JFK 50 Miler

Nov 16th, 2010 - Training - Tewksbury, MA - 4

Day 320 - It's time to talk more JFK 50 strategery.

Reno has been feeding me some priceless tidbits about JFK, and ultra running in general, with input from some of the best ultra runners around, which of course I then passed onto Katy as my own wisdom.

One veteran JFK runner breaks up the JFK course into three obvious sections: The Trail (16 miles); The Towpath (26 miles); and The Road (8 Miles). If my accounting degree is worth it's weight in the beans that I count, then that should all add up to 50 miles.

The Trail

The first section is not actually all trail. First 3 miles of the race is out of town and up hill to the South Mountain Inn. Have to move quickly - maybe a few strides walking at the steepest pitch. 22 minutes +/- puts you pretty far up in the field. One problem is if you plan to try to run fast, you have to get up the incline pretty well to be able to run cleanly on the trail. That first 3 miles is a pretty good rise.

The above advice was given to Reno based on his superhuman abilities, so I will be adjusting our own goals accordingly.

Katy and I will shoot for 24-25 minutes for the first 5K, which sounds like a piece of cake considering that my 5K PR is 17:08, but something tells me that there's a monster hill somewhere in those first 3 miles that won't give a rat's ass about my PR.

Moving on.

There's a mile plus of "trail" - not too bad, but some footing issues. Then you hit the fire road for 2 miles. Definitely some rises you have to walk, even if you plan to be at or under 7 hours, but it's paved. At the top of the hill it's then a 10 mile stretch to the Weaverton Cliffs drop to get off the trail. There are probably about 3 miles of "bad" trail, including the cliffs. Some tough footing and you need to concentrate. Only one major aid station until the end of the 16 mile section of trail.

(so pretty, yet so treacherous)

Well, that's good to know that even supermen are allowed to walk. I'm sure the technicality of the trails is nothing like Wapack, but it will still require our full attention. We also need to keep in mind that the sun is only barely up at this point, so it will still be dark out. A crazy friend of mine broke his toe around this section a few years back, and still finished! So that goes to show you how klutzy (and crazy) Army Rangers are.

Our plan of attack is to stay up front before we enter the trail section. This will hopefully prevent us from being single-tracked behind other runners.

I figure that this 16 mile stretch of trail should take us about 2 hrs and 15 minutes (8:26 pace), so for real-time reference, we should be done this part by 9:15AM.

And now for the world's most boring marathon....

The Towpath

I've become convinced that as long as you cover the trail in a reasonable fashion (not too slow), the primary goal is to get out on the towpath ready to "run hard". That means running a 3:30 ish marathon on the [26 mile] towpath. Wish I had an easy comparison for you - the towpath is unpaved, no noticeable grade, and exposed [to the elements], particularly from miles 18 to 23 where you are really next to the water.

(so pretty, yet so god damn boring)

Adjusting for the human factor, we'll be shooting for a sub 4 hr marathon over the towpath stretch. I kid you not when I say this stretch is as boring as this blog entry. I ran about 5 miles on it last year and I was ready to jump into the Potomac.

You have to be ready to possibly run alone. At the pace of under 8 hours, depending upon your intention, you might run the whole towpath [without passing anyone].

Running with Katy on this stretch should help alleviate some of the suicidal thoughts, but murder is definitely not off of the table.

If we are on schedule 42 miles into the race, then we should be at 6 hrs and 15 minutes (8:55 pace), give or take a few Mile 14's. For those playing along at home, this should be around 1:15PM.

So, once we are off of the dreaded towpath, only 8 miles of paved road separates us from a slice of JFK pizza. Hmmmmm, salty pizza.

The Road

You have to also be ready to run hard on the road. Some hills, but nothing like Boston's Heartbreak hills. Just long grades. Also, because you're back on pavement with the last 8 miles, a lot of people aren't ready for the hardness of the surface. Some people change shoes - I have several times.

(so pretty, yet so, just get me to the finish line already!)

Running hard is relative. We'll be "running", and it will be hard. So I guess we will be running hard.

Katy put it best when she told me that we'll need to dig deep down to find out what's left. Hopefully, I find something other than an advil, a pillow, and a warm blanket.

I'm sure we'll be in a world of mental and physical hurt at mile 42, so I don't expect anything faster than a 9 minute pace over the final 8. Based on that, I think we'll finish this section in about 1 hr and 20 minutes (10 min pace), giving us a total run time of about 7 hrs and 35 minutes as we cross the finish line with big smiles on our faces!

This finish time would have been good for 6th place female, 2nd place in the female open division, and within striking distance of the top 50 overall at last's year race!

(Editor's Note: I'm starting to feel like a creep comparing myself to the female runners, but I'm doing it for you Katy! Well, if you think I'm a creep now, wait until you see my post for tomorrow night!)

In summary:

Trails (16 miles): 2 hrs 15 minutes (8:26)
Towpath (26 miles): 4 hours (9:13)
Road (8 miles): 1 hr 20 minutes (10:00)

Updated per the comments below (thanks):

Trails (16 miles): 2 hrs 35 minutes (9:41)
Towpath (26 miles): 3 hrs 40 minutes (8:27)
Road (8 miles): 1 hr 20 minutes (10:00)

Total run time (50 miles): 7 hrs 35 minutes (9:06)

This all looks very doable and the strategery, sound. Since that is the case, I will now have to prematurely declare this battle as....

Big thanks to Matthew Mace for providing the invaluable JFK tips used above.


  1. Great post!

    Good luck!

    (Hope you don't get so bored you jump into the Potomac. :)

  2. Hmmm... interesting... maybe we should swing more time into the trail, and try to go harder on the tow path? I'm just thinking I'd rather be chasing and catching people there versus the trail... then again, we both know you like to "bank time" :P

  3. Jason, you are way too fast on the trail and too slow
    On the marathon. Add 20 and take it easy early
    Run much faster on tow path.

    At end of trail on downhill switchback I run hard.
    Then take the first 2 miles on path easy to control adrenaline
    THEN pick it up once you have adapted to boring mode.

  4. Thanks Stephen, and good point Katy. I'll update the above to put more time in on the trail and kick ass on the towpath.