost moved me beyond my fear of box jumps....almost. This was the most solid I've felt in a while so I was excited but still hesitant.

Race day. You never know who's going to show up to JFK. As Ian put it, there's always a ringer. This year saw two well-known ultra runners, Jackie Merritt and Sabrina Little, on the starting line. No matter who is there though, I always feel you have to run your own race. I wasn't exactly sure how my race was going to play out on the day, but I just had to trust I had prepared as best I could. By the time we reached the Appalachian Trail, I found myself in the lead. I am usually comfortable running in the lead, but I was also battling some self-doubt for obvious reasons. I shared some early miles with Anthony Kunkle before he moved on and I figured that was not a bad place to be in. We saw an amazing sunrise, but "red sky in morning, sailors warning." I knew bad weather was on its way, it was just a question of when. I came through the first aid station at Gathland in 19th place overall.

Once I exchanged bottles with my parents and Mema at the base of Weverton Cliffs, I hit the C&O canal. I was cautious of pushing too soon, so I just tried to settle into a rhythm behind the lead bicycle. My motto quickly became "relax and no fear." At this point, the rain was starting but it was light and we had some protection from the tree-lined canal.

There were a lot of lonely miles on the canal, but the aid stations and volunteers were a nice break in the repetitiveness of the canal. I saw my family again at Antietam (mile 27) and restocked my nutrition. It was a good sign that I still felt controlled and my low back was holding steady, phew. I was still trying to remain relaxed but got in a few quick miles with another fellow runner after leaving Antietam. This surprisingly felt better than the slower miles and had I been more confident, I probably should have tried to stick in that pace range. No regrets though.

I clocked off another ~11 miles and met my crew at 38 Special. At this point, the weather was really starting to take a turn. Once I got onto the road for the last 8.5 miles, the rain was coming down hard and the temperatures were dropping. Freezing rain was reported but I think I was getting too cold/wet to notice the difference. There were more quiet miles on the road with the exception of the lead bike and a police escort. With ~5.5 miles to go, Mike Wardian made a come back and went by. It was nice to have him to key off of for those final few miles and made the miles click off relatively quickly. Ultimately, I was able to break into the top ten overall. I'm always amazed by the attrition over the second half of this race, but having experienced it myself, I feel for the runners who experience it.

Celebrating finisher's medals with Michael Wardian.
Photo by Andy Mason

Coming down the finish chute.
Photo by Ray Jackson Jr. 

I was excited to hear fellow Flagstaff resident Eric Senseman achieved his long time goal of winning JFK. Eric also ran a commanding race from start to finish and continued to build his lead the whole way. Here's an article by Andy Mason of the Herald-Mail documenting the event:

More coverage by Jamil in episode 68 of Mountain Outhouse News.

My fueling was a huge improvement this race. No stomach issues and I was able to fuel regularly, on schedule all the way to the finish line. It took some interesting experimentation this fall, but basically a rice milk concoction and Mexican Coke were my staples from start to finish.

At the awards ceremony we had a special guest handing out awards. Army Specialist Grant Long, whose younger brother was running the race, was present to assist Mike Spinnler. Long made a miraculous recovery after his crew's Blackhawk went down during a training exercise earlier this year.

Army Specialist Grant Long with Race Director Mike Spinnler

Women's 2017 Podium

Men's 2017 Podium

JFK always has numerous inspiring people and stories. Just attend the Legends Dinner and you'll see a lot of history in one room. This year, George Banker, who has always been a presence at JFK since I started running here, underwent heart surgery this summer and has already made his return to running and plans to line up for his 8th JFK next year. Read more about his story here.

Also of note this year, Ian and I became the official coaches of JFK. It was great to see a handful of athletes finish their first 50 miler. We're looking forward to helping more runners in the future meet their goals at America's oldest ultra marathon.

Special Thank You's:

  • Ian Torrence (Training and Support)
  • Mom, Dad and Mema (Crew and Support)
  • Mike Spinnler (JFK Race Director)
  • Dr AJ Gregg of Hypo2 Chiropractic
  • Shea Tinder of Tinder Touch Massage
  • Nathan Hydration
  • Squirrels Nut Butter
  • Dr Cully of Woodstock Chiropractic 
  • Team Run Flagstaff Pro

This should become tradition to capture a photo each year with Ray Jackson Jr's always-smiling girls.
It helps two of us share a name!