It is 1:48am on Sunday. I can’t sleep. (Well, did for a little while), yet now I sit in my silent Econo Lodge room in Hagerstown, MD staring at my flip flops across the room. The wall unit hums with the fan and I am in a restless stupor staring at my Mac screen...
(Annette's note: I stared in stupor for another hour before "napping". What follows was all written before 6am and proofed a few minutes ago)
Yesterday was the 47th running of the JFK 50 mile run. This was my 2nd JFK, with my 1st being 2 years ago when I came in 2nd to Anne Lundblad and ran 7:10:29. This year was a huge unknown as I have posted previously, I have been back to running since October 1st and have been working on base building, rather than structured “training”. I drove the 6 hours to Hagerstown Friday and was both excited and anxious…
My motel is less than a 5 minute walk from the host hotel, making navigating traffic a non-issue for me this busy Friday afternoon. I spent several hours hanging out and talking with folks at the Montrail Table. Both Montrail’s Jesse Malman and Tres Binkley were there. As I interacted with and observed this excited crowd, I learned that Scott Jurek, Hal Koerner, Ian Torrance, Gregory Crowther would be among those men representing the West Coast. Jason Bryant and Dink Taylor were among “the names” from The East. I was already aware of some of the strong women set to be here: Devon Crosby-Helms, Meghan Arbogast, Jill Perry, Francesca Conte, Monica Ochs-yet it was fun to both meet Devon and see the others again. I wasn’t sure I’d see any of them on the trail after race start! See this link for race director’s comments in local newspaper on both men and women’s fields:
Meeting and re-meeting other runners from all over the country felt like a happy class reunion. I wish I remember names, I remember the shared experiences…but sometimes names don’t stick, ugh. (Thankfully, I do much better with the names of my students at work).
I really appreciated visiting, even briefly with Jill. She is a very positive person to be around and a stunningly strong runner. We shared enthusiasm and good wishes while anticipating the race. We just talked a bit about each other’s apprehensions-Jill has just come off of a month of her whole family, including herself who had the flu and my need to balance wisdom and courage on the training I have right now. She said, more than once (thank you Jill), “Annette you are so strong, you’ll do great”. I appreciated those words very much, and they ultimately became part of a mantra I’d use during the later part of the run.
After leaving the host hotel and walking back to my room I ate a light dinner of chicken noodle soup, English muffin and glass of wine. After taking an hour to dink around with clothing gear choice - finally deciding on a tank top and to carry no pack, I pinned my bib number, secured chip to my left Montrail (Mountain Masochist this day) and slept until 4:20am.
To me, race day conditions were perfect: 43 degrees and a light wind at 7am. I had a vague plan for the day: warm up well, go out hard and get on the AT without too much “traffic”, run “easy” and at mile 25ish, see how I felt. Splits from last race showed I came off the AT in 2:16 and my towpath mile splits averaged between 8:28 and 8:36. I thought might aim for around 8:30 splits…I would have to see how things unfolded.
The first 2.5 miles are paved and uphill, and I got onto the AT at 20:10. This part of the AT, compared to AT at home, is very runnable. I watched Meghan, Devon and Jill take off ahead of me and I ran some with Ryan O’Dell (one of Jill’s clan from NY) and my friend Monica. I stayed very comfortable on the AT and again this year was very appreciative of the never-ending courtesy and encouragement when passing the 5am runners (or plodders as one guy dubbed the group). I stayed controlled and careful until coming within ¾ a mile of the bottom of Weverton Cliffs. The dirt and rocks and leaves called out to me and I let go with an enthusiasm and abandon I have not released for months and felt like I flew down the trail and switchbacks.
Thank you to all runners who shared the trail and helped me get by!
Running down that hill was very energizing. I had the experience of flight, if only for 7 minutes! I went through the timing matt at the towpath somewhere around 2:21. Buoyed by the hill, running was joyous and I felt great. Then I caught up with Jill and we briefly chatted. She’d taken a dirty and bloody fall up on the trail and was moving slowly. We wished each other well and I kept on, certain I’d see her very soon. Yet seeing Jill reminded me to be smart and I slowed my pace down a bit and got into The Flow. And I daydreamed and bam! Fell on the towpath! Ack! A little blood and another bruise. I would not do that again! I did pause from my silent forward motion when I saw Tammy Massey out there several miles later and we exchanged enthusiasms.
The miles passed mostly quite quickly back and forthing with several guys-I didn’t talk much, despite the flat path-I needed to pay attention to what I was doing. Aid stations came and went. After eating my Clif blocks and small supply of gels I carried, I fueled with aid station Gatorade, Hammer gels and Ecaps. Stations were every 1.8-4.3 miles apart during the non-AT part of the course and they kept on clicking by.
I got to see Tres and Jesse somewhere around mile 27 when they jumped out of their rental car and ran along side me for a little while. At this point I was truly feeling splendid. Next time I saw them, was around 8 miles later and I was still moving well and trying very hard to “stay in touch” with my truth. I knew at this point, I was navigating the knife-edge of my training and I did my best to keep up with calories and electrolytes. I was working hard at staying steady. I think at this point maintaining the pace was more mental than physical.
As much as I like the towpath, it was a relief to get on pavement for the final 8.4 miles. The course was rolling and my muscles appreciated the switch…and downhill’s were fun! Somewhere with 3 miles left to go-I looked back for the 1st time this day-now I would race and fight for my finishing position. Yet the need wasn’t there. So I thought I’d see how close to 7 hours I could get…and there were 2 guys in fronts of me I wanted to try and catch. (A habit I seem to have during the last few miles of 50 milers). With 1.3 miles left to go I passed both and ran for the finish.
After crossing Main Street of Williamsport with less than ½ mile left to go I was pushing as hard and felt emotional and thought I might cry or hyperventilate. Yet I did neither just ran hard and joyously in, grateful for the cheers and applause from folks gathered at the finish area. Jesse welcomed me in and walked with me to the medical area and hang out for a while as I drank the water he brought me while the medical guys cleaned up my knee scrapes.
At this point I learned of Devon breaking 6:30 with a new CR of 6:29:21 and Meghan breaking 7 hours in 6:56:05! My time was 7:02:52 for 3rd place (and later I learned was the 10th fastest female time in the 47 years-holy buckets!) Jill’s fall kept her from running the whole way and she finished a courageous 8:25:40.
I still don’t know where my run came from. I really felt like something was unleashed for me at the top of Weverton Cliffs! I am very grateful for a strong body that allows me to more easily take in the essences of life. I began my recovery 25 minutes after finishing with 24 ounces of water, slice of cheese pizza and a 30-minute leg massage at the middle school where the finish is staged.
Recovery continued a couple hours later after a shower when I met up with Monica (Monica got 4th in 7:28:09), Meghan, Devon and Howard Nippert for some beer and food at a Hagerstown pub. The blacken chicken sandwich and salty chips really hit the spot for me. (Beer was good too). What fun it was to rehash parts of the race, and hear Devon recap her throwing her water bottle and sprinting for the finish line! It was good for my soul to be around these neat folks-and good for my body NOT to be in a car this night!
Not to leave out the tough men, the top 4 were: Gregory Crowther (5:50:13), Michael Arnstien (5:50:58), Matt Woods (5:54:10) and Hal Koerner (6:05:02).