The start in Boonsboro, Maryland of the 51st annual JFK 50 Mile.
Enthusiasts call it "38 Special." Others have dubbed it "Mondel's." The official JFK 50 Mile course material calls the aid station at 38.4 miles "Taylor's Landing." The name doesn't really matter, but it's what happens there that is of most runners' concern. It's an idyllic spot. You're on the banks of the Potomac River, the Canal towpath is split into two seamless single tracks by a ribbon of green, mid-road grass, and historic stone houses line the road opposite the dry C&O Canal. However, like at the Battle at Antietam, which occurred a few miles away and more than 150 years earlier, this is where the shit goes down at JFK. Potential front runners must make a gut check: Push with all they have to maintain their top standing or watch their position slide quickly to hungry pursuers. Middle-of-the-packers assess the bodily damage they've incurred over the previous wild and rugged miles of Appalachian Trail and endless, repetitive towpath. Back-of-the-pack runners can not dally either or they risk not making the 5pm cut-off at Dam #4 less than 3.5 miles away.
Not until I reach "38 Special" do I want to know where I am in the field or what my splits are. I've run enough JFK's to know that you can have an excellent 38.4 miles (PR potential stuff) only to have a brutal final 11.8 (see walking). On the other hand, a rugged to mediocre first 38 can still be salvaged so that you end your race decently (relative to other runners).
After 20 starts and 19 finishes JFK has never been the same race for me. The weather, competition, and my own personal circumstances always see to that. Two decades is long time. Did I drive over in the morning from my mother's house in Gaithersburg, MD, am I fresh off the plane from Vegas, Moab, Seattle, or Ashland, or did I just roll into Hagerstown from Flagstaff in my pick-up? Did I just spend the last month slinging packages for UPS, was I working the previous eight days in the Canyonlands National Park backcountry, was I at another race two weeks earlier promoting a new trail shoe, or will I be scanning the results after I finish trying to locate the athletes I helped get to the starting line?
Who knows from which direction I'll come in 2014. But I'll tell you this: I'll be at that starting line next November in Boonsboro going for my 20th JFK 50 Mile finish.
2013 photos from the Hagerstown Herald Mail.
Who's legs' are those? (left to right) Iain Ridgeway, Matt Flaherty, Tina Husted, and Ian Torrence
Dropping into Gathland Gap (mile 9.3)
Rock dancing on the Appalachian Trail
Emily Harrison leading the women's race on the C&O Canal.
Passing through Antietam aid station at mile 27.1 (Thanks Steve Itano for the photo).
Catching some fluids at "38 Special."
My training partner and confidante, Emily Harrison, wins the 2013 JFK 50 Mile and receives kudos from race director Mike Spinnler.
Finishing number 19 in 6:44:54
My 19th pat on the back from Pink.
A few of the top men's JFK blog posts:
Your Moment of Zen
Paramount JFK training: VO2 max and "the urge to regurge" practice at the 2013 Flagstaff High Altitude Beer Mile. Trying my damnedest here to outdrink Olympian Andrew Lemoncello and 2x Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier Ben Rosario.