After the walk to the start line, I headed into the street and heard my name. Kristin was able to spot me in the sea of runners. Quickly we were off.
|Feeling a little short here.|
After the first road section, we hit the Appalachian Trail briefly before the next climb. Things were going well and I was feeling good. The next section of trail seemed oddly very runnable for longer sections than I'd remembered in the past. Perhaps the leaf cover helped in the rockiness? I talked to a few others who had the same thoughts. Then, I encountered a bit of a hiccup. My eyes water terribly in cold weather and particularly on trails for some reason. In constantly trying to keep that at bay, my right contact shifted. Ever try to run on a trail with one good eye and one blurry? Not fun. I tried to adjust it, didn't work. I knew we'd be coming up to Gathland aid station soon and just hoped it stayed in my eye.
After arriving on the Gathland, I took out my contact rinsed it with a cup of water, almost dropping it on the ground in the process, and put it back in. Ahh, much better, actual vision. Moving on, made it the rest of the way through the trail. During the final rocky section before the switchbacks, Alyssa came flying by gazelle like. I was shocked she was behind me since I figured both her and Kristin were way ahead of me by this point. Her recap explains the reason.
I missed my husband at the Weverton station by about 30 seconds but I didn't need anything, felt really good at this point and continued on to the dreaded canal. After running for a bit, it wasn't feeling as 'easy' as it should be. I concluded I needed to pee. After taking care of that, off I went but I was throwing in some short walk breaks already. Although I can't say I had any 'plan' for the canal, I can say feeling tired at this stage was not in it.
At one point, a local friend, Jill, passed me. For a short time, that helped to get me moving but it didn't last long. Many, many negative thoughts were filling my head in the miles from about 20-26. The 'I'm not even half way there yet' thoughts, 'the winner is already finished for the day'. It wasn't pretty and honestly I kept thinking how it would be so easy to just drop out at one of the aid stations.
Luckily, mile 27 was a bit of a lift. My husband was there plus other local crew support. On top of that, it's the aid station that our local road runners club hosts so I also knew pretty much everyone there. There was no way I could 'drop' at that station. Moving on.
|Looking a bit defeated - the theme of the day.|
|Not the 34 station but this was the dude I ran with to get there in front of the cut off.|
Then, a ray of light occurred. No, literally. Ray showed up. I can say with about 99% certainty that if he hadn't shown up when he did, I would not have finished this race. I didn't know him and I had no idea who he was when he came up and started talking to me. It started with the same conversation that I'd had with at least a dozen other people that day on the course. How's it going? Where are you from? The usual questions. I have no idea why he started making conversation with me. I'm assuming I looked desperate.
I found out he was to pace a friend for 41 miles but his friend dropped at 22 due to injury. After that he was basically out to complete miles for fun. Yes, ultra runners are an interesting bunch. Somewhere in this early conversation, he introduced himself as Ray and the light bulb went off and I told him I followed him on Twitter. More light bulbs went off and I realized that several local friends knew him and even more light bulbs went off when I discovered he also knew several non-local ultra friends. And, suddenly this whole running long thing didn't seem to suck as bad and I actually started running and it felt OK. The conversation he provided was exactly what I needed. He wasn't the least bit annoying (people can generally annoy me easily) and the time was passing quickly. And, that aid station I was completely hoping I'd be pulled at? The next one where I'd be seeing my husband? I flew (OK, I know it was more of an odd shuffle, limp, bobble head kind of movement) past him yelling I have five minutes to get through this aid station before cut-off.
|Quite possibly the only photo where it looks like I'm actually focused, determined and running, mile 38.|
Ray told me the next cut-off was the one I needed to truly make sure I was through before the cut-off, mile 41.8. It was the strict one. With his help, I made it through with 15 minutes to spare. At this point, I proudly took my vest of shame and hit the road. Perhaps there was a chance I'd finish this thing. The first hill to climb actually felt good. It stretched some muscles that needed help but soon I was on my own again. Well, not on my own but back in the mode where everyone around me were people actually in the race, so I'd stay with people for a bit. Then, they'd move on or I'd move on. The ray of light was no longer there. At this point, it also started to get dark and fairly miserable.
Mile 44 aid station passed and shortly thereafter was the round of tears. Everything hurt and I was about as drained physically and mentally as I could be. My right knee finally decided to fight back. Soon, Anna, a local friend passed and I tried to keep moving with her. It worked for a bit then she surged ahead. I caught up with her and we passed through mile marker 46. I saw my husband for the last time and according to what he later said, I did not look good. Ray was at the 46 aid station and yelled as I passed that I was 9 minutes ahead of that cut-off.
I couldn't see my watch and kept asking people around me what time it was and trying to determine how fast I needed to walk to still come in under the 12-hour cut-off. There was very little running. Every time I tried, it just hurt like hell. With under a mile to go, Ray showed up again and somehow I was able to run with him. He told me to run to a certain cone then I could walk. After one final walk break, the finish was in sight so off I went (after he helped me take off the vest to hopefully get a finisher photo) through the finish in 11:48:02.
Two other local friends were still running and came in about 2 minutes later. Everyone that I know locally finished the race. And, now for the sappy stuff. Finishing this race solidified the fact that I run with some of the toughest and most determined people out there. Several of us struggled through issues, cut-off times and more to fight through it and finish a goal, never giving up.
This was the longest race I've completed so far and the only ultra I've attempted without my sister by my side. I wanted to run this on my own and planned to be by myself the entire day, doing what worked best for me. I've run races alone or with her - that's it. When things get tough, I can usually fight through it. Or, with my sister, we know how to complement each other and most of all how to encourage without being annoying.
What I discovered is that fifty miles of all familiar trails and terrain is a terribly long way to be completely alone with only your own thoughts. I firmly believe that distance running is largely mental and my experience at the JFK 50 is a prime example of that. I met several people throughout the day who helped me continue moving forward but by far the biggest thank you goes to Ray. Although I plan to take a break from ultras, I can say with complete certainty that it is only a break. I certainly want to do more, bigger and badder. My experience with the support of family, friends, volunteers and complete strangers makes this a special little world that I certainly want to keep in my life continuing to grow, experience and give back to.