While its unclear whether or not JFK 50 mile race will occur this year due to COVID-19, I think its safe to say that at some point in the future the race will go back to its pre-COVID popularity and many people will clamor for their chance to earn their coveted JFK 50 car sticker. Theneshia gives some great advice to those aspiring to complete their first JFK 50 (or any 50 miler for that matter). After reading this post you’ll probably ask yourself whether or not you have a friend like Theneshia in your life…well thats what I did.
I completed the JFK 50 miler last year (2019). My dear friend Lisa was preparing for her 10th Anniversary JFK 50 Mile race and asked some friends in late 2018 to run it with her for support and to celebrate with her. It was a significant accomplishment for Lisa because after you complete 10 – JFK 50 Miles, you’re inducted as an elite JFK 50 Mile “Legends” the following year. For Lisa, she would become a part of the 500-mile club – and that’s absolutely amazing – so who wouldn’t support their friend in this endeavor? I cheerfully signed up around midnight on 1 March 2019 when registration opened. Once I paid the $200 – it got REAL, really fast! 😊
When she first asked, I was only partially prepared mentally but definitely not physically prepared. Up to that point, I had never run anything longer than a marathon so I was entering into unchartered territory! However, once I buckled down and got some training tips/suggestions from Lisa, I started crafting a training plan that was conducive to me.
I approached the training with the mindset of – CONSISTENCY, NO SLACKING! Lisa had already given me the advice that ‘training is constant and continuous.’ So, I coupled that advice with my, “I CAN and WILL do this” attitude, and enjoyed seeing how far I could push myself as I built up weekly miles. Simultaneously, I was trying to accomplish my goal of completing a half marathon in all 50 States. I strategically incorporated those races into my 50 miler training plan and did the same for the marathons I had scheduled in 2019. So, the approach was to consistently run more miles (different terrain – hills, flat, trails, etc,) and spend more time on my feet and maintain overall strength through cross training.
I learned a lot from my first 50 miler.
Here are a few Dos…
Training – DO start where you are and depending on where your personal start is, give yourself AMPLE time to train – DO NOT RUSH – properly build up your miles and time on your feet. Being unprepared physically will definitely affect you mentally. DO consistently spend time on your feet – regardless of the terrain, being able to physically stay on your feet for 50 miles is crucial. With the Appalachian Trail (AT) being at the beginning, do some training runs where you’re running on tired legs because the AT will DEFINITELY tire your legs!
Race Week – DO prepare your travel plan well in advance. The closest major airport is 40+ miles from the race location. I’d recommend renting a car and scheduling to arrive early the day prior the race so you can relax and be off your feet.
Gear – DO have a headlamp for night running, trail gaiters for the rocks/gravel/dirt on the AT, a hydration vest for the AT (and DO train with it)
Nutrition – DO have a nutrition/hydration plan already established, and don’t try something new on race day. The aid stations were sufficiently stocked (gels, soda, sandwiches, cookies, electrolytes, hot soup, etc,.), however, DO bring any ‘special’ items you’ve trained with. I trained with Maurteen gels and Nuun tablets, therefore, that’s what I solely used during the race.
Pacing – DO pace yourself. Essentially, you have to maintain a minimum 15:36 per mile pace to finish under 13:00 hours. This seems easy on the surface, BUT remember for miles 2.5-15.5 you’re literally climbing a mountain with rough terrain and then dealing with an abrupt drop in over 1,000 ft with sharp switchbacks. This is the toughest part of the course, where I walked the majority of it. PACE YOURSELF on the AT – no need to over exert yourself on the AT – you could potentially BURN OUT! DO HAVE A PRINTOUT OF THE AID STATION TIME CUTOFFS for pacing, and be prepared to be off the towpath, aka the canal, before it gets dark. The towpath is right after the AT, and it’s essentially a marathon – of just flat running, so be prepared to make up time on this stretch! Your pace doesn’t really mean much IF you miss an aid station time cutoff!
Fun/enjoying oneself – DO talk with other runners along the course – it makes the time go by faster – everyone is so supportive! – BUT MAINTAIN STRICT AWARENESS OF your times while doing this so you WON’T MISS A CUTOFF!!!
Recovery – DO continue to properly hydrate with water, electrolytes, and healthy foods. According to my Garmin, I burned over 5600 calories – that’s almost 3 days’ worth of food. Get plenty of sleep and DO have a plan in place for muscle, tissue, immune system, and joint recovery – after all, 50 miles is a lot on the body!
Here are a few DONTS
Preparation – DON’T rush your training! Don’t skip long runs. Don’t fail to have a hydration and nutrition plan in place – establish this during training! An old military saying, “train like you fight” – it is true for preparing for any race – your training/preparation should reflect how you expect to perform on race day!
Clothes – DON’T overdress, have layers you can easily remove and tie around your waist or properly store in your hydration vest. It’s cold at the beginning of the race, but you will warm up rapidly while climbing the AT
During the race – DO NOT SPEND too much time at the aid stations. That lost time can EASILY catch up with you – grab and go! Your focus is making it to the next aid station BEFORE the cutoff. I walked the last almost 2 miles once I realized I would come in under 13 hours….just enjoying the long cool down 😊
Mental Preparation – DON’T doubt yourself! If you don’t believe you can do it, then you WON’T! Another military saying, “Mind over Matter – If you don’t mind, then it DON”T matter! “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!” – Henry Ford
Traveling home – DON’T schedule an early morning flight the next morning – you’ll be tired!
The experience started with a friend asking me to support HER! It taught me the importance of getting out of your comfort zone to support the dreams and aspirations of someone else. I knew how important this 10th race was to Lisa, and I would want friends and family with me during such a momentous occasion. I had absolutely no desire to run 50 miles – definitely not one of the most challenging 50 milers in the country. Life is so much bigger than ‘I” – and when you are willing to get uncomfortable for someone else, you ultimately find true comfort!
The training definitely made me become a stronger runner. It forced me to put in more diverse miles (hill repeats, speed training, treadmill, track, trails, etc,.) and not just road miles. I also increased my cross training (Orange Theory & Stairmaster was the absolute best!). For me, it is a mental challenge whenever I’m attempting something for the first time – because before you do it, it is still an unknown. I was up for the challenge and I welcomed it with open arms!
I truly enjoyed the race and I would definitely do it again! What was birthed by a friend asking me to support her turned into a deeper appreciation for trail runners and actually finding a sense of calmness in trail running.