You may recall that last year, I DNF'd at JFK after running in pain for a while (I'm a klutz and whacked my knee on a rock.. full story here.) This year, I was back to take care of some unfinished business.
That mission was sort of accomplished. I got it done... but it wasn't pretty... and it wasn't the finish time or placing I wanted. But.... I got it done in a respectable time and I didn't hurt myself.
I guess I should give some sort of recap of the race, so here goes.
It was cold at the start, colder than I was expecting. Or maybe it felt colder than it was. I know I had looked at the forecast and knew based on the temps that I should be fine in shorts and a singlet, with arm sleeves and gloves that I hoped to toss after a few miles.
When I arrived at the race start, I got out of my car and was really cold, so I made the last minute decision to wear my super thin NB jacket since it weighs almost nothing and I could just shove it in the bungees of my pack when I remove it. I ended up being very happy that I grabbed it (and that it was in the car!). There was also rain in the forecast, so I decided on the tight shorts instead of loose. I normally wear loose shorts, but in rain? Not the best plan.
We walked to the start, and got this show on the road. I was wearing the jacket and was happy with that decision. I wore it for the first 5 miles, then shoved it into the bungees and ran without until it ended up back on late in the race... but more on that in a bit.
I'm feeling lazy, so I'm going to copy/paste the course description from the race website:
The first 5.5 miles (starting on road surface and joining the Appalachian Trail at 2.5 miles) gains 1,172 feet in elevation. The course from 2.5 to 15.5 miles is on the Appalachian Trail (except for two miles of paved road between 3.5 and 5.5 miles). This section of the AT is very rocky in sections as it rolls across the mountain ridge. At approximately 14.5 miles the course drops over 1,000 feet in a series of steep “switchbacks” that then crosses under Rt. 340 and connects with the C&O Canal towpath. The “Canal” section of the JFK 50 Mile is 26.3 miles (from 15.5-41.8 miles) of almost totally flat unpaved dirt/gravel surface that is free of all automotive vehicle traffic. The JFK 50 Mile route leaves the C&O Canal towpath at Dam #4 and proceeds to follow gently rolling paved country roads the last 8.4 miles to the finish. The Boonsboro start is at an elevation of 570 feet. The Williamsport finish is at 452 feet above sea level.
Section 1: road to AT. This was fine. I was getting a little sick of running uphill by the end of it, but it was fine.
Section 2: AT. This was slow. At first it was all good, but once I got to the rocky bits, I remembered last year and I ended up taking it SUPER easy. I did NOT want a repeat of last year. I just wanted to get through this section. I figured once I got to the Canal, I could pick it up and actually start to run.
Shortly before the AT section ended.... the rain started. It was around 14 miles for me when it started. It was fairly light, but still... it was starting... and it wasn't going to stop for a long time.
I had a bit of a klutzy moment where I almost slipped off the edge at the start of the switchbacks. Whoops! And then I tripped on a rock (didn't fall), so... easy going down those as well. I don't know where my trail legs/feet were that day!
Section 3: port-a-potty. :) The short section at Weverton after coming down the switchbacks, but before heading under the highway toward the Canal section includes a few port-a-potties. I was looking forward to this for the last mile or so of the AT.
Section 4: C & O Canal Tow Path... just over a marathon of flat (technically a very slight uphill, but essentially flat). It was time to now actually run. I wanted to run mid-8s here and until the end of the race. Well.... it did happen "here". I ran pretty consistently, with each mile in the 8s up to the aid station where I dropped out last year. I stopped at that aid station to grab a Christmas cookie quickly to commemorate passing this one... shoved it in my mouth, and then regretted the cookie as it was difficult to get down. I kept running along and the rain started coming down harder. (it was a lighter rain up to this point.... here's a good time for a photo.. this was taken around mile 19.5, I believe. You can see the rain.. this was the lighter rain... but it was still cold and wet and as you can see by my face... not my happy kind of weather.
OK... back to the race... after mile 35 and the cookie.... the rain came down hard. I got myself to the next aid station, tried to take my jacket off the back of my pack to put it back on.... my hands didn't work. I tried to open a pack of shot blocks... my hands didn't work. I tried to put the jacket on.. nope... tried to zip the zipper... nope.. tried to do the clasps of my pack when it was put back on me... again... nope. Volunteers helped me to do all of those things... and by helped, I mean pretty much had to do everything for me because I was incapable. My hands were so cold that they just wouldn't function. Once I was put back together, motivation was gone. I was cold and wet and miserable and I had no desire to push. I was at mile 38 or so at this point... maybe 39 or 40. I'm not sure... but there was still more than 10 miles to go and I just didn't wanna. I did, of course, but it wasn't fun.— Vicki Zandbergen (@VicZanRan) November 23, 2017
Off I went, running in my soaking wet shoes, soaking wet gloves, but slightly warmer now that I had the jacket on. After a bit, the rain did stop. But that doesn't make shoes dry. And wet shoes for hours is not my idea of a good time.
I was happy to get to the end of the Canal section, turned, running up a short hill to get out, which kind of sucked...
Section 5, final section: rolling roads.
...then turned the corner and... seriously? A big ol' hill... which probably wasn't all that big, but it looked it at the time. For some unknown reason the 3 or 4 guys that were in front of me started walking... so I did as well. In hindsight (and really.. at the time as well) I know this was a bad idea. Once you walk... it's in your head that it's OK to walk. I hadn't walked aside from a bit on the rocky section of the AT hours ago, but here... I did. I didn't need to.. I didn't feel like I needed a break.... but seeing them walk tricked me into walking. I started running again when I got to the top of the hill and kept running until I reached an aid station, where I grabbed some broth. I was just going to drink it and head on my way, but the guy who gave it to me told me that there were trash bags all around the corner, so I could walk while I drank it. Once again.. I had no intentions of walking.... but he gave me permission. I probably would have finished it by the first bag and tossed it, and got back to running, but instead I sipped, and walked, and didn't finish it until the very last bag... then got back to running.
I stopped once more before the finish, but that was to use a port-a-potty. I decided that I didn't want to have to bee-line it to the bathroom at the finish, so I'd empty the ol' bladder here. I knew I wasn't going to get the finish time I wanted anymore anyway, and even sub-8 was out of the question here since I was only 2 miles from the finish, so I stopped. I peed quickly, but then I had difficulty pulling my shorts back up! I was in there laughing at myself and how difficult it was to make cold hands pull up shorts! I got them up without needing the help of any volunteers ;) and got back at it. I picked up the pace a little from here to the finish and finished the race in 8:09 and some seconds.
I went inside... got a quick massage since there was no line.. where I was told that this was the worst weather he had seen at this race in the last 10 years. After that... I located my bag and headed to the showers! Oh that hot water was nice. I was so happy that I brought some warm clothes to change into after. I was much more comfortable and was able to sit and eat some food without shivering. :)
All in all, it was an OK day. I would have liked to run it better. I did read in someone else's write up that it seems to take 3 tries to get this race right. So.... I guess I'll be back for that perfect race. It likely will not be next year, but it will happen again someday.