JFK 50 Mile Challenge - The end of my running journey in 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 • Silver Spring, MD 20910

In the spring of 1963, numerous 50 mile races across the country were held as part of President John F. Kennedy’s push to improve physical fitness. After his assassination in November of 1963, most of these events were never held again. The race name changed many times and the JFK 50 Mile in Washington County, MD is the only original JFK 50 Mile Challenge event to be held every year since then.

My journey to run an Ultra began in January 2012 by joining the group “26.2 to Boston”, formerly known as “Boston Bound”, and later on the XMP (Experienced Marathon Group of the MCRRC ) It is so much fun to run with a group of determined and goal-minded runners. The support of your peers can take your performance to the next level.

This was my race schedule for the year ahead:
March 17 - Rock N'Roll Marathon (one week skiing prior did not help my performance at this race)
June 2 - North Face 50K - 30 miles (after a rainstorm pounded the area, it was tough going due to tons of mud - do not compare it to the Tough Mudder !)
July 29 - San Francisco Marathon - fantastic race (did it with my son)
September 9 - Parks 1/2 Marathon - my favorite hometown race
October 28 - Marine Corps Marathon - could not participate due to injury
November 17 - JFK 50 Miler - fantastic, amazing, empowering, just plain awesome

November 17, 2012 race start 7:00 am in Boonsboro, MD
It was a cold, crisp, sunny morning with the temps hovering around 29 degrees and the promise of mid 50s later in the day. A group of about 500 gathered at the starting line to head out and tackle the JFK 50 and I am one of them!
Dressed in long sleeve running clothes, trail shoes, water belt filled with Perpetuem, coffee flavoured Hammer Gue, Aspirin, Hammer Electrolytes, I am ready to go.
My game plan: run the flats, walk the hills and once off of the Appalachian Trail, it is 1 mile running with 2 minutes walking. My Garmin was set up to give me a signal each time I needed to start walking.

The gun goes off and we are heading out of town toward the Appalachian Trail (AT).  The first several miles asphalt road and onto an incredibly steep hill to top it off. You can feel the excitement in the air as the crowd heads toward the AT entrance.
We have 8 check points, 14 aid stations and along the way our support crews. My crew consisted of my boyfriend Jan, my daughter Melanie, and son Jesse (he is joining me at mile 34). My crew carried with them a change of clothes, extra supplies, and fresh shoes as well as a lot of smiles and encouragement for me along the way.

IMG_0042 Once entering the AT it is rocky and steep, one must watch their step in order not to fall. We mostly run in single file, some talking, others like me, silent and focused. It is important to know that each checkpoint has a cutoff time that you must reach prior to it, in order to continue on or you will be removed from the field and sent to the finish line by bus.

My goal times are 30-minute ahead of the cutoff time just to be on the safe side. I made my 1st checkpoint, Gathland, in my goal time, reaching it by 9am. Now onto Weverton, the most treacherous part of the trail with switch backs, narrow and steep. My hiking skills came in very handy, and I exceeded my goal time by 15 minutes - terrific, extra time! My crew was there to refill my bottles, Gue, change clothing AND I ate a yummy pancake with lots of sirup.
The aid stations along the way were stocked with: M&M’s, cookies, pretzels, chips, coke, Gatorade, water, some even had soup. The motto is: “Eat on the walking portion and don’t stop moving”.

After Weverton the race continues on the C&O Canal towpath, which is flat or has a bit of a false flat going slightly uphill until mile 42. By mile 34 I started to feel tired and was looking for my son, however my Garmin was ahead by 1 mile and I thought he would never join me or could not get on the trail until I realized, that indeed my Garmin was off. What a relief when I saw him and we finished the race together. I need to add though, that one we met up the first thing coming out of Jesse's mouth were: “My knee hurts, I may not finish with you and someone else may”. Not what I wanted to hear at all.

At mile 38 I was treated like a “race car”....my boyfriend and son refilled my supplies, my daughter took off my shoes and re-tied my chip on my shoes, another friend gave me electrolytes and water....the whole exchange felt like an eternity but in reality (as my Garmin later showed) less than 2 minutes. I had the best crew!

IMG_2574 At around 3:30pm we reached Dam#4 at mile 42, it was time to put on our “Jackets of Shame” - glowing in the dark safety jackets. Runners that do not make the cut off at this point early enough to finish in the daylight receive this fabulous jacket :)

From this point forward it was back to asphalt again, glad I changed my shoes earlier. My energy was coming back and I ran more often than walked. Through Downsville mile 46, where I saw my boyfriend and daughter one last time before the finish in Williamsport, MD. There I understood that because of my son’s knee my daughter was going to finish with me. However, to my son’s credit, he sucked it up and ran with me ‘till the end.

I finished strong with a big smile and a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
The strong support of my family preparing for the race and being there for me while racing was something not to be taken lightly and I appreciate it very much.

The obstacles along the way, mostly my injury 4-weeks prior to the race only made me stronger. I was diagnosed with an inflamed glut muscle by ProAction Physical Therapy, followed their advice of little to no running and cross training, i.e. biking, swimming, without the pounding of the road. I believe it made me a stronger runner and helped me to stay healthy throughout the race and beyond.

My time: 10 hours 39 minutes 41 seconds
Age group placement: 11 out of 38
Field placement: 554 out of 1041
Average pace: 12:49

IMG_2575 Will I do JFK again? Not sure, but ask me in a few months again until then see you on the trail


Heike Yates