JFK 50 Mile

JFK 50 Mile Race - November 1995

Here is my report on the 33rd annual JFK 50 Mile race with detail on bodily functions, provided by special request.

I drove up to Hagerstown Friday night.  I goofed up here by driving to Boonsboro first, for some reason I thought since the race started there, that the hotels would be near there.  But the hotels were in Hagerstown, about 15 miles away.  I did succeed in finding my way across the secondary roads of West Virginia and Maryland in the dark, and then got directions to where the hotels were.

There was supposed to be a buffet from 4:30 in the morning at the Holiday Inn, so I went there to get coffee.  I thought this was a freebie, but they were set up early with their normal fare - scrambled eggs, sausage, etc.  All the stuff I wanted to run 50 miles with.  Anyway, I realized the only thing special about this for the runners was that they opened up early (and probably tacked a few bucks onto the price), so I went to a convenience store and got my mug filled up there.  I had stayed off caffeine for two weeks, went through withdrawal and everything, in an attempt to maximize the effect this coffee before race time would give me.

I found the high school with no problem.  They opened at 5:30 for packet pickup, and of course I got there at 5:15.  But no problem, they gave me my number, etc.  The hardest part of the day was trying to figure out what to wear given the weather forecast of 30 degrees at start time, snow in the morning and sleet in the afternoon.  I finally decided to go with running shorts and tights, and a long-sleeved poly tee, a cotton tee and a wind jacket.  Poly gloves and a do-rag along with my bottle holder belt completed my ensemble.  At the last minute, on the third trip to the car to get stuff out of my bag, I decided to throw an extra pair of clean socks into my fanny pack.

The race director made some preliminary remarks in the gym.  The biggest of which was that due to the government shutdown, his permit to use the national park (the canal section) was null and void.  He took great pains to carefully describe what we had to do.  He said as private citizens we were entitled to stroll on the canal towpath, but we couldnít be participating in an organized event.  So he asked us to conceal our numbers on this section and, if asked, deny our association with the race.  Here I make my sole political plug.  Please vote against any person who is now in office for any office they seek in the future.  These bozos canít even pass a spending plan that doesnít meet a budget; how will they ever pass one that does not enlarge the deficit?  The RD also said that the trail was in the worst condition of the history of the race due to last weekís snowstorm.

We took off promptly at 7:00 from a bright orange stripe painted on the snow in the athletic fields adjacent to the school.  No fanfare or speeches - it was cold and windy.  Just a gun, and 600 or so of us were off up the hill.  The first 3 miles were all uphill to the beginning of the section on the Appalachian Trail.  There we entered the forest for 12.7 miles in 6 inches of packed snow on rocks, which was pretty slippery.  This section was single file nearly the whole way, but people walking up the steep slopes would step aside and let the runners pass.  This section went over two mountains, up, down, up again and down.  The final down was very steep, very slippery switchbacks down to the Potomac River and the beginning of the canal towpath section.  I got here in about 2 hours.  At this aid station someone said we were running nine hour pace.

Coming through the woods on that section was the best part of the run.  I was feeling pretty euphoric, probably from the coffee, and it was a lot like running through the forests up on the Tug hill plateau.  This trail reminded me a lot of Winona Trail.  It seemed like I kept catching up to the group in front of me, and then weíd run along in single file.  There were a lot of trees down (probably from the snow) and the entire column would either stop and step over, or, if it was just right, the entire column would hurdle the limb across the trail.  It seemed like running in a string of gazelles.  Pretty neat!  Scrambling down the switchbacks was fun but not fast.  There were about 14 of us at the end of this section, all bunched up.  Everyone was in good spirits and enjoying this interesting part of the run.  We all knew what lay ahead.

The canal section, 26.2 miles, was very flat, with woods on both sides, the Potomac on the left, the empty bed of the C&O canal on the right.  Anyway, this section promised to be fairly boring, and I experimented with a run 5 walk 1 (minute) strategy, which got me through it.  I had read about this but never tried it, and the cardinal rule of racing is to never try something for the first time in a race.  Initially I resisted trying this for that reason.  However, as my ambition waned, I decided Iíd try it to get through.  It worked okay, but was discouraging when I tried to compute how many times I would actually stop running and then start running again in an hour or for the rest of the race.  I had programmed my watch, which has a dual timer, to beep 5 minutes, then 1 minute, and repeat.  So all I had to do was act like Pavlovís dog and change my behavior whenever the beep sounded.

I met several interesting people here, including a man who had a 6-bypass open heart surgery in June 1995 and was running just the marathon distance of the canal section.  I kept overtaking people, even with my run/walk strategy.  Many other people were doing the same thing - some were doing 12/2, one group was doing 10/1.5.  I passed a couple of guys running together, and then later one of them caught me as I was walking.  He stopped and said he couldnít pass up a good walker.  I explained my plan to him, and he said I had a good pace going when I ran, that it was faster than he was running.  We got to talking, and he started telling me about some of his experiences.  He said he tried to run the first Old Dominion 100 mile, and dropped out after 60 miles.  After that he regretted having dropped out, so he went back the next year and finished.  Then he said he DNFíd the third year, so he was one for three.  Then he decided to try to run all four 100 mile races in the country at the time - Old Dominion, Western States, Leadville Trail, and Wasatch.  He said someone else (I canít remember names) announced in Running Times that he was going to do this, and by the time the OD100 started, there were twelve people who said they were going to try it.  He said after the OD there were only 6 left.  And after the Western States, which was a mere two weeks later, he was the only one left.  Then I asked him to please tell me the rest of the story.  He said he then started getting lots of support, and he was able to finish all four.  His name was Tom Green, and he was the first to ever complete the Ultra Grand Slam.  Kind of a pioneer, and a very nice guy.  I saw him again at the finish (he was already showered when I got there) and thanked him for the inspiration his stories provided.  I got a hamstring cramp about 27 miles and had to drop back a little.  I wanted to try to catch him and hear more of his stories, but there was no chance.  Then I decided it would be good for him to run with as many different people as possible.  He said he had stopped running for 10 months, and only started back up in August.

At one point I promised myself if I could keep up the 5/1 thing for another hour, Iíd let myself walk through an entire 6 minute cycle.  That worked.  I never got rid of the cramps entirely, and was reminded of them every time I had to step over a tree blown down on the path.  I guess thatís cured me of being scared of cramps.  The first time I got them, in the Houston Marathon, I was terrified.  In this race, I would just walk a little extra if I had to, and stretch them a little.

At about 30 miles I started thinking about the (hopefully) dry socks in my fanny pack.  I promised myself that I would change them at the 38 mile aid station.  When I got there, as at all the aid stations, they recorded my number and then asked me what I wanted.  This was amazing.  Some stops had chicken noodle soup, which I ate.  They all had water, Powerade, Gatorade, and M&Ms.  Some had sandwiches, cookies and other stuff which I left alone.  Most also had powerbars and bananas.  At 38, I asked for some of the soup and a chair.  They got me a folding chair, and I said I was going to try to change my socks.  They asked me if I wanted a pair of socks.  I couldnít believe how helpful these folks were.  Anyway, I had my own, but the girl who was helping me untied my soaking wet, muddy, stinky, double-knotted shoelaces for me.  The new socks felt amazing.  I dumped all the stuff out of the shoes, noticed a little blood on the left foot and lots of black toenails, and put the shoes back on.  My feet felt dry for at least a minute, until I got going through the melted-snow-muddied towpath trail again.  I completed the canal section (41.9 miles) in another 5 hours, reaching the end of it at about 3:00 in the afternoon.

The last 8.3 miles was on roads which rolled over the hills to the finish.  The first part of this was uphill quite a way.  I was trying at this point to figure out if I could finish under 10 hours or not.  I definitely didnít feel like running any of the up grades.  But I also wanted to get it over with.  I experimented with trying to keep running, but that just brought back the hamstring cramps and Iíd have to walk them out.  So I went back to the 5/1 thing.  Then, when I figured I had the cushion, I decided to walk the entire 48th mile just to see how fast I was walking.  I was walking as fast as I could, but it was something like 16:30 pace.  So I decided to run the last two miles, and only stopped at the final aid station for water.  I tried to get ibuprofen at the last three aid stations but all they had left was aspirin.  Anyway, I finished in 9:47 and they hung a real heavy medal around my neck.

I went inside the school and the first thing I saw was a room full of massage tables, all occupied, with half a dozen people waiting.  And a sign that said please shower before your massage.  I didnít have a bag there, so no shower, and ergo, no massage.  Iíll do this better next time!  Then in the gym there were food tables, and people milling around, and some partial results.  I learned that Ann Trason didnít show up.  I saw Tom Green there, and also Pat Botts, who I had run partway with five weeks ago at Andiamo.  She beat me here, too.  I also saw Mike Davis, who was coming in after me.  I had run partway with him at Andiamo, and he caught me at the start and we ran the first three miles together.  He stopped there to put on boots for the trail section.  After about 30 minutes I caught a bus back to the start, where my car was.  This bus driver took a poll to see who wanted to go back to their hotel and who wanted to go back to the other school where the race started.  Most of us wanted the school, so she announced that sheíd go to the school first, and then to the hotels, which were another 15 miles on into Hagerstown.

I drove back to the hotel and showered without pain - no abrasions at all this time.  I couldnít really get the water very hot, but it was enough to get the stink off of me.  Then I ordered out for pizza and called Cathy to let her know I was okay.  Thatís what the insulin pump has done for us.   A year ago (in fact in January at the Houston marathon I did this) I would have been calling her as soon as possible to find out if she was okay.  In January, when I called she was at work, and they were trying to get hold of me because Cathy was having a severe insulin reaction and they wanted me to come and get her.  Of course I couldnít.  Anyway, she hasnít had insulin reactions that required assistance since sheís had the pump.

I tried to stay up to watch the boxing on HBO, but fell asleep before the main event.  I decided to sleep as long as I would, without any alarm, and then decide what to do.  I woke up about 4:30 and didnít feel like sleeping anymore, so I packed up the car and drove home.  I was home by 9, and brought Cathryn and Amanda breakfast from BK (their favorite).

I have one blister under a toe, and that is the only apparent ďinjuryĒ from this experience.  Of course the legs are a little sore, and probably will get worse before they get better. 

I didnít have any trouble (other than lack of ambition) completing this race due to forcing myself to eat nearly the entire way.  Drinking Powerade, eating power bars, GU and the chicken soup provided by the many aid stations along the way.  I drank water the last four miles because I was so full I didnít think I could stomach any more sports drink.

I probably havenít reflected long enough yet to realize all the things this experience taught me.  I did learn that cramps arenít the end of the race - I ran through 23 miles with them.  But I still havenít figured out why I get them after running 20 miles or more.  I took lots of potassium supplement, ibuprofen, I drank gallons of sports drink, which is supposed to replenish potassium and other electrolytes, deficiency of which is thought to cause cramps.

My strategy of run/walk worked pretty good to ďsaveĒ myself for the later miles.  I was pretty well done in when I finished.  If I had tried to run non-stop I may not have made it.

When I went up there I was thinking I could finish this race in under 8 hours.  I had run the 45.5 mile Andiamo in just over 8 hours, but I had a lot of trouble in it.  This time, I tried to run smarter.  But when I looked over the previous yearís times I revised my estimate.  I figured the course must be a lot tougher.  Andiamo is pretty much flat all the way, and on a paved bikepath.  You do have to watch out for traffic, but there are no mountains, no mud, etc.

I guess ten hours wasnít too awful a goal to shoot for, but some of the results make me wonder.  Tom Green (55), who I had run with at about the halfway mark, finished in 8:57.  Pat Botts (55) who I had run with at about the halfway mark at Andiamo, finished in 8:47.  Anstr Davidson, RD for Andiamo, told me I beat his best time on that course, but he tells me he finished JFK this year in 9:26, and that this is his first finish slower than 9:00.  So, maybe I did a few things wrong.

Here is a post from the Internet.  Tom, please note that my $7000 computer and $10000 worth of software have finally paid off, and the Internet shows itís value.  I actually saved $1.35 not having to buy these two newspapers!

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Date:    Tue, 19 Dec 1995 23:30:59 -0500

From:    Bill Wandel <bwandel@ACCESS.DIGEX.NET>

Subject: JFK 50 miler - 2 long newspaper articles.

The following article was in todayís (November 19) Baltimore Sun:

Clifton Repeats in JFK 50-Mile Hike-Run


Ultramarathon is oldest held in North America



HAGERSTOWN -- Eric Clifton, of Greensboro, S.C., won the John F. Kennedy 50-Mile Hike-Run for the second year in a row yesterday, crossing the finish line in 6 hours, 15 minutes, 35 seconds.

     Clifton, 37, ran around fallen trees on the Appalachian Trail and let some runners get ahead of him to smooth snow on the course, then grabbed the lead near the trail's 79th mile-marker.

     Courtney Cambell, 30, of Berryville, Va., came in second, at 6:23:37. Harvey Hall, 29, of Fort Bragg, N.C., came in third, at 6:39:29. The first female finisher was Janice Anderson, 29, of Stone Mountain, Ga., at 7:40:54.

     About 570 runners competed in the longest continually held ultramarathon footrace in North America.

     The course begins with three miles on paved streets near Boonsboro. Racers then climb 1,190 feet up South Mountain for 12.7 miles on the Appalachian Trail. After winding down a switchback at Weverton Cliffs, the hikers and runners complete a normal marathon -- 26.5 miles -- on the flat and sandy Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath. The final 8.3 miles are on Washington County roads.


The following article was in yesterdays Baltimore Sun:

 50-milers set out again over Appalachian Trail


Kennedy marathon just keeps going, drawing hundreds


By Greg Tasker


 BOONSBORO -- It's mid-November, that time of the year when runners Kim Byron of Baltimore and Mike Adams of Pittsburgh, Pa., cross paths at a legendary, grueling 50-mile foot race in Western Maryland.

     For nearly three decades, the two men have devoted a November Saturday -- this is it for 1995 -- to running the annual John F. Kennedy 50-Mile hike-run, the nation's oldest continuous ultramarathon.

     Each man has logged 1,300 miles -- more than any other runners -- along a course that includes a rugged stretch of the often rocky Appalachian Trail.

     Today, Air Force Major Byron, son of the late Congressman Goodloe E. Byron, who also ran the race a few times, and Mr. Adams, a gym teacher, are vying for their 27th finish. They are among 650 runners from 34 states, Canada and Washington competing in the 33rd race.

     "Neither one of us wants to miss a race, that's for sure," said Mr. Adams, 46. "It's a friendly competition between us. We usually see each other somewhere along the way, usually at the beginning. We're always checking to see if the other one is there."

     That contest between Mr. Byron, 40, and Mr. Adams to log the most finishes is just part of the rich history of this well-known race, begun by a Washington County athletic club in 1963 in response to a physical fitness challenge from President Kennedy. The president noted at a press conference that Marine officers during Theodore Roosevelt's administration were required to run a 50-mile race.

     "Everybody started doing 50-mile races that year. It was a real fad," recalled William J. "Buzz" Sawyer, who was race director for 30 years and now runs the ultramarathon. "What Kennedy didn't mention was that the Marines did the 50 miles over three days."

     Eleven young men hiked the first event. Only four finished. But, as the race continued, its popularity grew, and it attracted a record 1,724 runners in 1973. Fewer than 50 percent finished. Today, the finish rate is about 90 percent, said Mike Spinnler, the race director.

     The course hasn't changed much. It includes portions of the same 50-mile hike-run the president's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, ran in the early 1960s. Today, Robert's daughter, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, will award cash prizes to the top three finishers.

     The race begins at Boonsboro High School with a three-mile run along Alternate U.A. 40 to the Appalachian Trail. There, the runners begin a 1,190-foot climb to the top of South Mountain and follow the trail for 12.7 miles before winding down a steep switchback at Weverton Cliffs, across the Potomac River from Harper's Ferry, W.Va.

     From there, the race continues for 26 miles and 385 yards along the flat towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which parallels the Potomac. The last eight miles are along paved county road, ending at a middle school in Williamsport.

     The oldest runner competing this year is Carl Llewellyn of Hagerstown, who, with the help of other runners, finished last year's race just four minutes under the 14-hour time limit. Mr. Llewellyn was 79 then, He's 80 now.

     "Last year was a pretty close finish," said Mr. Llewellyn, a retired draftsman who has finished the race twice in four attempts since 1991. "I'm not sure how I am going to do this year. It hasn't been a good training year. I'm going to give it a try, though. It's a wonderful feeling to finish the race."

     Mr. Spinnler, a track coach at Hagerstown Junior College, notes that "everyone who runs this race has their own personal goals. Only one man and one woman are going to win, but more than 600 runners are striving to accomplish a goal. Everyone who finishes is a winner."

     Not everyone runs the course. Some walk stretches and take breaks at water stops.

     About 4 to 6 inches of snow and some fallen trees have covered the race's section along the Appalachian Trail, a rocky, leaf-strewn stretch that is treacherous enough without snow, he said.

     It's not going to be a fast race on the mountain, but we're still going to have it," Mr. Spinnler said.

 Bill Wandel


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