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JFK 50 Mile Race Recap

Mike D. Skara
Nothing is sweeter than achieving a new PR, except maybe earning it at one of America’s most prestigious ultras at its golden anniversary. Through a few good long runs, support from my family and my ERC Grumpy Grover training friends, some experience, and a bit of good fortune, I was able to complete the 50th JFK 50 Miler that ends near Hagerstown, MD in 9:09:07 Nov. 17. That run was 9:35 better than my 2009 performance.Because of the increased demand to compete in this milestone anniversary, the JFK50 RD instituted qualifying standards for the first time. This meant even more elites than ever and fewer mere mortals like me. Fortunately, I did have an A-level qualifier because the race closed before Bs & Cs got in. The top guys were so impressive, including the winner who averaged 6:42 per mile. I saw those world-class athletes at the 7 a.m. start and again as I hobbled through the awards ceremony hours after they were done.

To me, the runners that are as impressive as the elites are the veterans. Most of them get a head start on the day light, beginning at 5 a.m., but many of them are in their late 60s and were completing 10th, 15th, or 20th time through. According to race literature, less than 1/10th of 1% of the U.S. population has ever finished a 50 mile foot race, but these athletes are more than picking up the slack.

I also had the good fortune of accidentally joining the Reston Runners the night before the race. I stumbled upon their pre-race dinner, and they offered their assistance along the course. Had I knew of their existence, I would have prepared drop bags. However, because of their yellow shirt that I wore, I had an RR cheering section at each aid station and an angel named Ann at the finish line, who guided me to an open table, found my bag, and got food for me. That treatment made me feel like an elite. I also
pinned my father’s name to that shirt, so maybe I had help there, too.

The race course is composed of all three of the common surfaces: 14 miles on the rocky Appalachian Trail just past the start in “downtown” Boonsboro, the next 26 miles on the unpaved dirt of the C&O canal trail, and the final stretch back on roads.

Thanks to my JFK experience from 2009 and other trail running since then, I was much more successful on the AT. I was a bit less aggressive and only slightly twisted each ankle once instead of the horrific six severe twists last time. Amazingly to me, I got off the Weverton Cliffs, a series of steep switchbacks at 14.5 miles, in one piece.

Once on the wider and much flatter canal trail, I made up some time I had lost on the AT, where it is difficult to run quickly. I tried to eat and drink as often as I could and still maintain a good pace. I think I went a little too hard here, though. My stomach rebelled a little and my legs became more tired than I had wanted. I even sat down for 30 seconds in an RR’s chair just beyond the mile 38 aid station. Another mile after that, I felt the blister on the bottom of my right foot rip open.

The good news came just before mile 42, the end of the canal & back on roads. The mile markers switched from those completed to number remaining. Too bad my legs felt beat & I felt like Sisyphus trudging up that transition hill, my very body was the boulder. Miles 43-46 were very difficult, as I walked almost as much as I jogged/shuffled. That PR was slowly slipping away. I just had to not get slower than 12s, to which I had yet slowed, but doubt whether I could even do that was creeping in.

Yet somehow at the mile 46 aid station I started to feel better. A few downhills helped and a some sweet Gatorade helped more. I picked up the pace again and I passed back a few runners. By then I knew I had that PR, it was now a question of by how much.

I was elated when I saw that 1 mile marker, so I poured on whatever I had left. A compatriot yelled out, “Nice kick!” as I passed him, and I called back, “I hope I can hold it!” With 400 meters left, there was no one between me and home. Those spectators were cheering for me alone!

I felt such elation crossing the line, hearing my name, and getting my medal. All of the work paid off. I feel so proud and ready to tackle the Umstead 100 miler in April.

Washington Co., Md     November 17, 2012, 5 & 7:00 A.M.
Place Name       Div/Tot  No.  Time   Pace
==== ==================== === ======= =====
239 Mike Skara  67/225   724 9:09:07 10:59

Photo Highlights

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