Yesterday was the day...the day that the JFK 50 Mile race took place, auspiciously on the actual anniversary of JFK's assasination. This is the race that I've been training for over the last 11 months. Months of running four days a week, with the speed gradually getting faster and the distance longer. I picked up trail running as well. And yesterday all the months of training paid off (sort of).
Tom and I drove up to Hagerstown Friday afternoon to pick up our race packets, grab an early dinner (and a couple of beers for Tom; I stuck to club soda with lime), and an early bedtime (before 7 p.m.!). We set the alarms for 3 a.m., since my starting time was 5:00. And that came too fast, let me tell you.
After getting up, taking a quick shower, and eating a sweet potato with maple syrup, we headed to Boonsboro High School for the pre-race briefing. At 4:35, the race director herded us to downtown Boonsboro to the starting line. The temperature on the local bank sign read 19 (it could have been much worse; the forecast the day before was for lower morning temperatures and one to two inches of snow on the ground). It was brisk, let me tell you, despite the three shirts, light jacket, singlet with the race number on it, neck gaiter, ear band, glove liners, and wool mitten (not hand knit), and running shorts covered by long running pants (I'm such a fashion icon).
At 5:00 sharp the gun went off and the adventure started. We ran up (literally) to Old South Mountain Inn, where we picked up the Appalachian Trail. It was a little difficult to run the trail in the dark (rocks and roots hiding under leaves), but I ran where I could. I walked the steep sections and ran where I could until the sun came up (it was a beautful sunrise, by the way) and then ran as much as I could. I was feeling great, my footing was sure and light, and I was having a great time. I made it to the Gathland aid station (mile 9.2) in just over 2 hours. Marcia (my crew) was there, and I grabbed some potatoes and headed out. The second section of the trail went well as well and when I came into Weverton, someone said there was only one other woman ahead of me. Wow! Second place woman...that's something that I never see.
After Weverton (and changing shoes and socks and removing a shirt), the course picks up the C&O Canal towpath and follows it for about 26.2 miles. Even though the towpath is a flat, soft surface, I found this section to be the most difficult section to run. It's repetitive and I couldn't quite get into the running groove. I was still moving well, but after some time of running by myself, I started to lose energy (I suspect that I wasn't drinking enough; it was also still pretty cold). At some point, I lost my temporary running buddies and was running solo. Bad news...there wasn't anyone to push me, so I started walking more and more. At some point, Marcia said that Mike M. had called. I asked how he was doing and she said he was at home, having coffee. Ah well... At the next aid station, Marcia said that Mike would run with me starting at Antietam. I was a little confused, because I thought she was refering to Mike C., who was supposed to be running with Tom. So I was pleasantly surprised when Mike M. pops up at Antietam and starts running with me. It was so nice to have company and he kept me going, making sure that I was drinking enough and taking in enough electrolytes (I was still sweating even though it was freakin' freezing).
At some point, Sarah passed us, wearing her kneepads on her arms and legs (she's afraid of falling on the trail) and saying that she felt horrible. We blinked, and she was gone (almost literally; she was moving fast, despite having run a marathon the previous weekend). Mike and I kept plodding along. Aid station to station. Relentless forward progress (although it was slow relentless forward progress). At long last, the towpath ended and we got on the road (at mile 41.8, I think).
At that point, I kind of knew I had it in the bag (sort of, barring something disastrous happening, like getting hit by a car). There were signs counting down the miles. 8, 7, 6, 5...and at each one, Mike would say "There's less than n miles to go." Or "This is the length of our weekday runs." At the bend in the road (44.2 miles?), Tom caught up with me. He wasn't having a good day, but it was nice to see him. Jill snapped a picture of us (my smile looked more like a grimace) and we pushed onward.
The sun was beginning to go down and it was a bit breezy. I was so very cold. Those little handwarmer packets did wonders but they weren't enough to warm me up. I kept plodding along, mostly walking because at this time, my right leg was not working so well. Every so often, there'd be a shooting pain in my groin and my leg would feel like it wanted give out. We'd jog a little bit, my knee would hurt, and I'd walk. I stretched when it got too bad, which helped some, but not enough. I looked longingly at the houses we passed, thinking that the inhabitants were warm, having a hot dinner, with a warm bed awaiting them. I wondered if I could run while sleeping (I actually tried running with my eyes closed on the towpath; it didn't work so well).
Then the mile markers read 4, then 3, then 2, then 1. I think I might have run the last half mile to the finish line. Mike ran ahead to let the others know that I was coming in. As I approached the finish chute, people were yelling "Go, Teri!" One woman jumped in and ran beside me. I recognized her face and voice and it finally dawned on me that it was Christy. Then I was in the chute and across the line. One woman put the medal around my neck, someone pulled the name information off the race bib, and another woman took my number.
And it was over. I walked away, found Tom, and fell into his arms, totally exhausted and freezing. I think I sobbed a bit.
Eleven months of training and in 12 hours, 22 minutes, and 18 seconds, it was all over. I accomplished my goal of running 50 miles in my 50th year. I couldn't have done it without the support of Tom, my family, and everyone in the running club. They encouraged me, believed in me, and made me believe in myself.
It's been an incredible journey. Thanks to everyone who made it possible. I love you all.