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JFK 50 Mile 2012

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Post  KBFitz on Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:59 pm

I ran my first JFK 50 Mile in 2008. I wasn't really interested in running an ultra. But as I turned 50, I figured 'why not?' I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I opted for light speed trainers with cushioned insoles. Big mistake. The Appalachian Trail chewed me up and spit me out. Literally. I stepped off the course half way through, taking my first and only DNF.

Having failed so miserably the first time, I returned in 2009 to take another shot. This time I ran in proper (and somewhat heavy) trail shoes with rigid insoles. I fared well on the Appalachian Trail until I was within earshot of supporters and onlookers at the bottom of the Weverton Cliffs. In mile 15, just when I thought I was going to get off South Mountain unscathed, I relaxed my concentration and turned my right ankle so badly that it put me down ... hard. But I was able to get up and soldier on for 35 more miles, finishing in 8:50:04. Six weeks later the pain had not abated. So I had a foot doctor take a look. Turns out that I re-fractured the sub-talar joint that I smashed in a bad fall 32 years earlier. As a consequence, I didn't run during the first 3 months of 2010, was in physical therapy and made a phased return to the roads April through June.

Now six months of recovery is a stiff price to pay. So it may have been folly to run it again in 2010--my 'year of recovering dangerously'. But I simply had to conquer this beast. The third time was a charm. I wore an ankle brace on the AT, had no ankle incidents, changed shoes on the C&O canal towpath, kept my head in the game and finished in 8:19:23. The beast was vanquished. But recovery this time took three full months, one month with no running at all. So it was clear at this point that my ankle simply can't take 8+ hours of pounding without severe consequences.

I didn't run the JFK 50 Mile in 2011. That's because I was running the New York City marathon two weeks before and Houston (as a goal marathon) two months after. Instead, I joined Lisa in Schuey's crew and paced the bull from Antietam Aquaduct (mile 27.1) to Taylor's Landing (mile 38.4). What's more, I really enjoyed it.

2012 was the 50th running of the JFK 50 Mile. Wild horses couldn't drag me away. In an interview weeks before the race, JFK 50 race director Mike Spinnler noted that for many runners, completing this course in 2 x marathon time + 2 hours would be a reasonable goal. As I'm in 3:15 marathon shape, that would be 8:30 for me. But having run this course before, I knew that if all came together on race day and I kept my head in the game, I might be able to come in under 8 hours. I would pay a high price for going the distance on a fractured ankle. But at the start line sub-8 was the goal.

Race day
Conditions were excellent. A calm 27 °F at the 7:00 start was a bit chilly, but it would rise to a crisp 60 °F in the afternoon with a slight breeze under sunny skies. Perfect. I wore my ankle brace and light trail racers--Asics Gel Fuji Racers--and would change to road racers after the AT. I didn't meet Vivian or Whitney before the race in the Boonsboro High gym. But I did chat briefly with Vivian on the way to the start. My internals were not cooperating. I was planning to use a porta-john in town about 300 meters from the start. The bank of porta-johns that had been so welcome in 2010 was not there this year. Surprised Oh well. In only a few minutes, the starting pistol was fired by a descendant of Theodore Roosevelt. (JFK issued his challenge to spur national physical fitness using as a model Teddy Roosevelt's challenge to his military officers to cover 50 miles in under 20 hours to retain their commissions.) It felt good to be back on the road heading up to the AT. I ran easy and took a one minute pit stop at a porta-john just before the trail head in the parking lot of the South Mountain Inn.

Appalachian Trail
The Trail was a delight this year--in contrast to prior years. Using light trail racers for the first time, I was able to traverse the AT quickly and with relative ease. I even consumed a pocketful of M&Ms in stride as I made my way over the treacherous back six miles after the Gathland Gap aid station. It took full concentration and I only fell twice. The first was a mere side-roll on the trail. The last was a full-on summersault into the leaves on the Weverton Cliffs. It could have been serious. But I was lucky and it was a rather pleasant roll, providing comic relief for those I had just passed. In no time I was through the Weverton aid station (mile 15.5) and onto the towpath at 2:31:00, a minute ahead of my 2010 pace. I felt I had taken it easy and chalked up the relatively fast time on the AT to light trail shoes.

C&O Canal Towpath
As in 2010, my shoe change took five whole minutes. I could not change quicker as I had to retrieve and replace my shoes from and to their hiding place, had an ankle brace to shed and gaiters to contend with. And I had to change shoes as I could not go the distance in my trail racers--they're neutral and I need some stability support. After the change I began clicking off sub-9 minute miles with relative ease. But within an hour I knew that I would need another pit stop to complete the business I had not taken care of before the start. Just then, about a mile out from the Dargen Bend aide station (mile 22.4), I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner who had driven up overnight from North Carolina. He was cramping and was looking to get an NSAID or two from an aid station. I knew the aid stations were not even offering Tylenol this year (in another change from prior years). So I opened my mobile pharmacopia (in my Freestyle wrist wallet) and gave him the naproxen tablet I had brought along for after the race. Within a few hundred meters, I wished him well and ducked into the porta-john at Dargen Bend. That pit stop took an embarrassing six minutes, eight minutes total at Dargan Bend. While annoying, I didn't panic. It's a long race after all.

I rolled on at easy 9:00/miles to arrive at Antietam Aquaduct (mile 27.1) at 4:28:00, two minutes behind my 2010 pace and 13 minutes off sub-8 hour pace. Now it's quite possible to cover the remaining 23.1 miles in 3:32:00 or less (for a sub-8 finish). Heck, I had just run an easy MCM with Chris 2 weeks prior in 3:32:23. While I had run easy, I had clearly run harder than I should have to make up for the unscheduled pit stops before and after the AT. And I was just beginning to feel it. Antietam Aquaduct is decision time. I wasn't ready to throw in the towel just yet. I took my remaining naproxen and soldiered on at reduced effort to conserve energy. Even so, within a few miles I was toast. I could push and perhaps salvage an 8:20 finish in pain or just finish. I chose the latter.

I took it real easy through the finish. I passed some, got passed by others and took time to thank the aid station volunteers. I completed the 26.3 mile towpath section in 4:46:00 (at 7:17:00 on the race clock). I was pleased to be back on asphalt.

Rolling rural roads
The final 8.2 miles didn't hurt as badly as they did in 2010, when I was pushing it. They took longer too. But it's okay. Beer was on offer by a householder on the steep 200 meter uphill on Dam #4 Road. I didn't take it, but smiled nonetheless. A little further on another couple offered food, beer and hugs. Such great community support. I finished in 8:45:04 and I'm good with it.

Aftermath
The Awards ceremony was a real treat. Max King set a new course record by five minutes and Ellie Greenwood simply shattered the women's record by 18 minutes. iRunFar.com has excellent coverage. You can read Byron Powell's race recap, Max's and Ellie's race reports at the iRunFar links below:

Byron Powell: http://www.irunfar.com/2012/11/2012-jfk-50-mile-results.html
Max King: http://www.irunfar.com/2012/11/6740.html
Ellie Greenwood: http://www.irunfar.com/2012/11/performing-under-pressure-ellie-greenwoods-record-setting-jfk-50-report.html

While they both state that the Appalachian Trail section is runnable, don't believe them. It wasn't meant to be run. Mere mortals who attempt it are taking a very real risk. I am a mere mortal. I ran it. I came through alright. But it took unbroken concentration to do it and even with that, I was lucky. My data from this race (see below) shows that I was working much harder on the AT than planned. While I always work harder on trails than roads, my elevated heart rate over South Mountain depleted me more than I thought at the time. So, given that I exerted more energy than planned over the AT and that my internals didn't cooperate, I'm good with an 8:45 finish.

JFK 50 Mile 2012 Jfk50_10

Was it worth it?
I was on crutches for a few days after the race but can walk normally now. I won't run and will be on prescription strength anti-inflammatories for about a month, maybe more. Was it worth it? Sure, but in a contrarian fashion. It clarified that my right ankle can't take 50 miles of pounding. I love this race. I really do. The rural setting, the varied terrain--Appalachian Trail, C&O canal towpath and rolling country roads, the volunteers, the community support, the camaraderie between runners, even the distance, all of it. But I run for my health. And my fractured ankle can't take 50 miles of pounding. So I'll limit myself to marathons and shorter races from here on out.

I'm a three time JFK 50 Mile finisher and I approve this message.
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Post  fostever on Sun Nov 25, 2012 8:34 pm

Enjoyed the report Kevin. Congrats on another successful completion. So it's still fractured and is something that never fully heals? Sounds painful! My left has some permanently screwed up tendons that I can literlly feel at the start of short fast races.
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Post  Michele "1L" Keane on Sun Nov 25, 2012 8:35 pm

Congrats Kev on being a three time finisher of the JFK 50 Miler! That is an accomplishment in itself - heck, I wouldn't even try it once, let alone more than once! Let that ankle heal (as best as it can), and I hope to see you this Spring (if not at Cherry Blossom which is a week before Boston this year) then at the Nike Woman's Half (if my group gets in).

I must admit that I can totally picture your somersault, and it made me chuckle! Rest up, recover well, and we will all be back smiling and healthy in 2013!
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Post  Jerry on Sun Nov 25, 2012 9:19 pm

Congrats on another crazy finish, Kevin!
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Post  Mark B on Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:31 pm

Congratulations on another JFK 50 finish, Kevin. Based on your description, I can understand why you love this race so much - even if your body doesn't.

Perhaps one day, I might give it a shot myself. Sans the summersault, I hope. Smile
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Post  wrichman on Thu Nov 29, 2012 1:07 am

Nice report, Kevin. I'm sorry you didn't have the day you had planned - you still stuck with it and finished in a great time. Congrats! I agree with you about the "runnable" AT. It's runnable until you catch your foot on a sharp rock jutting out and fall on your face Smile I hope you heal up quickly. You inspired me to write a race report too.
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Post  KBFitz on Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:54 pm

@fostever wrote:So it's still fractured and is something that never fully heals?
When originally fractured (35 years ago) the heel (calcaneus) was smashed badly by the ankle bone (talus). As a consequence, the major weight-bearing joint (the subtalar joint) is distorted, has limited range-of-motion and bone spurs (MRI: 'moderate arthropathic changes and focal non-congruity of the posterior facet of the subtalar joint ... osteophyte formation along the margin of the joint ... subchondral marrow edema on both sides of the joint'). In that sense, it will never fully heal. My job, should I accept it, is to do no more harm ... by racing no further than the marathon distance.
@Michele "1L" Keane wrote:I must admit that I can totally picture your somersault, and it made me chuckle!
Me too! We'll be back at it soon, no doubt. See you in a few months at Cherry Blossom.
@Jerry wrote:Congrats on another crazy finish, Kevin!
Crazy indeed, ... for me anyway.
@Mark B wrote:Perhaps one day, I might give it a shot myself. Sans the summersault, I hope. Smile
Be careful what you hope for.
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Post  T Miller on Fri Nov 30, 2012 7:49 am

Congrats on your 3rd amazing completion of the JFK Kevin. I'm sorry to hear that the ankle is not doing so well and that it is going to keep you from doing this event in the future. This race is on my bucket list and I was hoping to meet up with you once I got around to doing it. The detail that you include in your report will surely help me when it comes my time. Recover well and I hope to see you around.
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Post  Kenny B. on Fri Nov 30, 2012 9:12 am

As always your reports are full of goodies! It's sad to hear about your ankle issue but I think you understand what you can do and what you can't. Now you can focus on the can do's! Congrats on a wonderful completion of #3.

JFK 50 is also on my mind to do just trying to BQ first!
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Post  Chris M on Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:45 am

Yikes! Well, you did it! I'll call you soon and we'll get a beer (no run for you this time) on the schedule so I can get more of the gory details. CB10 registration is coming soon? I need to be on that.
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Post  Diego on Sun Dec 02, 2012 11:51 am

Inspiring race Kevin. I understand the pain! I ran on a still broken fibula in 2011 to try to run Boston.

I don't know if you have considered it or if it is too late, but it might be worthwhile trying a series of hyaluronic acid injections, e.g. Synvisc 1 or Euflexxa before the next big race to see if it makes a difference. It's a natural cartilage building block lubricant and certainly reduces pain for one month to a year. I inject the knees of many elderly folks(wink, wink) before they go on their big walking tours. The ankle is just as easy to inject.
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Post  KBFitz on Thu Dec 06, 2012 5:55 pm

@T Miller wrote:This race is on my bucket list.
When I'm not running it, I'm supporting those who are. It's a great choice for a debut performance at the 50 mile distance. Good job at Tecumseh, by the way. Such a trail marathon is a gnarly beast in its own right.
@Kenny B. wrote:Now you can focus on the can do's!
Quite Right Kenny. Quite right!
@Chris M wrote:CB10 registration is coming soon? I need to be on that.
Yes it is. The lottery for Cherry Blossom is open now ... so register! I see they've moved your start in Tucson up by 30 minutes to 7:00am as they're concerned about heat. Should be a gorgeous morning. Go NAIL it! [And just to be explicit, this means ... be patient.]
@Diego wrote:I understand the pain! I ran on a still broken fibula in 2011 to try to run Boston.
We recommend against that Doc! Wink
@Diego wrote:I don't know if you have considered it or if it is too late, but it might be worthwhile trying a series of hyaluronic acid injections, e.g. Synvisc 1 or Euflexxa before the next big race to see if it makes a difference.
Whooooaaaahhhhh there! Surprised I haven't considered nor did I know about acid injections. Sounds like fun. Razz If I ever get the hankering to run another of these beasts I'm going to seriously check out the viability of hyaluronic acid for my particular condition. I suspect it couldn't hurt and just may reduce inflammation and consequent rehab time. Thanks Doc for suggesting it! My most direct approach, however, is to forgo doing the damage in the first place.
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Post  mountandog on Thu Dec 06, 2012 11:05 pm

Love the way you write Kev. Felt like I was there. Congrats. I'm impressed.
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