JFK 52

November 21, 2010


“Hey Brian, when we get down there, can you take me shopping?  I need some running shoes..”.


Who the heck runs an ultra marathon in new shoes?  Honestly, you can’t make up stuff like this.  When Ranger Dave showed up at my house Friday morning, those were the first words out of his mouth.


We were on our way down to the JFK 50 (my second, Daves fourth).  I’d stumbled through it last year, and had high hopes of turning in a better time this year.  I’d run one more fall marathon than last year, and generally was feeling better and stronger.  I couldn’t wait to tackle the course this time around.


We had quite a crew this time.  The first couple of times we went down, everybody chalked it up to Dave and Dane being crazy, but after I did it last year everybody realized that it must be really easy.  So we had six Soles making the attempt this time, and one Sole hopeful.


We had enough people to fill a bus.  Jason, Katy, Dave, Dane, Gary, myself, and a friend of Jason and Dave named Reno, who it turns out is a real runner and a celebrity of sorts.  In addition to all of the runners, Katy’s family was heading down, as was Jason’s wife, parents, brother, brothers family, and some guy named Fil.  Looks like we’d have plenty of support.


The question on everybody’s mind was whether Katy and Jason would lovingly support each other, or whether they’d beat the crap out of each other.  Both of them are great runners and super competitive.  Their best marathon times are within a minute of each other.  Sure, they were talking nicely, but every once in a while you’d catch some comment about “Kicking Bui a$$”, or something similar.  Katy was also dismissing my advice regarding the beginning of the course, telling me that only plodders like me walk up hills, real runners like her never walk up a hill..


Sadly, a week or so before the trip Dane informed us that he couldn’t make it.  It seems he works slower than he runs, so he was missing some kind of important deadline.  We cancelled one room, a decision I started to regret when Dave and Gary started talking about spooning and Vaseline.


Thursday night, before embarking, Captain Karen hosted an excellent carb loading dinner.  I’m going to pay more attention to Katy’s running log and make sure I sign up for every event she does.  Dinner was excellent, and Karen sent us off with storage locker size containers filled with baked goodies.


On Friday morning, Dave showed up at my house with his shopping request.  We’re about to embark on a double marathon, and he needs a pair of running shoes!  Unbelievable!  Gary showed up, we loaded our stuff into the car, and headed South, back to the land of Waffle Houses.


So far, with the exception of Daves lack of running shoes, this adventure was way too normal.  Sure, my GPS had a fixation on the George Washington Bridge (it even tried to trick us into going over the GW by trying to entice us into a restaurant along the way), but otherwise things were pretty quiet.  Too quiet.  Like a midget at a urinal, we’d have to keep on our toes..


Then I got a text from Jason.  His entire family had abandoned him.  His lovely wife decided that 50 miles was way too boring to spectate, even at the speeds Jason normally runs.  His parents decided to move, so they needed to pack.  His brother had a tooth ache.  Even Fil was trying to get out of the car, but Jason refused to slow down (kind of like his running).


So Jason had this extra room, already paid for.  Great, I could leave the Vaseline and spooning for Dave and Gary.


We tried to contact Dane to see if there were any last minute changes of plans, but he wasn’t returning calls or texts.


We stopped at the Bandit Diner for lunch (honest), and when we got on the road again we got a text from Dane that he’d finished his work and was booking flights, rental car, and hotel room.  Whoo hoo!!  Somehow this event wouldn’t be the same without him, after all it was he and Dave that had started this whole ultra thing.  Of course, we were trying to call him to tell him to drop his room, since Jason had an extra one, but he still refused to talk to us.


The plan was for Dane to arrive at BWI around 9 ish, and hopefully get to the hotel by 11.  Dave would share a room and wait up for him, leaving Gary and myself to wake each other up for the 5:00 (am) start.


Jason, Reno, and Fil arrived first, registered, then went off for a quick half marathon to loosen up for the following day.  It seems Jason joined some kind of religious cult that requires you to run at least 3 miles every day, even if you just had foot surgery, or ran 50 miles the day before.


The rest of us arrived, registered, then checked into the hotel.  Dave, Gary and myself went shoe shopping before setting out for dinner.  Naturally, we headed over to try to hook up with Kelley, however she’s moved on to bigger and better things.  Readers will be happy to know she’s finished her degree in NYC and is now attending Frederick University for her Masters degree.  Who woulda thunk it?


Dane ended up missing his flight, but was on a later one.  It was going to be a late night for him..


The next morning I woke up before my 3:00 (am) alarm, and began preparation for the long day ahead.  I woke up Gary, who set off to find breakfast and make sure the Jacuzzi was powered up for later that evening.  One banana, bagel with peanut butter, and cup of coffee later, we were on our way.


The start of the race was uneventful.  The organizers put a fence around the playing field at the school where the runners congregate, which meant that instead of the normal one mile walk across the field to the starting line, we now had to walk a mile and a half around it.  But it was a balmy 38 degrees, so we enjoyed the walk and made some new friends along the way.


There’s not much to write about the first part of the race.  It’s dark, so you can’t see anything.  There are some huge hills to run up, total elevation gain over the first 5 miles is about 1200 feet!  After that, there’s a 12 mile trail run over some very rocky trails, the goal is to come out of that section without busting an eye socket, losing any teeth, or hurting your pinky finger. 


A couple of other runners chose the first two options, Gary wisely chose the third, and I selected ‘none of the above’, although I did almost tumble a few times towards the end.  Gary and I saw Karen and Doug at mile 9, where I unloaded my headlamp, hat, and camera (it was heavy!).  Like last year, the first elite runners started to fly past us before we reached the switchback at mile 15, and Reno came flying by just before we reached the tow path at mile 17.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he’d taken a pretty good fall on the trail and busted up his hand.  At least it wasn’t his running hand.


I started to watch for elite women to pass us, so I could get an idea of how far back Katy was.  Around mile 20 I heard the bicycle bell ring which indicated the pacer for the lead woman was approaching, and when I turned around there was Katy, first woman!  Wow!  Jason was right beside her, both of them looked relatively unscathed and were running along at a fast, but relaxed pace.  Neither of them, however, had ever run this kind of distance before, so neither really knew what to expect later in the race, or when they might hit their wall.


Not far behind Katy were a couple of seasoned women ultra runners.  I’m not sure what was going through their heads with this upstart in front of them, but nothing showed on their faces.  I’d like to think they were ticked off.


Gary and I had settled in to a run/walk, but I was having a little trouble holding his pace, and I decided I needed to plod my own pace or risk burning myself out.  So, I told him I had to pee, and not to wait for me.  He’d end up finishing an hour or so ahead of me.


Now, my goal was to not be caught by Dave or Dane before the point where Dane caught me last year, which was right around mile 25.  This turned out to be the only goal I’d attain, as I didn’t (a) get below 12 hours, (b) get below 13 hours, or (c) better my last years time.  Dave caught me around mile 31, Fil was running along with him so he wouldn’t have to run with Jason.  Dave took my picture, then mumbled something about how Fil was running with him (!), and they were gone.  I found out later that Fil ran the entire tow path with Dave, which was 27 miles long!  Dave also mentioned something about Dane having a little trouble, or not feeling so well, probably due to job stress and lack of sleep.  Or maybe because he was typing on his laptop during the run, who knows.  Finally, Dave promised me that he would come back for me at the finish.


For two marathons in a row, he’d been promising me that after he finished, he’d turn around, run back to wherever I was on the course, then run to the finish with me.  However at Newport he stiffed me, he went for beer and pizza then met me 50 feet from the finish line.  At the Marine Corps Marathon he bailed on me altogether, whining about not being able to turn around (that didn’t stop any of the Marines I saw running in the wrong direction..).


Dane caught me around mile 35.  It was great to see him, he told me he’d felt pretty bad but then started to feel better around mile 27.  It turns out Captain Karen ran along with him for 12 miles!


Dane and I got our picture taken with Santa Claus, then Dane took off, leaving me the last Sole.  As usual.


I maintained my walk/plod pace for the entire tow path.  Last year I’d gotten some nasty blisters, this year my biggest problem was constant twigs and rocks finding their way into my shoes.  I mean seriously, they should sweep this path.  I think I stopped a dozen times or so to remove debris.


I also realized that I wasn’t going to crack 13 hours, so I just set my mind to finishing.


Around mile 45, I got passed by an elderly woman.  Now, (with apologies to this elderly woman), she didn’t exactly strike me as the strapping fit kind of elderly person you normally see running these things.  She seemed more like the kind of elderly person who’d just been informed by their children that the time has come to sell the house, cash in the inheritance, and check them into a nursing home.  They’ve waited long enough for you to die, they want to get on with their lives!  So she was trying to prove to them that she was fit enough to stay at home.  Or perhaps she’d just escaped from the nursing home, and if I looked back there might be some orderlies dressed in white people chasing her.


Whatever it was, I couldn’t catch her!  I was able to pass her when she stopped at the mile 46 aid station, but she quickly reeled me in.


I really wanted to ask her “Geez lady, how damn old are you?”, but I’m too polite for that (too polite to say it, not to think it).  So instead I asked her “Hey, how many of these have you run?”.  I expected to learn that she’d run 20 or 30 JFK’s, but was shocked to learn that this was her second!


And with that, she kicked her legs and left me in her dust.  Or talcum powder.  I don’t know.


At mile 46 there was an aid station, but no Ranger Dave.  I guess the finish line pizza was too good for him to resist.


A little before mile 49 I ran into a woman who was born in New Hampshire, and who’d failed to complete the race two years prior.  She had no run left in her, and I’d realized I wasn’t going to better my last years time without an 8 minute mile, so I gave up the walk/plod and just started walking along with her.  We chatted about some of my moronic team mates, when all of a sudden one of my moronic team mates called out to me!


There, at mile 49, was Ranger Dave.  While he hadn’t run all the way back to where I was, he did work his way back a full mile, and was ready, willing, and able to drag my sorry butt the final mile.  Again.


It was kind of funny, all the spectators yelling at him “Keep going!  You can make it!”, and me trying to explain to them “He already made it!”.  Dave didn’t care, he just seemed happy to have been able to prolong the experience, and was glad to be dragging his pathetic friend the final mile.


A couple of minutes before we crossed the finish line I heard them announce “Here comes Miss so and so, the oldest woman ever to finish the JFK 50!”.  Great.  That’s what beat me, the oldest woman ever.  (Keep running lady, there’s no way your children will ever catch you!)


And then I was done.


So, how did we do?


Reno dropped at 38.5.  He pulled something in one of his legs, and like a real runner decided it was better to limit the damage and live to fight another day.  That’s one thing us plodders have trouble relating to.  For us, to finish is to win.  But to a real runner, if they can’t maintain some level of performance, they’re happy to give it another shot another time.


Katy fell off her pace and finished 7th amongst the women!  Again, like a real runner she wasn’t happy with her finish.  But as her plodding team mate, I’m in awe, I mean really, 7th place (second in her age group) in her first ever ultra?  Incredible!


She did beat Jason however.  He ended up finishing 15 or 16 minutes behind her.  Of course, he wasn’t happy with his finish either.  Sheesh, those real runners, don’t they have any fun?


Dave finished under 10 hours.  And then again under 12 hours.  To the great amusement of everybody at the finish line, he grabbed his medal, then turned around and started running the other way, back to find me.  Who breaks in brand new running shoes on a 50 mile ultra?  Who runs through the finish line and adds 2 miles?  My buddy RD, that’s who..


Dane caught Gary 3 miles from the finish, waved, and kept going.  According to him it was a P.W. (Personal Worst).  According to me it was a great time, and made even better by virtue of having shown up at all!


Gary finished in 12 and a half hours.  A little off his goal, but a great time!


Me?  I got my butt kicked by a 76 year old woman. It felt great.


Our team mates left Gary and I to find our way back to the starting line, where we’d left my car at 4:00 (am).  It turns out there was ONE bus making the loop, and the driver seemed intent on taking the scenic route, even though it was well after dark.  After a quick shower we grabbed some dinner, which luckily for me included a bottomless huckleberry lemonade.  I drank 5 of them.  Note to self, bring a water bottle on the run next year..


Gary spent the night in the Jacuzzi, nursing his pinky finger.


On Sunday, Jason, Reno, and Fil faced east and went for what had to be one of the most painful 5k runs ever.  But I suppose it’s less painful than burning in hell for all eternity, which I think is the penance for missing a run.  The rest of us had our annual Waffle House breakfast, then took a Ranger guided tour of Antietam.  It was funny, watching Gary struggle up the steps of the watch tower, and Katy struggle down them.  But the best part was watching Ranger Dave squint and tell us he could see Dunker Church.


It was right behind him.