30 miles, 24 hours

There’s nothing quite like a training effort gone wrong – or incomplete, as the case may be – to crush one’s confidence as an important race sits on the horizon. But sometimes, exhaustion wins.

The JFK 50 Mile Run, my final race of the year, is only 16 days away. It is the country’s largest ultramarathon, with nearly 2,000 participants. It began in 1963 as one of a series of 50 mile runs around the country in an effort led by President Kennedy to promote physical fitness. Though the runs were primarily geared toward military personnel, they were open to the general public as well. Following the assassination of President Kennedy, zeal for the 50 mile runs petered out, with the exception of one event, which became the JFK 50 Mile Run, held each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving in western Maryland. This year, the run will take place on November 22, the 51st anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.

This will be my first attempt at this race, and though I have run 50 miles before, the JFK presents a set of challenges new to me:

1. The first 6 miles gain nearly 1,200 feet in elevation.
2. Miles 2 to 14 are on the Appalachian Trail.
3. Mile 14 drops 1,100 feet in elevation. Over one mile.
4. There are cut-off times at different points along the way, including an overall time limit of twelve hours.

Yes, I am nervous. I just want to finish. Even if it takes me the full twelve hours.

It is an honor for me to run this race and honor the memory of President Kennedy: a man who died long before I ever came along, but who nevertheless impacted my life, most notably through his creation of the Peace Corps, an organization of which I am proud to have been a part.

Training for the event has been an undertaking in itself, and admittedly, I am not entirely unhappy that my training is finally winding down. It is very humbling to know that there are many people out there for whom a 50 mile run is a walk in the park, but for me, this is a pretty big deal.

In the last 26 days, I have run two marathons (one as a race, the other for training), and this morning, “completed” my final hard training effort: 30 miles in 24 hours, in the form of three 10-mile runs. I ran the first two yesterday, with about six hours of rest in between, and the third one this morning. To say that I “completed” the training sequence is a somewhat false claim, as my initial goal had been to run a fourth 10-mile run this afternoon, making the total 40 miles in 36 hours. Instead, I am writing this blog post. I really struggled with my third run this morning as exhaustion from the last few weeks set in, and had it not been for M.’s encouragement (he got up in the rain and ran with me today!), I’m not so sure I would have finished it.

My intention had been to run on tired legs and with a tired mind, because I know I will need to do that in two weeks, and part of me wonders if perhaps I let “tired” win a little too easily. To quote M., I have reached “the point of diminishing returns,” which sounds like something out of an adventure novel, but what he meant was that pushing myself to complete the fourth run may do more harm than good at this point and may even lead to injury. I don’t disagree, yet somehow I still find myself hoping for a sudden burst of energy in the next couple of hours. I don’t think it’s going to happen (especially since it just started raining – again), so perhaps a walk with Frieda will have to suffice.

Meanwhile, I am celebrating the end of a long and tumultuous training cycle, which included several runs far outside of my comfort zone, many moments of questioning what I am doing and why, a few great races, and most importantly, M.’s undying support and encouragement along the way. No matter what happens, I am looking forward to a great adventure on November 22.

Thank you for reading!

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