Sunday, November 18, 2007

JFK 50 Mile Run

What a great weekend! I had great travel companions, Dan Horvath, Steve Hawthorn and Brandon Russell. We left on Friday morning, departing Hudson a little before 10am. Shortly prior to crossing over into PA, someone mentioned race gear, and water bottle, and I suddenly realized that I forgot to pack my hand held bottle and gu packs. Ughhh! This was bad! I had nothing! Brandon offered one of his bottles and his hand holder, as he had a belt with capacity for two bottles, and he though he could make due with one bottle. This weighed heavy on my mind until it was resolved later in the day. I could NOT take one of Brandon’s bottles. That idea just would not set in my mind as a solution. I suggested to the group that we take a lunch-time side trip off of the PA turnpike to visit the 9/11 Flight 93 crash site memorial. Since I was driving, my vote automatically trumped any disagreement. My thought was the side trip would not take a lot of time, but due to snowy weather, slow traffic, winding country highway and an unfortunate (for someone else) accident we were delayed by more than 2 hours. The side trip did result in two cool stops. First the somber visit to the crash site. It was blustery cold. The mood for me was similar to a first visit to a fresh grave site of a loved one. We snapped a few photos, and were off to find lunch at a “non – chain” restaurant. My desire is always to eat at local establishments, as the price and quality is almost always a notch above Denny’s or Bob Evans. We found “Ed’s” near the Turnpike interchange town of Bedford Pa. I labeled the area “mini Breezewood” and it was. Lunch at Ed’s was great. All four of us ate the “second” helping fish lunch and we all had desert. Dan and I indulged in pumpkin pie. Brandon had the blueberry pie, and Boston Cream for Steve. Oh, I am hungry right now! Two years ago I ran JFK 50 mile for the first time. None of my other travel companions has run JFK before. It was such an enjoyable experience the first time; I knew I would be back. I was unable to run last year due to several employment issues. My life is much more settled now, so this year I was able to execute a better training plan focused on this race. Here is what I did to prepare: The past three weeks I did most of my runs on trails in the dark. This helped me focus on foot placement and being agile so that uneven foot landings would not cause me to roll or twist an ankle. Three weeks ago I ran a 37-mile trail run. The week prior to that, I did 3 runs that were up steep and long mountain trails. Five weeks out I did the Cleveland Towpath Marathon. Six weeks out I did the Akron Marathon. Akron and Towpath marathons were the core of my preparation. Akron, with its hills, and then just 8 days later the HOT Towpath marathon, combined together, these two races helped build my endurance. Back to the trip, after lunch the travel time flew by, and we quickly arrived in Hagerstown. The first stop was race headquarters for packet pick up. I splurged by purchasing a $5 polo shirt off of the discount rack. And I scored a free fluid flask from another vendor. The flask has some adverts on it, and also the slogan: “Run like a Girl” Primary colors on the flask are pink and purple. It worked, and I began to believe this would be my solution. Brandon insisted that I use his hand-held bottle holder as he was only going to use his belt and the hand-bottle holder was destined to stay in the hotel room unless I decided to use it. BTW, I have a belt and have not used it the last couple years. I always use a hand-held flask. I was ok with the thought of no gu packets since I planned to get most of my race day calories from the aid station. My race shorts have pockets and I always have a few gu packets in each pocket. Also, race day temps were forecast as cold and so my plan was to wear a jacket for the first part of the race and maybe (if I can find someone to take it) discard after the sun comes out. The jacket has pockets as well, with more room for my race essentials - gu, baby wipes and a plastic baggie with Aleve. After packet pickup, I drove out to the start area in Boonsboro. My plan was to use the remaining daylight to show a few of the early course locations to my friends. We drove the initial 3-mile road section into the first trailhead. Here we are race eve: We also drove to the Reno memorial. WARNING - Dull history lesson in the following paragraph: The JFK 50 mile course runs through many significantly important historic sites. At about 4 miles into the run we cross Reno Memorial road and right past the Reno Monument. Major General Jesse Reno served under the Commander of the Potomac General McClellen. In September 1862, he was a casualty at the memorial site in a battle where his Union Troops were attempting to stop troops under General Lee. Lee had plans in place to advance on Harpers Ferry which was location of a large Union armory. All the generals and other officers that served under him dearly loved General Reno. In 1868 one of those officers suggested naming a small Nevada town after his beloved General. Here is a photo of me at the Reno Monument: Ok now to the race. My goal was to stay with Terry Hawk for the first three miles since I knew his strategy is always to jog the first part and save the walking for later on the trail where it is sometimes impossible to run. This was TJ’s 10th time at JFK, so I knew I was in good hands. My pre-race goal was sub 9. I had done 9:35 two years ago, and I knew I was in better condition this go around. The night before our group made a quick stop at a Target store. I got a couple of Cherry Almond cliff bars and some baby wipes. My pre race meal was a banana and one cliff bar washed down with about 10 oz of diet energy drink and 440 mg (2 caps) of Aleve. I carried my flask which was full of Gatorade, 4 cliff bars, a small pack of baby wipes and two more Aleve caps and one chocolate gu that another runner, a total stranger gave me just prior to the start. He offered as this was something extra and he could not fit in his pack. I was fearful of the first couple of miles; I didn’t think I could run the entire way up the hill. But I did. And I felt great. The weather was great; high for the day was just below 50. Temp at the start was low 30's. There was a slight breeze. No rain, sleet or snow. I ran hard the first couple of miles on road and stayed with and just a few steps a head of TJ. Miles 4 through 16 are on the Appalachian Trail, which is technical single track and it's difficult to pass other runners. I was passed by a few, and also passed a dozen or so on the single track. About mile 13 I pulled out a cliff bar and ate ½. Another hour later I ate the other half. Near the end of the single-track trail I passed Joe Trask and Sue Demming. Joe is 72. If he completes the run today it will be 20th. The amazing thing about Joe is that he had hip replacement surgery in 1995. And just over a year ago he had a partial knee replacement. This is one tough dude! A little later I passed Leo Lightner and then after the Weverton Cliffs I passed Art Moore. All these folks applied for and were accepted into the 5am start. At mile 16 the trail descends on multiple switchbacks down the side of the mountain to the Potomac River. I came out on the towpath in about 2:35. Right when the course comes off the trail, on a small section of road in the hamlet called Weverton, there are hundreds of spectators. I saw and acknowledged Donna Hawk, Steve Godale and Lloyd Thomas. These three were here specifically to support runners they had come to help with the race. I had no plans for assistance at that time, but shortly after I was hopeful I could hand my jacket and hat to someone I knew and retrieve it at the finish area. The next 26+ miles are on towpath, similar to the one we run here in the Cuyahoga Valley, including mileposts. First milepost is 60 and the last is 86. I stayed consistent there doing just under 9's most of the way. Aid stations are setup between 3 and 4 miles apart. At each station I would eat a couple handfuls of potato chips and drink 3 cups of coke. This would replace my salt and sugars and it tastes better than an electrolyte capsule. I carried a hand-held bottle and about every other aid station I would get that refilled with Gatorade. I never spent more than 2 minutes at the stations. Once I had to stop to get some rocks out of my left shoe. After just a couple of miles on the Towpath, I was getting real warm. First I took off my hat and then I had thoughts of dropping my jacket with Steve Godale. The next crew access point is where Antietam Creek flows into the Potomac. Steve was there to crew for Dawn Malone and I was running near her. I thought of him since he is easy to pick out in a crowd. I figured that I may also see Lloyd or Donna, and they were my backup plan. Prior to Antietam, I arranged all my stuff so that anything I didn’t want, I put into jacket pockets. I had unzipped the jacket so that it would be easy to strip off. It all worked out as planned, and just as I was departing the aid area, Steve was running toward me. Thanks a bunch Steve, you made the last 20+ miles much more pleasant. The last 7 miles of towpath I was slowing to just less than 10 minutes per mile. I was consistently passing runners and occasionally I would be passed. There was always pleasant conversation exchanged. I did several miles with two runners from Alabama, and a couple miles with another runner from Dayton, Ohio. We were all in good spirits. I love to run! For several miles I was deep into meditation. Eyes were slits; peace everywhere, every single physical movement was fluid. Being next to the beautiful Potomac helped. Leaves on the trail, water over rocks, slight breeze - these were the only sensory invasions, and they aided my trance. There is a large low head dam, (Dam #4) on the Potomac near where the course leaves the trail for the last 8.2 miles of road. You can see and hear it on the river about ½ mile before you get there. I was coming up on another runner as the dam came into view and I informed her that seeing Dam 4 means we are departing the towpath and the finish is close. I also asker her, “what’d the fish say when he ran into a wall? Damn!” I got a laugh and a thank you out of her. All good things come to an end, and the 42-mile mark ended the towpath. I had run that marathon in about 4:05. Race time at 42 was about 6:40. The final 8.2 miles are on rolling country road through the Maryland countryside. Even with the hills I kept all of them under 10's. I was passed by a couple of runners and I was lucky enough to pass a handful. The last three aid stations I blew through like I was in a 10k. Hand me a cup of water or coke and I kept moving right on through. Little squeezes of the cup and made it like a funnel to pour it into my mouth. Drop the empty cup into a garbage can, or as close to the can as possible. Of course I had to sprint the last mile. 8 minutes and 40 seconds. It was fun to run. It was great to stop. Something cool happened when I was in the finish area waiting for Steve Hawthorn to come in. Voice on the loud speaker, "Here comes Michael George, from Richmond Virginia" It was cool to meet another ultra runner with my name. Of course, Michael George is a cool dude. The most difficult part of the day lies ahead. Unbeknownst to me, there was NO hot water in the showers at the middle school where we finish. I had no choice but to take a cold shower. It was horrible at the time, but now I believe that ice-cold shower may have provided for an extremely quick recovery from the 50-mile run. Later in the evening a bunch of the folks from NE Ohio celebrated at El Paso, a Tex-Mex Restaurant on Dual Highway, just a mile or two closer to Hagerstown from the race registration Hotel. This Photo was provided by Dan Horvath. L to R: Brandon Russell, Steve Hawthorne, Melissa (don't know last name), Elizabeth Hansen, Steve Godale, Dawn Malone, Dan Fox, Rita Barnes, Dan Horvath, me.

4 comments:

Mike said...

Nice Race Mike. I really enjoyed the thorough report. Especially the part about finding a "trance like" meditation on the towpath.

You need to start giving your finish times at the end! I had to look it up for JFK and the Thanksgiving 4 miler. You are very fast...very motivating for me!

Mike said...

8 o freaking 5!!?!!? Holy crap that is awesome. I just looked it up. Wow Mike, really impressive.

Brian said...

Great job Mike! Nice report.. I enjoyed reading it.

Mike said...

Mike/Brian - Thanks. I'll try to remember times/place in my future reports.