Home. (JFK 2013 Race Report)

JFK.  Love it or hate it, this race is special to me.

I told myself I wasn’t running it again.  I sat on the registration for a solid week until I couldn’t stand it anymore.  Finally, I caved.  Without another thought, I mailed it off and planned to return home on November 23.

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Home.

“Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone…
Cause I’m gonna make this place your home”

The idea of running JFK led me to ultra running.  And ultra running helped me find myself.  For 36 years I went through the motions….always competent enough to look like I belonged, but desperately kicking my legs below the surface to tread the waters of life.

In the thousands of miles and hundreds of hours since, I’ve come to know myself. Never doubted that this is exactly what I should be doing…even when that means sacrificing time with those I hold most dear.  I can’t explain this calling on any rational level, but I know in my heart that I’m doing what God wants me to do.  (Note:  I have some very complicated issues with religion in general…worthy of a separate post…but running is the one area where I am comfortable expressing my spirituality…)

So JFK is a pilgrimage of sorts.  A return to the start…of my running dreams and of my childhood.  My present and my past.  It’s who I am.

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With Masochist on my legs, I didn’t expect a fast run.  In fact, I was really excited to experiment with two 50’s in the same month.  It was to be a fun day running in Washington County, and I looked forward to a weekend of hanging out with trail friends…those running the race (Angela, Sage, Jon, Eric) and those I’d see along the way (Crista, Steve, Eddy).

I rolled into Hagerstown Friday night in time to meet up with Jon, Eric, and new team members Mel and Bill.  Eric had run into Jane – a girl he’d met at the Steamtown Marathon several weeks before – she joined us for dinner and by the end of the weekend was our new best friend.

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Me, Jon, Eric, Mel, Bill, Mark, Jane. Done!!

An early bed-time and good night’s sleep made the 4:30 wake-up tolerable.  The weather was decent – in the high 30s, but a cold front was expected to roll through mid-day, so I decided to wear my lulu capris, along with my Terrapin tank and MMTR long-sleeve.  As I did last year, I carried my nathan’s pack (sans bladder) with gels and s-caps and gloves, relying on my hand-held bottle for hydration.

The race started at 7AM, and without fuss the 1000 runners rolled up Old National Pike to South Mountain Inn.  It was an easy 22 min of climbing, and I never felt like I was working too hard.  We hit the AT and cruised for a mile or so, before reaching the second long climb (on asphalt) to the summit of South Mountain.  Just like last year, I was running with guys who were hoping for an 8 hour finish.  But this time, I didn’t worry….I just kept a steady, easy pace through the climb and onto the trail….the only goal was to run conservatively through the early trail miles and have some spunk on the canal.

JFK Start.  Photo Credit: iRunFar.com
JFK Start. Photo Credit: iRunFar.com

Well…I did run easy, but by mile 14 my hips and hip flexors were telling me they’d had enough of rocky trails for the year.  My quads stared to feel heavy, and though I was staying on top of my fuel, I was tired.  I distracted myself by chatting with the girl in front of me – an Ironman from PA – and then was thrilled when I heard Angela’s voice…she had caught me on the switchbacks and we ran onto the canal together at 9:40

Still…I was ready for a rest.  Was it too early to walk a bit?  Yes.

OK….three miles to the Steeplechasers aid station (Mile 19).  Crista would be there with my Hokas, and so I struggled to keep up with Angela as we transitioned to the LONG 26.3 flat canal miles.  This is the hardest part of the race for me, and the only way I get through it is to muddle along…mile by mile…running to the next aid station.  From 19 to 23.  From 23 to 27.  The low point of the day….last year and this year.

I HATED these first 11 canal miles.  But once I hit the Mile 23 aid station, I was on a mission.  My girls would be waiting at mile 27, and I really, really wanted to get there on time.  It was a cold day, and the mama in me wanted a quick hug and then the knowledge that they’d be back in the car getting warm again.  These thoughts pushed me along and I got to them around 11:25.

I’d hit the halfway point at 4:05, and estimated that I would be off the canal by 1:50 (a 4:10 marathon).  The constant headwind and monotony made me feel like I was shuffling along.  Last year, I took a walk break at every mile post.  This year I told myself it was OK to walk, but every time I saw a mile marker I challenged myself to keep moving.  I had some nice conversations with the other runners…even seeing some guys that I ran with last year (one of them had been wearing pajama pants, so they’d made an impression!).   While I felt blah, I kept moving along, and sure enough…came off the canal right at 1:50.  I was only passed by one other girl – quite a change from last year when I think 5 or 6 caught me on the canal section.

I was SO looking forward to the last 8 miles of road, as there were some great hills that would provide an excuse to walk.  Well…not so much!  I walked the first one, and a few others, but everything was so darn runnable.  So, I kept at my shuffle and plodded along….SO tired, and SO ready for the run to be over.

Eight miles to go….Seven….Six.  Each time I passed a sign I’d look at my watch.  10 more minutes….keep it up.

With 4 miles to go, not one but TWO women passed me.  So strong!!  Turns out they were both over 45 – Woot!  Love to see that older does NOT mean slower.  One of them was a local who was running her third JFK (she PR’d by several minutes).

Three…Two…One mile to go.  Home.

8:11:29 over the line.  20 minutes faster than last year.  14th woman.

Though I felt tired and worn out for a full 36 miles, a very happy Annie….

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A few minutes after crossing, I heard my name.  Crista and Sage.  Huge Hugs…and a question…how did Sage do?  Sage did just fine….SECOND WOMAN!!!  So, so happy for her and her unreal 7:14 time.

Sage and Me, post JFK.
Sage and Me, post JFK.

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All in all, it was a great day.  I was tired for most of it, but know that I can find another 11 minutes out there and break 8.  Not sure if that will be next year, but am excited to return to home in future years and see what I can do on the course.

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