"Hey Kevin, I was thinking about running a double JFK this year making it a 100. You interested?"Before my brain had time to think my mouth responds...
"Yea, that sounds like fun."Tom Green was the original Grand Slammer (1986) and since I was attempting and subsequently completed the slam this year the idea of doing a "1st" with Tom was intriguing.
November rolls around and I give Tom a call. During the conversation I learn that he's planning to run the first 50 miles in 10 hours. My first thought is... that's seems a little aggressive and it's only 2 hours off my best 50 mile time. Further more it November, it's dark, it's cold, and I haven't done a long run of more than 17 miles since finishing Wasatch in September. Not wanting to appear like a wimpy road runner I cleverly disguise my worry in the form of describing my running "discomforts". I've accumulated a number of things from the previous (4) 100's and they'll probably slow me down. Tom describes his "concerns" and we talk like a couple of old men setting up our excuses. We settling on 11 hours for the first 50 and will see what happens on the second 50.
A couple of weeks before the race I start to think about doing a 100 miler in a 50 miler "environment". During a 100 there are always people around providing encouragement and support. There's a lot of camaraderie and "ultra-community" involvement. The JFK is not set up nor is it geared towards that kind of support. There are plenty of aid stations but they don't know or understand the look and feel of runners past the 50 mile distance and the motivation that needed sometimes to keep them going. So I get a couple of tee shirts made up indicating our 100 mile intentions. It seems a bit ego related but figure what the heck If we don't finish then we're the idiots who ran 50 miles before the race then DNF'd or we're the guys that are just a little bit "different".
Our day arrives and it's raining. I express some concern to my wife and she responds with...
"You worried about a little rain? You're not even running until it rains. Stop your complaining"So much for the loving support I used to get but she's right. In fact it's almost a little more fun thinking that the weather but be bad making this a little harder than just a fair weather run.
I drive to Hagerstown and get to packet pickup at 3:00 PM and have a brief conversation with race director Mike Spinler letting him know what Tom and I are up to. He wishes us well and I head home for a nap.
Tom and his wife Kay arrive at our house Friday night and after some chitchat we load up our gear and off we go. We're running about twenty minutes late but we've got a little buffer so we're ok. First stop is Weverton Cliffs where we drop off water and food so we'll have a drop bag at 35 miles. Next stop is Snyder's Landing for our 12 mile drop point. As we're leaving we encounter some navigational issues and are now 40 minutes late. We head to Boonsboro where I drop off my car as our 50 mile aid just in case our wives don't make the start of the race or can't drive through town to the start line. We hope in my wife's mini van and head to the official finish line, Williamsport MD, and our unofficial start line.
By the time we get there its 8:25 and miss our 8:00 start time. By the time we suit up and position ourselves at the Start/Finish line its 8:35. A hand shake and a couple of good lucks we start.
The rain has cleared and it's good running weather. Eight miles of pavement ahead. After 4 miles the straps on my trail gaiters break and flop around for the next 96 miles. Tom "the big Kahuna" Green is a running machine. No matter what the conditions his pace is always steady. I figure that I'm at about 80% but think I've have done a nice job of having Tom lower his expectation of me. He's been averaging only 20 miles a week the last three months but a Tom Green at 50% is still better than most runners at 100%. I keep this in mind and continue to down play any potential he might think I have.
I've been pounding Diet Mt. Dews all afternoon and I'm wired to the hilt on caffeine. We dodge a few cars and make it to the C&O canal towpath at a comfortable pace. The air is calm, the trail is fast, and we make good time. By the time we arrive at our first drop bag we realize something: Running on the C&O towpath at night is monotonous and really boring. Try this... put a treadmill in your closet, close the door, and run in place staring at the same flashlight reflection for 26 miles and you'll get the feeling. Flat, dark, no change of terrain, no scenery, it's mesmerizing. Even Tom comments that it's a real test of mental fortitude.
We make good time to Snyder's Landing and stop for a sandwich and Mt. Dew. I was originally bummed that Tom used drop bags. I thought it would me more in the spirit of ultras and suffering if we ran the first 50 totally unsupported other than what we could carry . But after seeing Tom unwrap a turkey and cheese sandwich I changed my mind. He's the grizzled, experienced ultra running veteran and knows how to take care of himself and I can learn a few thing. The first thing I learn is that turkey and cheese sandwiches with Mayo are really, really good and quite happy that he has them. We eat, drink, and head down the path.
It's now 11:00 PM.. and we see a flash light heading towards us. Another runner is, who's this nut case running at this time of night? We exchange salutations and motor on. The hours and miles tick slowly by. We see several Boy Scouts troops camping out along the C&O at the camp sites. Their nice warm crackling fires look really inviting but we're ultra guys on a mission and avoid the temptation to stop and get warm. We pass a camp and hear someone shout...
"Hey, you guys running the race tomorrow?"We respond with a yes and that we're doing a double and we'll catch back up with him later sometime in the afternoon. Tom looks at me and says...
"You know, on any other night that might seem like a strange question."We finish the first 35 miles after making the transition from the C&O tow path to the base of Weverton Cliffs where our second drop bag is stashed. Tom's been out of water for an hour and didn't even mention it. We sit down and eat. I begin to shiver and get stiff. We decide that it would be better for us to walk than sit so we lumber off up the hill and make our way along the Appalachian Trail. It's slow and slippery as a result of the rain an leaves. Steady progress is maintained and we get to Gathland which is a half way point for the AT portion of the run. Just outside of Gathland and see a guy standing in the middle of the trail smoking a cigarette. It's 4:30 in the morning, dark and he has no camping gear or hiking gear. We think about stopping and asking him for a cigarette but notice that he's not smoking Lucky Strike unfiltered so we decide to continue. We say "hi" and pass by. Our watches indicate that we're running behind schedule as a result of our late start. We really have to blitz this portion of the trail if we want to make the 7:00 start. During the day it's possible to run this section hard but at night and a 40 mile warm up it makes that idea pretty far fetched. We reach the radio tower and concede we're not going to make the official 7:00 AM start.
As we get to Reno monument and the aid station is being stocked by the volunteers, Tom asks if we can get something to drink. They give us the "Yea, It's all right, we're gonna be nice to you" routine. Then they see my race number pinned to the back of my CamelBak HAWG.
"Hey are you guys running the race?"We running down Alternate Route 40 at 7:05. By the time we're half way down the hill 800+ runners pass us in mass. We wave, smile and hear...
"Yea, we're making it a 100. We're a little behind but we'll see you in an hour.
Yo fellas you're going the wrong way!We make it into Boonsboro at 7:25 AM. It took us 10:55 for the first 50 miles. Right on schedule but the schedule slipped a little at the start. Pretty much. right on schedule. Mary and Kay are glad to see us but we're even more glad to see them. They offer encouragement and food. Tom has pancakes with butter and syrup and I have a breakfast sandwich. We put on the motivational JFK 100 race shirts and off we go.
you guy's OK?
Hey Tom, Hey Kevin
etc. etc. etc.
We run as much of the hill up to South Mountain as we can but end up walking some. We get to the top and see two guys standing around. It's the trail sweep and he's been waiting for us. Huh?
"Hey Tom, is there a cut off here?"I ask the sweep if there's a cut off. He looks at his watch,
"I don't know".
"Yes, you made it by four minutes".Holy stop watch, Batman! We sprint off and pass Rick Hamilton coming down from his directional duties on the AT. He stops us, we pose and he takes our picture. We start to talk but see the trail sweep stalking us.
Reno monument aid station has closed but the volunteers left us several cups of water and a cup of M&M's and touched by their thoughtfulness. We walk quickly up the utility road and meet the aid personnel sweeping down the course picking up cups. They ask if we got the water and can they take a picture of us for the archives. We feel like celebrities. We ask what the next cutoff is. They tell us not to worry, Mike Spinler knows what we're doing and he wont DQ us. The radio guys have been busy letting everyone know that the two of us were 35 minutes behind and that we're going for a 100. We appreciate the courtesy but don't want special treatment and decide we should run harder. 55 miles into a 100 miler the notion of running harder has a different meaning than when you start.
The trail sweep is right behind us. He's good and continues to shadow us. We high step over the rocks of the Appalachian Trail and try to loose him. After a few miles we catch up to another runner. Hello, good morning, how are you... yada, yada, yada. We pass and leave the trail sweep behind us. Next stop, Gathland aid station. We catch a quick drink, a cookie, and head up the trail. We talk with some other runners and press on.
We try to say hi to everyone we pass. Some people ask what the "oldest largest 50 miler newest smallest 100" printed on the back of our shirts means. We tell them 50 just didn't seem like enough so and we're making it a 100. We receive the usual, "You guys are nuts" and stuff like that. I've tanked up some more on Mt Dew and by the time we're headed down Weverton Cliffs I'm in a kamikaze. Those switch backs never went by so fast. Stopping at the aid station at Weverton Tom looks as refreshed as ever and I'm buzzing on a sugar and caffeine.. We loiter around for a bit and then get the itch to run some more.
We're back on the towpath doing the walk/run strategy. We're running into the 22 mile aid station, which is manned by my local running club, the Frederick Steeple Chasers. We get a bunch of shouts and yells. The cameras come out, we smile and the flashes go off. Having the shirts with the somewhat shameless promotion has done us well and continues to motivate.
Off we go. Tom is slowing down a bit and walking a little more. When we hit Dalgren's and Tom says
"Kevin, why don't you go on. I need to rest and walk some more"We wanted to do the whole 100 together but running with a partner for a 100 miles is often difficult no matter how evenly your matched. Everyone has different highs and lows and they usually don't sync with your partner. At that point the inevitable decision has to be made. Should you stick together possibly throwing both or you off or split up and allow the "low" runner time to recover on their own.
We talk for a moment and since it's been getting harder for me to stop and go we decide to part. Tom sits down with his wife and I shuffle off. I hold a steady pace as I make my way up the towpath. I tell myself jokes and laugh. Talk to people when I can or grunt and wave when it's too hard. This is an acceptable practice in a 100 but this is a 50 and people look at me with curious stares. I'm wearing colorful clownish running tights and I'm sure that people are thinking, "What's up with this bozo?."
I'm not sure what's more boring 26 miles on the towpath at night or doing it again the next morning. I begin to lie to myself by telling myself that I have lots of energy in reserve and I can open it up anytime I want. Mary meets me at Shepardstown. 85 miles down or is it only 35? Not sure and don't care the only thing going through my mind is there's only 15 miles left. I look at my watch and it's 3:00 p.m. and I'm usually finishing up at this point. It's been chilly and windy all day and I'm starting to tire.
After reaching the end of the C&O canal section a volunteer hands me a reflector vest for the last 8 miles on the road and the impending darkness. You would think that the last 8 miles of pavement would be fast but they are slow. Flat pavement can be a blessing or a curse. At this point its more of a curse and I do the best I can. At 94 miles, Mary and Kay are waiting standing my the side of the road. Kay tells me that Tom's feeling much better and may surprise me. It would be great to run it in with Tom but know if I wait I'll stiffen up making it hard to run when he gets there.
The next mile is slow and I begin to wonder if it's ever going to be over. Then I get that end-of-the-race realization... if I hurry it would will over sooner! I cover the last 3 miles in 24 minutes. With the finish line just ahead of me sad that the Big Kahuna and I aren't doing it together but on the other hand, this is nice boasting and ribbing material to hang over his head.
The finish line crosses under my feet. I make the mathematical calculations and figure a total time 21 hours 38 minutes. Tom cruises in at 22:30. Hands are shaken, lies told, ego's boosted, a friendship strengthened.