Pre race: We drove to Hagerstown, MD on Friday night because my husband had to work, so we figured that we should go later and miss the D.C. rush hour. The drive was fine (well, I was snoozing, so I assume it was fine) and we got to our hotel at 10pm. Even though our hotel was awesome (Homewood Suites by Hilton rocks), I didn't sleep well at all. I was really nervous knowing I was so close to running the race and probably only managed 3 hours of solid sleep.
Race day: I had my traditional pre-race bagel with peanut butter, but I was so antsy, I couldn't even finish it. I just wanted to start running, so at least I could start thinking "49 miles to go!" instead of "I'm going to run HOW MANY miles today??"
|4:45am pre-race photo (in the dark apparently)|
All of the runners met at a local high school and we got a pre-race briefing on where to poop and how to not die on the Appalachian Trail section. I was a little nervous when they said that the Alpine Rescue Team would be out if you got hurt on the mountain. Because I live in my own La-La Land, in my mind I had thought the first part was more of a large hill versus an actual mountain. Not even close to the truth, but it was a nice comforting thought in the days leading up to the race. They also made all the military guys stand up and the race director was like "If you need to be carried out, one of these guys will do it." Awesome.
|I'm a Mike Wardian stalker|
|Jessica and I in the nice warm gym before the start|
After the briefing (and like 8 trips to the bathroom), we were all herded outside into the cold air and walked about half a mile to the start line. I much prefer walking to the start than just standing to start! We only had to stand for like 30 seconds before the gun went off and we all started running. I started the race with Jessica and our goal was to not kill ourselves going up the mountain, but we still wanted to stay toward the middle so we wouldn't get stuck behind slower paced people on the single track trail.
|Crazy dudes in shorts always start in the front|
The first few miles were insane. It was a steep incline that just never ended. Everyone was walking, so we started to do a combination run/walk. After about 3 miles, we made to the Appalachian trail and we were able to start running again because it flattened out for a bit. After just a short distance on the trails, we hit a pavement section and one of the more experienced runners warned us that we hadn't hit the worst hill yet. When we did come up to that hill, it was brutal! It was so long and it was so steep that it was hard to even walk it upright. Even just walking it, I was winded!
When we reached the peak of the hill, we went back on the trail and we started our "Dancing with Rocks" phase of the race. The combination of rocks and lots of leaves made the trail pretty difficult for running. I felt like I turned my ankle every 3rd step and I was forced to go frustratingly slow. It was so hard to be passed on this section because it was my inability to speed up while remaining upright. I saw one woman fall and she looked like she was in a ton of pain and wasn't getting up (she had help, I didn't just run past her carcass). After that, I felt more committed to getting off the trail section in one piece, at whatever pace.
After about 3 and a half hours at mile 17, we got off the trail and started the 27 mile canal path portion. I don't understand why people complain about this section, it was just so nice to not be trying to run over rocks anymore. Sure, it was flat, straight and boring, but after flirting with death on the switchbacks coming down the mountain, I was ok with boring. Jessica set a pretty quick pace (around 9 minute miles I think?) and it was slowly and surely too much for me. Around mile 20 was when I hit my low point of the race. I was starting to feel a lot of pain and we hadn't even hit a marathon distance yet. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to run for hours more when I was already winded and in pain. By mile 30, I just needed to go slower or start mixing in some walking, so we parted ways and she darted off like a fast little bunny. :)
After I parted ways with Jessica, I decided to do a timed run/walk interval since if I went by walking until I felt like running, then I would be walking more than running. At first I tried 15 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking, but the math was just too much for my distance addled brain, so I switched quickly to 10 minutes of running and 2 minutes of walking. With the aid stations about 4 miles apart and only having to run 10 minutes at a time, my outlook on the race greatly improved.
My "Badass" tights were a good conversation piece on the trail and I chatted with a lot of people. Most of us were doing a run/walk system and were constantly leap-frogging each other. My "I only have to run for 10 minutes!" system worked really well and pretty soon I was at mile 38 and grabbed a bunch of gummy bears and took a Gu Roctane and I got to the next aid station pretty quickly and the mile 41.8 aid station is significant because it means you get off the canal road and onto normal road. The policy is that if you get to that aid station after 3pm, you have to wear a reflective vest the rest of the way (I called it the Vest of Shame because it seemed funny to me at that point in the day). I missed that cut-off by 4 whole minutes and it was a big morale boost because it made me feel like I was going to finish in the daylight instead of the dark.
Instead of doing the 10 minutes running/2 minutes walking system for the last 8 miles, I switched to running the downhills and flats and walking the uphills. The last 8 miles were described as "rolling hills" which was technically true, but the hills were still pretty significant so walking was a good choice since I was able to run faster on the downhills and flats because I walked the hills. I kept thinking over and over "I just want to be done" and that really helped me push those last few miles because I knew once I crossed that finish line, I could finally stop.
|My "Can I stop running now PLEASE?" face|
Around mile 44 I started running with another girl who had done the JFK 50 3 times before, so it was great because she knew the course so well. At this point on the course they had mile markers, but it was still nice that she knew exactly where we were turning and were the aid stations were located. This portion of the race was in really pretty farmland and I was cheerful since I finally felt like I was really going to finish and it was looking like I was going to finish sooner than I thought I would.
|That is my "Wow, this hurts" face|
Running was really painful by this point in the race, but I still think I felt better than a lot of people I saw, or else I looked that bad and just didn't know it. Arriving at the mile 48 aid station was such a great feeling and I had one last cup of Coke before heading for the finish. We turned the one final corner and even though the last stretch was uphill, hearing the crowds cheering encouraged me to run. In a complete surprise to me, I crossed the finish line at 9:26:14 (official time) which is an 11:20 average pace.
|I hate when paparazzi get in my face|
I had told my husband at mile 27 that I didn't expect to cross the finish line before 5pm, so he wasn't even there yet. Luckily, Brian and his wife Angie were there to cheer for me and took pictures of me. My husband arrived shortly after I finished and brought me a warm coat and helped me walk like a wounded penguin back to his car (he had to park SO FAR away). After I finished, I felt happy and exhausted and I was absolutely crusted in salt. I also couldn't touch my toes if you paid me and stepping up a curb seemed like a real challenge.
|Is it just me, or is this metal REALLY heavy?|
Post race: I took the longest, hottest shower of all time back at our hotel. I was glad we stayed two nights because that meant I could have a private shower instead of a shower at the middle school. Also, my husband was able to get grad school work done in the room while I was running for hours. I thought that I would be able to eat a ton of food since you know, the 50 miles and all, but I was barely able to eat anything. I was shaky hungry, but when I tried to eat I would feel awful after about 4 bites. Very disappointing! I felt the same at breakfast this morning, but better at lunch, so hopefully I'll be able to eat a good sized dinner.
|What post is complete without a salty butt shot?|
How do I feel? Like I got hit by a bus, but I can still walk up and down stairs and stuff like that. I'm sore in strange places like my abs and shoulders. I wasn't able to sleep at all last night because the caffeine I took in during the race and the pain factor, so I also feel really tired.
Nutrition during the race: I drank lemon-lime Nuun out of my hydration pack (about 3 liters) and I took a Gatorade and Coke at almost every aid station. I also had about a handful of M&Ms and few potato chips at other aid stations. Mile 34 aid station was the cookie station, so I had a chocolate chip cookie and then at mile 38 I had a handful of gummy bears. In past races, I ate more at the aid stations, but this race only had a few choices (no boiled potatoes!) and I really just wanted to keep moving forward. I also took 3 Gus and ate about half a pack of mint Mentos (for nausea).
|I may be officially tired of Gatorade...for a few days|
Would I do it again? Absolutely. The race was really well run, I love the shirt, and I had a great time.
|Badass pants are even more badass with a salt crust|
For your viewing pleasure, there is also a movie. Keep in mind that my brain on running is like your brain on 2 or 3 beers, so if I'm not making sense to you, it's ok.