Are you ready for this??
3:45 - 4:30am
The day started out early. Real early. My alarm went off at 3:45, but I was already pretty much awake. I had slept some during the night, but it wasn't a good sleep. I don't think I was too anxious or nervous about the race, just restless and ready to get going. I got out of bed, got dressed, had my standard oatmeal and left the house at 4:30 on the dot to go pick up Assaf for our drive to Boonsboro.
4:30 - 5:45am
It was still pitch-black dark outside, but the sky was clear, there wasn't much wind and, while it was chilly, it felt like it was going to be a great day for running. As I pulled up to pick up Assaf, he came running out of the house carrying a blanket and pillow, insisting that I lie down in the back and sleep. No way! I was far too jacked up at that point to possibly sleep. I wanted to catch up with Assaf, talk strategy and get my mind into the game. The drive from Chevy Chase to Boonsboro was quick and easy. I didn't use the blanket and pillow then, but they would come in very handy later in the day. One of the first things Assaf said to me was "How happy are you NOT to have to swim today." Amen to that. I love triathlon, but the thought of getting into the water sent shivers through my body.
5:45 - 6:45am
Check in at Boonsboro High School took about 25 seconds, giving me plenty of time to change, use the bathroom, have part of a Clif Bar and relax a little bit in the school gym. The pre-race briefing wasn't all that interesting or informative, but I think he could have told me the secret to world peace and I wouldn't have listened too closely. The sun was just starting to come out and it was turning into a beautiful morning. It was pretty chilly (high 20's or low 30's), but still totally clear and no wind at all. I deliberated over what to wear and finally decided on a short sleeve T, a light-weight longsleeve, gloves and a cap. I pinned my race number to the short sleeve, figuring that it wouldn't be long before I ditched the long sleeve. I decided to run the Appalachian Trail (AT) portion of the race in my trail runners and change in my trainers at the beginning of the Tow Path, around mile 15.5. I had my handheld full of water and my fuel belt with some InfiniT. I had gels stuffed into my shorts.
6:45 - 7:00am
At about 6:45, we started the walk from the high school to the starting line in the middle of town. It's a healthy walk. I was still feeling pretty relaxed and easy going. I think the knowledge that I was going out easy and had all day to run kept me from getting too amped up. The crowd seemed nice enough and people were laughing and joking. The clock on a bank in town said it was 28 degrees, but I think it was a little warmer than that. As we approached the start, I had a gel and some water, then quickly stripped off my sweats and fleece and before I was really ready, the gun sounded. Off we went!
7:00 - 7:25am
The first 2.5 miles of the race are on roads climbing up to meet the entrance to the Appalachian Trail. Supposedly, it's about 500 feet of climbing in those 2.5 miles. And you feel the climb. I took it really, really easy right from the gun. About three minutes into the race, my heart rate monitor started beeping - "Check Transmitter" my watch said. It was reading a reasonable heart rate, so I ignored it. It gave me another warning about a minute later and then quit. For good. The watch was still fine, it just wasn't giving me a heart rate. Whatever. Coach John had counseled me during the week that heart rate wasn't nearly as important as pace. I didn't need to know whether my heart rate was in the 130's or 140's or higher. I'd be able to feel my effort. The sky was getting lighter and the temperature felt nice. So far, at least, I'd chosen my clothing wisely. Assaf had warned me about the people who take off right from the gun - "Don't get caught up with them," he cautioned, "It's a very long day." I wasn't near the front at the start, so I didn't have to worry. The people around me were generally comfortably chugging along at 9:30-or-so pace. No temptation to exert myself at all. Cool as a cucumber. I contemplated walking up one of the biggest hills, but was feeling good and running easy, so I decided to continue running.
7:25 - 8:30am
I was pretty happy to get to the trailhead. I'd had fun training on trails and was looking forward to seeing how the AT compared to the Long Path in the Palisades. Assaf had prepared me for the fact that this AT portion was pretty hilly and that I should walk up any big hills. The crowds thinned out once we got on the trails - most of the AT section is pretty narrow and the running was generally single file. There's a a two-mile-long paved hill from miles 3.5 to 5.5. I ran up some of it, but decided to conserve my energy and walk the steepest bits. Pretty much everyone around me was following the same plan - run, run, run, walk up a hill, repeat. Even though we weren't all walking at the same time for the same amount of time, we were generally staying together as a big group. My handheld was doing great, but already by this point, I hated the Fuel Belt. It felt uncomfortable, heavy and the bottles were a pain to get in and out of the belt. I ran fine with it during my training runs, but for some reason, I couldn't stand it on race day. I decided that I would ditch it with Assaf at the first "Support" areas at mile 9.3. It would have been nice to have had the InfiniT, but I figured having plain water in the handheld was more important and I'd get my calories from the gels. And, as it turned out, I was able to guzzle some InfiniT each time I saw Assaf at the support areas - not an ideal solution, but it did give me access to those calories and electrolytes on a semi-regular basis. I got to the support area at mile 9.3 at around 8:30am. That's a about a 9:40 minute/mile pace. Honestly, I had expected to finish that first section a little faster, but that was naïve thinking. This first section was hilly and a little technical, also I still had over 40 miles to go. My pace was comfortable; there was no reason to rush. There are no mile markers along the course, so judging pace (without a GPS) is impossible. Also, I didn't have my heart-rate to judge it by. I went by feel and comfort and it was working just fine. I had my first gel somewhere near the end of this section. I was psyched to arrive at the support area. The first real spectators of the race were all lined up forming a chute for us to run through. The above picture shows the woods we came out of and we ran towards where Assaf was standing to take this picture. Assaf took my Fuel Belt, told me to keep it slow and sent me on my way. I still had plenty of water and hadn't taken any gels yet, so I didn't see any reason to stop for a refill.
8:30 - 9:40am
After the Support area, we got back on the trails. These next seven miles of trails were less hilly, but more "technical" than the first section. We ran mostly single file; I passed a few people here and there, but was content with my position in the group. Towards the middle of this section of the race, we started passing more and more of the "5AM Starters". The race organizers allow a relatively small number of people to start the race at 5AM - this gives them two extra hours to finish before the 7PM cut-off. That means that some of them are out there running and walking for 14 hours. They wear bright orange number bibs on their front and back, so you can tell who they are. During the race, I came to have a special admiration for the 5AM Starters - I can't imagine starting and finishing the race in the dark and being on my feet for that long. (There was one jerk with a T-shirt that said "5AM Starter. I'm slow, but I'll finish. NO TRAINING!" That's just stupid and disrespectful.) The end of this section of the race is the most technical bit - it's a bunch of pretty tight, steep, downhill switchbacks. For this part, you have to race single-file and I was pretty much constantly worried about falling! It's more challenging - but also more fun because you're flying (relatively) downhill, you know you're about to the end of the trail and you're still feeling good. I did actually run out of water towards the end of this section of the race, but I knew I was close to next support area and wasn't worried. I met up with Assaf at the support area at the end of this section - around mile 16. I paused to chug some InfiniT and change into my trainers. The trail shoes worked out great, but I was happy to get into lighter, softer shoes for the next 34 miles. My time to mile 16 was about 2:40, a 10 minute/mile pace. I was perfectly happy with that. It was time to start on the 27 mile-long towpath, flat, smooth, regular aid stations, easy sailing...
9:40 - 11:25am
The first 11 miles of the towpath are a bit of a blur. It's a beautiful place to run - on one side (runner's left) you have the C&O Canal, and on the other are trees and "nature". The running surface is a hard-packed, very smooth dirt path, and it's pretty much dead flat. It's just one foot after the other for as far as the eye can see... and then a little farther from there. At around mile 17, I started chatting with a fellow runner. We started off talking about pacing - he was comparing his GPS to the mile markers on the side of the towpath and found that something, either his GPS or the markers, were off, sometimes by quite a bit. We started chatting about the race and it soon became apparent that I was in the presence of ultrarunning royalty. Zeke Zucker (pictured with me, above) is a 64-year-old serious ultrarunning veteran. He's been doing ultras since about the time I could walk and this year alone has done two 100's, the Comrades Marathon (it's really nearly 60 miles) in South Africa, a 50K and then the JFK. He holds the Veteran Men (60+) record at the JFK 50 (7:53:10 in 2004). He was just cruising along, chatting with me. We ended up running together straight through to about mile 36, when I decided to start taking some walk breaks and he kept running. It was great running with Zeke. He kept me on pace, and calm and in control and never gave me the chance to even think about struggling. Zeke knew that his main competition to win the 60+ age group on Saturday was somewhere in front of him, but didn't know how far ahead. He just kept trucking along, hoping to catch him. Unfortunately, Zeke ended up in second in his age group (he ended up finishing 8:14:25, about 4.5 minutes ahead of me), but as he wrote me on Tuesday, he was just pleased that his age group record wasn't broken! Thanks, Zeke! According to Zeke's GPS, we passed the marathon at about 4:15 - perfect. Right on target. I was still feeling strong and running smooth. At this point, I realized that barring disaster, I would definitely go sub-nine hours, but I still wasn't sure by how much.
11:25 - 1:15pm
The Antietam Aqueduct support station is at mile 27.1. That's where I knew Assaf would be waiting to join in the fun. Zeke and I arrived there about 6:15 into the race and Assaf was waiting, with a backpack full of supplies strapped to his back. He fell right in step with me and Zeke. Zeke and Assaf has both run the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run in June, and Assaf can appreciate a sick runner even more than I can, so I think we made a good little team. I continued to feel good for the first six or eight miles after Assaf joined us. We were comfortably chatting and enjoying the day. The towpath was getting boring and my feet were beginning to hurt a little, but I was still in good spirits and feeling pleased with my race. Somewhere around here I had my first food that wasn't a gel or InfiniT. The aid stations tables were full of goodies - soup broth, pretzels, cookies, potato chips, candy - but the gels were doing me right, they were sitting well in my stomach and giving me strength. The cookies looked great, but I didn't want to mess with a good thing. Instead, I had half a peanut butter Powerbar. The Powerbar was a little too chewy, but went down well and made me feel pretty good. At around mile 34, just about as far as I'd ever run in a single day of training, I started feeling "it"; the miles were beginning to wear on me. Assaf could see it, and bless his heart, kept me encouraged and kept my spirits up. Tired or not, I was still consistently running around 9:30 miles. I was amazed that I was still running - I had assumed I would be walk-running by that point. But the combination of feeling good and running with Zeke and Assaf has kept me going. I didn't feel like I "needed" to start walking, but I realized that a little walking now could save me a lot of heartache and bodyache later. I also knew that Elizabeth and the Shaffers were waiting at the Taylor's Landing support area at mile 38.1 and I wanted to feel and look (!)strong when I got to them. So, at around mile 36, we bid Zeke adieu and I took my first walk break. Assaf and I walked for a couple minutes and then started up again. I was worried that I wouldn't want to run anymore or that my legs wouldn't let me. But, I got right back on it and back on pace. I took off my long-sleeve. I was getting warm, but also I wanted to be sure it was off so they'd identify me by my race number pinned to my T-shirt at the finish. (It might have been a little early to think of that, but, really, is it ever too early to think about how you're going to look at the finish line?) We ran right to the Taylor's Landing support area.
1:15 - 2:00pm
Elizabeth and the Shaffers were waiting at Taylor's Landing. I was excited to meet up with wifey. Elizabeth and Assaf were going to keep me company until mile 46. After that, I would be on my own. Elizabeth jumped right in and joined in the walk-running. We still had about four miles of the towpath to go before we hit the final section, eight miles on rolling country roads. Even by this point, the walk breaks were proving to be a very smart idea. Unlike the Ironman where I had to will myself to start and continue running each time I stopped to walk, in the JFK, I wanted to start running again. Don't get me wrong, the walking felt great, but I also knew that I could run, which gave me confidence to keep at it. At mile 42, we veered off the towpath and started on the roads to the finish line.
2:00 - 2:40pm
Immediately after you get off the towpath, you start up a steep climb. It really didn't seem fair, but it was as good a time as any to take another walk break. I don't think I saw anyone running up that hill. And I can't think of any reason why you would... The roads are nice. The rolling hills are a little painful, but something of a nice change from the flat towpath. There were aid stations every two miles and we stopped at each one to top off the water bottle and take a little walk break. Even with the walk breaks, my mile splits were mostly better than 10 minutes/mile and were getting faster as I continued on. It was getting a little chilly, but was still a nice afternoon. I could feel the end of the race getting closer and began realizing that an 8:30 finish was definitely in the cards. Somewhere near the beginning of this stretch from mile 42 to 46, we passed a local diligently working on spray-painting protest signs - against the race! He had proudly completed one sign that read, "NO JFK". As we passed, staring at him, he said, "These runners is giving me some bullshit." A couple miles later, we passed another local, standing on the side of the road with his son, holding a sign that read, "No JFK. Jerks, get off of our roads." I still can't figure out what about the race they don't like. The roads weren't closed. We weren't taking up much space or leaving trash on the roadside. I guess they're just lazy losers who don't like people in general. Assaf was going to get a picture of one of them, but I was worried that this was really the "back country" and those dudes certainly had guns! I'm sure the cows thought these guys were jerks too.
My splits in this section of the race, even with some walk breaks, were pretty great and much better than I'd expected:
Mile 46 - 10:18
Mile 47 - 9:34
The heaviness I'd felt in the 30's was gone and I was running strong. My stomach had held up great, my feet were feeling fine and I felt like I was comfortably cruising along. My heart rate monitor wasn't working, but I'd bet my heart rate was somewhere in the mid or high 130's. I wasn't exerting myself cardiovascularly. I wasn't supposed to be. I'd run a smart, controlled race for 46 miles and it was paying off.
2:40 - 3:18:54pm
Elizabeth and Assaf left me to finish on my own from mile 46. I was feeling great. I actually felt as good as I'd felt in hours. My plan was to continue walk-running. When I got to the mile 48 marker, I checked my watch to check my split: 8:44! Are you kidding me?! An 8:44 mile that far into the race? I was feeling good, but never would have expected that. As I passed the mile marker, I said to myself and whoever else might listen "Holy sh*t! Those mile markers can't possbily be right." A guy running next to me checked his GPS and told me that sure enough, the mile markers were right on. Wow. 8:44. I'm still amazed. Anyway, Andy (the guy with the GPS) and I got to talking. This was also his first ultra. We took a walk break after the 48th mile. I give Andy some credit for keeping me going. At the mile 49 marker, I said to him that I was going to take a walk break. He looked at me like I'd lost my mind and simply told me that we were going to finish strong. And I did. Thanks, Andy. We were together right until a hundred yards before the finish. I knew that we shouldn't finish together - I wanted my picture! - and asked him if he wanted to go ahead. He told me to feel free to go, and I did. I "sprinted" it right in to the end.
3:18:55 - end of day
I had seen and heard my support team cheering and shouting as I crossed the finish and once I was across and had my medal, Elizabeth was there with a huge hug for me. Assaf and the Shaffers were waiting right there too. I put on some warm shirts and gloves and took a few good pictures before heading inside the Williamsport High School gym to get some food and sit down. We found Blake Benke inside the gym and found out he'd come in sixth overall. My goodness. He also had to be put on an IV after finishing the race... What a stud that guy is (and what a 2007 season: Ironman CdA, Badwater, Hamptons Marathon, NYC Marathon...)
The rest of the evening is something of a blur. We had a hard time finding our way back to mile 27 where Assaf had left the truck he and I had drived up in. But once we found it, Assaf and Mark made me a nice little "bed" in the back and I slept most of the way home. My knees and feet ached and I couldn't walk all that well, but I was in pretty good shape, all things considered. The predominant feeling though, was pride. I knew I'd accomplished yet another gigantic physcial feat. And, relatively speaking, I'd killed it. I ran faster than I dreamed possible and I had fun doing it. My support team had totally hooked it up for me; to Assaf, Elizabeth, Mark and Susan, and my "accidental" team, Zeke and Andy, Thank you so much. I don't want to think about what that race would have been like without you.
Now it's time to rest and relax. I took Sunday off, rode the bike really easy on the trainer on Monday and jumped into the pool for an easy swim on Tuesday. We're out at the beach for Thanksgiving and I really love running and cycling out here, especially in this wonderful, crisp fall weather. But I didn't even bring my stuff. I'm giving my running shoes some well-deserved rest. Base building for the Ironman is coming up soon enough...
Some more vitals from the day:
Total fuel ingested during race:
3 vanilla Accel Gels (100 calories each)Approximate total calories: 2140. About 260/hour. This is pretty close to what I'd planned. One gel right at the start and then my first in-race gel at around 90 minutes. For the next few hours, I had a gel every 45 minutes or so and gulps of InfiniT when I saw Assaf. Beginning somewhere in the low 30's, 45 minutes became too long to wait between gels and I started taking them (or the Powerbar or fruit) about every half hour. I never got real hungry and never felt too full. Perfectly executed.
3 chocolate Accel Gels (100 calories each)
3 Strawberry Slam Crank Sport E-Gels (150 calories each)
1 vanilla Hammer Gel (90 calories)
1/2 peanut butter Powerbar (120 calories)
1/2 Vanilla Crisp butter Powerbar (115 calories)
1/2 banana (~50 calories)
1/4 orange (~15 calories)
InfiniT - not sure, but around 500 calories worth
Gatorade - no sure, but proabably around 200 calories worth
Overall place: 116/1079
Age group place: 45/194
Bike - November 19
Time: 20 minutes
Average heart rate: 98
Swim - November 20
Distance: 1,500 yards
Time: 30 minutes