Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JFK 50 Miler, Revisited

I may have been a bit uncomplimentary about the JFK 50 Mile race in my post last week, in which, in case you missed it, I offered  photographic proof of what unquestionably is the WORST race T-shirt ever.

Although I chose not to run this year, as a 5-time finisher, my heart was with the runners all day.  At 7:00 AM I imagined myself at the start, in that pulsing mass of 1,000 runners, all having come to that street in Boonsboro, MD, from countless towns all over America, and even from abroad.  All would have trained for this day, and like lemmings obeying an invisible call, all somehow made it to that starting line on that day.

The first 3 miles are on US Alternate Rt 40, a storied highway from America’s early days.  That 3rd mile + is uphill as you gain the top of the Blue Ridge.  Many people run this hill out of an abundance of energy; I was always more than happy to walk it.  There’d be plenty of time to run later if I still had the legs.

Then you reach the Appalachian Trail.  Although you can pass other runners along this stretch, the trail generally tends to be narrow, and I always found it best to bide my time, passing only if I absolutely had to.  Again, my watchword was to be conservative--there’d be plenty of time to run later if I still had the legs.

You reach the flat Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) canal at mile 16 or so, and face 26 miles of flat towpath running.  Many people say, “The Canal is SOOOOOOO boring…it’s all flat…nothing to break it up…blah blah blah.”  For me, the Canal is the best part.  C’mon, you’re running in the woods, beside a major scenic river, mere feet away from what has to be one of the most historic and fascinating engineering feats ever constructed in the US.

Just seeing the historic artifacts of the canal—the lift locks, the lockkeepers’ homes, the aqueducts and culverts where the canal bridged tributaries of the Potomac, the cuts in stone where the laborers carved a flat space into cliffs along the river to fit the canal and towpath, the stonemasons’ carefully cut stones to construct the locks, the dams to keep the canal watered…

I guess I’m an engineering geek at heart, because this section is so fascinating.  For those of you who find the towpath boring, you should read up a bit before your next running and you’ll have a greater appreciation for what you’re seeing.  Try this, and this, for example.

Along the Canal, there are markers every mile.  I tried to maintain a pattern of walking for 5 minutes at every second mile marker.  Thus of every 2 miles I’d walk about a quarter mile.

At length you reach the final 8 miles of road.  You’ve reached the point mentioned earlier where “there is plenty of time to run later if you still had the legs.” Here is where I always tried to push, to actually race the race, depending upon what I still had left in the tank.  Again, the rural roads, the carefully built stones walls on either side enclosing the fields--beautiful!

Then the finish line, after covering 50 miles, something that most people cannot fathom.  But you know what you did.


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