JFK 50 Mile
November 17, 2007
On November 17, 2007, two Mass Soles, Ranger Dave Poirier and Dane LeBlanc, ran the JFK 50 Mile run in Maryland. I went with them to provide support. Dave reminded me before we left that what happened in Maryland stayed in Maryland, so I have nothing to say.
Sorry. Wish I could share what happened, it was quite an amazing weekend, but rules are rules. You can find the results here:
Have a nice day!
Ok, ok. Dane and Dave both agreed that there was simply too much good material not to share, so here goes!
Note: Click on any of the pictures for the full size version.
On November 17, 2007, two Mass Soles, Ranger Dave Poirier and Dane LeBlanc, ran the JFK 50 mile run in Maryland. Oh yeah, I already told you that. Since I'd first heard that they were planning to run this event, I'd been begging them to take me along, for a few reasons:
1) They're pretty fun to hang out with,
2) Some days I hallucinate that I might actually try something like this, I was hoping that first hand experience might cast any such thoughts from my mind,
3) There was bound to be some decent comedy material,
4) Oh yeah, for something like this, having some support might come in handy for the two of them..
#4 was a real concern for me. If you've been following the adventures of the Mass Soles, you may recall that I was the one who failed to recognize my own Mass Sole team mate, even when he put a hand on my shoulder as he ran past me (it was DARK, OK???), so I kind of thought that Dave and Dane might decide that they'd be better off looking elsewhere for logistical support. But as the day approached, they couldn't find any competent help, so they were forced to sign me on as "Mass Soles Team JFK 50 Mile Handler". I swore I would not let them down. Much.
The race was on a Saturday, so we flew down on Friday afternoon, which would give us plenty of time to hydrate, register, hydrate, check in to the hotel, hydrate, have dinner, hydrate, and then, in Ranger Dave's case, go shopping for some running clothes, which he apparently neglected to bring along with him. He *did* remember to bring along a brand spanking new pair of running shoes, which he planned to break in during miles 1-26, so they'd be nice and comfortable for miles 27 - 50.2. Oh, and he also brought along some strange kind of enema machine, called a 'Camelback'. I could only imagine how they came up with the name for that thing..
Finally, I'd brought along a new, high tech piece of machinery that every Handler should always carry - a Garmin Nuvi 350, named 'Emily'. Emily spoke to us in a calm, sophisticated, and I must admit, somewhat sexy British accent. While Dave and Dane were out on the course, Emily and I would be constantly working the logistics so as to provide the best possible support!
Even better, when we picked up the rental car at the airport, it had a 'Neverlost' GPS in it! When you're used to constantly getting lost, it's reassuring to know that you have not just one, but two GPS systems at your disposal!
State of the art electronics for handling my athletes
I did notice, however, that both Dave and Dane were wearing GPS watches. Hmmm, could it be that, based on the past few RTB relays, they didn't quite trust me for their progress reports? No matter, with Emily and the Hertz (Hurts?) system, I was certain I'd earn back their confidence quite quickly.
Emily and Hurts got us to the Sheraton without getting lost even once! Whoo hoo! What's better than having one nagging woman telling you which way to turn? Two nagging women! But at least these nagging women seemed to know where we were going, so that was fine with us. We got our athletes registered, and then asked Emily and Hurts to direct us towards out .5 star hotel.
It was still early, so we decided to go grocery and clothes shopping before dinner. Dane had brought his own 'Gu' (sounds like 'goo', looks like 'goo', tastes like...), so all we had to buy was 96 bottles of Gatorade, an assortment of Granola bars, a dozen or so bananas, some muffins, and some beef jerky for Dane. Next stop - Dicks Sporting Goods, where Dave bought some running clothes and Dane picked out some fancy undergarments. At that point I wasn't sure who he was trying to impress, but things became clearer a little later..
From there, we went to find something to eat. We noticed a Pizzeria Uno close by, and thoughts of sushi chicken were swirling in our heads.
Our waitress was a lovely young lady named Kelly, who seemed to think a lot with her hands, or at least engage them a lot in the thinking process. Vigorously. Before we had even placed our drink order, we learned that Kelly had a) made it to the second round of qualifiers for American Idol (but wasn't weird enough to go further, go figure!), b) was wearing Victoria's Secret lingerie, and c) was going to be singing a Shania Twain song at a wedding reception the following day. Wow! Kelly seemed really impressed with us, and we hadn't even told her that we were semi professional athletes! Yet.
When we informed her of our mission, it really blew her mind (and probably damaged a couple of her nails in the process). She had all kinds of questions for us. Were we considering going professional? (Answer - "We'll make our decision after tomorrows race.."). Do managers of semi professional athletes make a lot of money? (Answer - "It doesn't matter, I'm independently wealthy").
It was kind of hard to concentrate on dinner, to be honest, with all of the attention Kelly was lavishing on the three of us. We weren't quite sure if she was infatuated with any particular one of us, or if it was the whole Mass Soles persona that got to her, but either way it was working in our favor, because Kelly came by our table every two or three minutes to spend time with us and divulge more personal information, including where all of the fun was going to be taking place the following evening. Realizing that she was in the company of three of the most manly men she was ever likely to encounter, she made it a point to let us know that she was going to be at 'Ava's' the following evening, and along with her would be ten single, 21 year old women! Right. Like they could handle us!
The only time we couldn't locate Kelly was when she finally delivered dinner, and walked off with my fork! But she made up for it by bringing me two forks, and telling us how, even thought she was born and raised right there in Hagerstown, nobody there would ever admit to it!
Finally, we finished dinner, bade Kelly farewell (for now), and headed back to the Motel for an early sleep. It was going to be a long day tomorrow..
For some reason I couldn't sleep well at all Friday night. At first, I thought it was because I was worrying so much about the logistics the following day, but then I realized that I really didn't care all that much, so it must be something else. Then I started to put things together. First, Dave's enema machine. Hmmmm, I wonder if he brought that along for personal use, or if he had some other intentions for it? Then, I recalled that they'd made it a point to tell me that they were going to show me later what a 'Handler' does with all the leftover Vaseline. And to top it off, they'd made it a point to tell me their 'porn names'. I've got to admit, Dane has a pretty good porn name, for a runner. It's Miles. Miles Long. (Dave's is Buck Naked). I don't even have a porn name! Where does one get a porn name? Was my Mom supposed to give me one?
Finally, it dawned on me that they'd conveniently placed the cot we'd gotten for me from the front desk right in between their beds! Hey, no wonder I couldn't sleep, I was afraid of getting 'Camelbacked'!
I finally fell asleep on my back, and then thankfully woke up that way when the wake up call came in what seemed like 2 seconds later. 4:50 AM, too early! But we had to get our athletes nourished and to the runners meeting by 6:20. I jammed a few muffins into their mouths, followed by a couple of bananas, programmed Emily with the location of the starting point, and we were off!
The two D's, 6:00 AM, 34 degrees!
The first thing that we noticed was that it was f f f f f frreeeezing outside! The temperature was in the low 30's! Ouch! That meant the two D's would be starting the race with some heavy clothing, which they'd be wanting to shed later on. More logistics for me to fret over..
The 6:20 meeting was informative (note to self - sleep 30 minutes later next year and go straight to the starting line), however we did learn that we'd be walking the kilometer to the starting line. WTF? Our boys will be running 50 miles, and they're going to have to walk another half mile before they can start? It was a little confusing what time we should actually depart for the starting line, so we just kind of wandered out the door and followed the trail of people, which was good because we ended up at the starting line a full two minutes before the starting gun went off. Speaking of which, that must have made Ranger Dave feel right at home. It turns out that he's actually traversed a 50 mile distance before. Three times, in fact. On 3 consecutive days! It was all part of his Ranger training, and while it was probably more of a march than a run, they did get shot at along the way. I think Dave told me this so that if I noticed them slacking off along the way I would start shooting at them, but since they don't allow weapons on planes, I didn't have anything with me. Besides, my aim isn't that good, what if I missed?
It was warmer inside, but Danes hat had already frozen to his head.
They're down there, somewhere..
And they're off!
That's Dave's hand.
So, with our hero's on their way, it was time for me to start thinking about the logistics of getting to the first aid station (first "aid station", not "first aid" station), which was roughly 9 miles in. I sprinted to the chase vehicle, and prepared to enter the location into Emily, and quickly realized I didn't have the information! It wasn't in the runners booklets they'd provided to the runners, and I'd left the printouts from the web site back at the hotel, which was 20 minutes away! Note: Seems like the organizers really didn't want support crews clogging up the roads..
It was time to switch to my 'other' persona, that of semi professional race car driver! I raced to the nearest McDonalds, because after all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and then I raced to the hotel, taking the stairs to our second floor room almost two at a time! I quickly retrieved the printouts, and then raced back to the starting line, because the handler instructions didn't have actual addresses of the aid stations, they only had directions from point to point.
Things weren't looking good. The two D's had started at 7:00 AM, and it was around 8:22 AM when I parked the car, grabbing their bags of clothes and a couple of bottles of Gatorade. I was pretty sure I'd missed them. But at least I wasn't hungry.
The first aid station, along the Appalachian trail, runners are emerging from the woods.
I waited for around 15 minutes, and there was no sign of them, but I noticed that most of the runners coming through were moving pretty fast. Could it be that I was watching the front runners, just at the 9 mile mark after only an hour and a half?
Sure enough, it turns out that the first 17 miles of this race are along the Appalachian trail, which is treacherous in places, lots of rocks and logs to jump over, most of it covered by a heavy layer of leaves (you'd think the organizers could have raked the course), and of course a lot of big elevation changes. Here's a chart showing the elevation changes for the first 15 miles:
Dave and Dane, speed and elevation chart first 15 miles
So you can see that in addition to the rough terrain, they also climbed almost 1800 feet in just 5 miles! That's worse than the 'hero' leg this year in RTB!
Now, to put things into perspective, here's the speed and elevation chart for me as I raced back and forth to fetch the handler materials:
Brian, speed and elevation chart, hotel stairs
For those of you who think the job of Handler is a cake walk, take note! Frequently, the climb was almost vertical, and notice the precipitous drops on the way back down!
Anyhow, I decided to stick around for a while and see if the two D's would emerge from the woods. It seemed the right thing to do, and it was easier than moving somewhere else. That turned out to be the right decision, because eventually they emerged from the woods.
Dave and Dane eventually emerged from the woods.
Dave, having spent actual money on his new race clothing, wasn't about to lose any of it, but Dane, well, let's just say he was sweating like a freakin' pig! Dane lost the long pants and switched to shorts, and lost a layer of shirt as well. The stuff he took off is still drying out somewhere.. Dave took a swig of Gatorade, Dane drank a couple of bottles of it, and they were off for the next 6 miles of trail. I had to walk probably that much, or more, to get back to where I'd left the chase vehicle, and those bags of sweaty clothes were heavy!
Given the, ahem, somewhat relaxed pace at which they'd run the first 9 miles, I assumed the next 6 wouldn't be any faster, but still, I passed by a few inviting coffee shops and drove straight to the next aid station. Like any good Handler, you need to put your own needs aside and focus on your runners, even if they choose to run at a pace which is about 30% off what they'd normally run.
That's a real dress shirt and bow tie he's wearing!
Runners emerging from the trees.
It's hard to see, but they're coming down a 45 degree slope (or more), taking switchbacks all the way down.
Some runners, and Dave's hat.
Sure enough, the pace for the next 6 miles wasn't any faster than the first 9. In all seriousness, they were running on narrow mountain trails, jumping over hidden rocks and logs, and getting held up behind slower runners, with no room to pass. At least that's what they told me. Nobody else was complaining.
I provided some excellent support at mile 15, except I forgot the Gu, which Dane was taking about every mile or two. Dave took another swig of Gatorade, Dane drank a couple more bottles, shed another shirt, changed his running shoes, and they were on their way again.
The next place I could catch them was along a canal trail, roughly at mile 27. I didn't realize it at the time, but basically, after the first 17 miles of Appalachian trail, the next 27 miles (a full marathon by itself!) were pretty much a straight line down this tow road along the Potomac River. The first place I'd be able to meet up with them would be 10 miles into that stretch of road, at mile 27.
With 12 miles from the prior transition point, I figured I had time to stop for a cappuccino or something warm, but there were no shops to be found. I thought about turning around and going back to one of the shops I'd passed by earlier, but on the off chance that the two D's picked up the pace, I decided not to. Although I wasn't actually running the race, this Handler job was proving to involve quite a bit of running around, so I drank some Gatorade myself, and nourished myself with a banana and a Granola bar. Chocolate chip! Then I gathered up the bags, drinks, and Gu, and began the long trek all the way across the street (it was pretty wide) to the tow road. I was really putting on the miles myself!
I ended up waiting there for quite a long time, but they had picked up the pace a bit so it wasn't as bad as the first two stops. Now, we're at mile 27, they've both run a full marathon at this point, and are in uncharted territory. As Handler, my job becomes more than just providing basic support, now I've got to play the role of medical doctor too. If either one of my runners shows any sign of distress, if could result in serious problems, or possibly even brain damage!
The two D's are approaching!
They don't look any more brain damaged than usual.
Dave was looking pretty good. Too good, in fact. He was babbling on and on about this being a 'walk in the park', and generally annoying everybody around him. So everything was normal with him.
Dane, on the other hand, was looking a little fatigued. His eyes were fluttering, and he (along with all of the other runners) was cursing, most of it directed towards Dave. I decided to give him a little test to see if he was thinking clearly:
Me: "Dane, count backwards from ten for me."
Hmmm, I couldn't be completely certain that he'd used the right thought process to get there, but he did come up with the right answer, so I decided to let him proceed. But I'd have to keep an eye on him. I also pointed this out to Dave, who agreed that it was a lovely day, and that everybody was having a great time.
Great. I've got one runner showing signs of trouble, and the another who thinks he's on a stroll through the park. And I'm not scheduled to meet up with them again for another 11 miles, at 38!
Dave took another swig of Gatorade, Dane was drinking directly from the Potomac. I packed up the bags, sent them on their way, and began the long and arduous trek across the wide road, back to the chase vehicle.
As I drove along, I realized that I could still see the runners along the tow road, so I looked for a place to stop prior to mile 38 where I could lend up some more support. 2, or maybe 5, miles further down the road, I found just the right opportunity. The good news is that, while I didn't know exactly where they were along the route, with their Garmin GPS watches they knew exactly where they were. This must have seemed kind of funny to the other runners, the Handler asking the runners where the heck we were!
Somewhere along the tow road.
People still running!
The two D's, still running!
One smiling, one cursing. Can you read their lips?
I drove a little while further, and stopped at the next opportunity. It was before the planned stop at mile 38, but I wasn't exactly sure how much before. I was getting tired of all the waiting, so I grabbed a couple of bottles of Gatorade and started to jog backwards along the race route. I wasn't sure exactly how far back they were, so when I hadn't seen them after a mile or so I slowed down, but kept walking. After maybe another mile I finally found them! Dave was still going on and on about what a glorious freaking day it was, and Dane was babbling on and on about what a glorious %^$^#$$!#@@^# Dave was. While that all seemed normal, I thought I should give Dane another mental alertness test:
Me: "Dane, how many fingers am I holding up?"
Well, that wasn't the right answer, I wasn't holding up any fingers at all! But then I realized that Dane was, in fact, looking kind of cross eyed at his own hand, and sure enough, he was holding up a single finger! (I'll let the reader figure out which one)
Dane drank both bottles of Gatorade.
Dave indicated to Dane that it was time to start running again. Dane responded by telling him to go %@$#@$!# himself, and then they started running. I had nothing better to do, so I ran along with them, and I've got to say, for a couple of guys who'd already run either 33 or 36 miles, I could barely keep up with them! I was very happy to learn that they were using their Garmin GPS watches so they could run 1.6 miles (and not a foot further), then walk for .4 to catch their breath. I think if Dave had exerted himself enough during the 1.6 miles of running to not be able to express his feelings about what a wonderful and glorious day it was, Dane may very well have run the entire rest of the way, just to shut him the hell up! But unfortunately, Dave was having a genuinely good time, cruising along, enjoying the whole thing, and telling each and every person he encountered along the way just how much fun he was having.
I'm really surprised that somebody didn't shoot him. He probably would have enjoyed that too.
Knowing that I'd wanted to run with them a little bit, I left the camera in the car. I had only one more official stop, at mile 46, so I decided to save whatever battery I had left for the finish line, and concentrate on stopping as often as I could.
We got to where I'd left the car, which it turns out I'd parked just before the aid station at mile 38, and I left them. I was feeling much better, even though Dane was clearly out of his mind (well, to be honest, Dave was too), the fact that I had trouble keeping up with them gave me some hope that they were not in such bad shape after all.
I drove towards the aid station at mile 46, but then decided to poke around with Emily and see if I could find something along the route in between. Thanks to Emily, I was able to find something at what turned out to be mile 44, which was perfect! More Gatorade and Gu, and Dane had requested some Icy Hot, so I packed up the bags and began yet another trek towards the race course.
Here, Dane looked a lot better. I think his spirits picked up once they got beyond mile 40, and while Dave was still going on and on about how much fun everybody must be having, it didn't seem to bother Dane so much. Dane drank all of the Gatorade, then emptied the aid station out of whatever they had on hand. He gulped down some Icy Hot, and then rubbed Gu all over his legs, but didn't seem to notice, so I figured I wouldn't tell him.
Dave had spectators yelling at him, asking him if he was still enjoying his leisurely walk in the park! "Wish I could do this every week!" was his response, and I honestly think he meant it!
They had 6 to go, and if they could do it in an hour and fifteen minutes it would get them to the finish line in under 10 hours.
I stopped again at 46, it only took them 20 minutes to run those two miles! More Icy Hot, Gu, and Gatorade for Dane (I'm not sure which went where), and I left them for the final time. Next time I saw them would be at 50.2 miles.
I don't know what kind of hell Dane went through for those last 4 miles. They must have been some of the toughest miles ever. I know it took them a little over 45 minutes to run them. I know Dave was pulling on some mental rope, and Dane was following him, head down, determined. I know that there were a few Marines close by, and Dave wanted to kick their Marine asses so badly!
But I also know that however much Dave wanted to kick those Marine asses, he wanted to finish the job he'd started even more - get Dane over the finish line. Safely.
Which he did.
The finish line is across the street from a cemetery. I wonder how many runners end up there?
For the first time all day, Dave doesn't seem happy. He has to STOP!
Here's when they finished.
Dane is in there somewhere.
They did it!
Dave explaining to Dane, "It's just like a walk in the park!"
I couldn't be prouder of these two, and damn glad to have been a part of it myself!
Now, the kicker.
The results are here:
And after mentally driving Dane for the last 23 miles, the official results:
387 Dane Leblanc 49 M 115/269 LITTLETON MA 9:53:15 11:50 388 David Poirier 42 M 116/269 ARLINGTON MA 9:53:16 11:50
They got Dane crossing a second in front of Dave! I'm quite sure that neither of them cares..
And, for the record, here's the entire speed and elevation chart (click on the image for the full size picture):
And finally, after tallying up how much running back and forth I did in supporting these two, I came up with a figure of just over sixty miles! Hurray for me! But seriously, I probably didn't run quite sixty miles, but Dave and Dane ran FIFTY miles! FIFTY!! That's two marathons, back to back. Dave, you made it look easy. Like a walk in the park. I'm guessing that some kind of secret Ranger training kicked in, and you were in a mode of completing some kind of mission, which involved getting your man to the finish line. Wow! And Dane, my hat's off to you, because while Dave provided the inspiration and support, you still had to take the steps, and you never, ever backed down!
But wait, the story is not over yet..
Dane owed Dave a beer, because they ended up finishing in under 10 hours. And where else to have it, but at Ava's! The most happeningest place in Hagerstown, where Kelly and her 10 friends awaited us.
Even with Emily's help, it took us a while to find the place, and when we got inside, well, WOW! Let's just say that I kind of had the feeling that we might have been in there on Halloween night, if you know what I mean. Only the costumes were scarier.
But Kelly was there! And she introduced us to a few of her lovely friends, who, quite frankly, seemed engrossed in other activities. But Kelly had "major high fives's" for everyone!". Yay! And later, she followed those up with "major hugs for everyone!". Yay again! Kelly seemed super happy, which, curiously, seemed to be annoying Dave! Go figure!
Dane engrossed everybody with some intellectual conversation, it seemed he was still in the middle of deciding whether to go professional, or to remain semi-pro. Dave and I, well, we thought about leaving him there, but at the end of the day, we couldn't leave a man behind, no matter how much fun he seemed to be having.
Oh, and yeah - we decided to remain "semi professional".
I'm sincerely in awe of what these two accomplished, and proud to have been a tiny part of it.