Saturday, December 1, 2012

JFK 50 Mile 2012


The couple weeks leading up to JFK I was feeling pretty crappy. And honestly, it was probably more mental than it was physical. I was tired of trying to juggle training with grad school, the 5:30am wake-ups to get in a run before class, the runs after class in the dark in the evening the same day when I was dead tired, tired of the pressure I was giving myself to perform, to run harder and faster, tired of the nagging little injuries that seemed to come up every week. And mentally, I didn’t feel like I was in this anymore. It was that end-of-the-semester, end-of-the-season staleness. Sure, my body was still able to crank out the mileage, able to hit my tempo paces and splits. But half the time I would find myself thinking I’m tired of this stupid running thing. And it was when I started catching myself say that was when I knew that my mind needed a break more than my body. I went on a 12 mile night run on the Friday night before JFK with my friends Alan, Brett, Steve and Dave Ploskonka. The run itself was great fun with great company, followed by some delicious Pumpkin beers at Iron Hill, but I could tell I was lacking the little extra jump in my step and just felt a bit stale, the little injuries nagging again. My legs were finally back but my brain was burning out, so I made myself take a break.

Reunited with my teammates and BFFs at last!
I had plans of getting in another couple long runs the weekend before JFK in preparation for Hellgate, but in light of my new decision I ditched the running plans and took some time to myself and focused on manuscript writing instead. I took three days of no running, just doing some light cross training.  It was easy to convince myself that I didn’t care about my finishing time too much at JFK since I would treat it as a training race. But with one week leading up to the event, I felt the jitters start to rise. Training race or not, this was still fifty miles. And while this type of distance may not phase some of the high level elites, I had to remind myself that I still consider myself a novice at this longer ultra distance thing. No matter how easy I told myself I would run, this would still take a lot out of me. If I burned myself to the ground during the week or too early in the race, it would be a very long and painful finish for me. Or even worse, a no finish. Not to mention, Spinnler had designated the low seeded bib #7 to me, which is #7 out of men or women, and which must have been as my title of local celebrity (HAH!) This pre-race anticipation and fear made me take it easy with the mileage that week and ran less than 20 miles the week leading up to JFK. So there was no formal taper, but at least I would be feeling relatively fresh at the starting line.

To review, as this would be my 4th time running this year’s JFK coupled with the copious amount of training I have done on the course, I am practically considering myself a course expert by now, which is far from my usual pre-race course preparatory skills. The entire JFK race can be broken down into three segments:

1.       The Trail: The first 15ish miles are mostly Appalachain trail, minus a few miles of a couple climbs, one of which from mile 4-5.5ish is pretty brutal. After that, it’s a net downhill, for the most part, with a few mini hurdles thrown in. Things get pretty rocky at times and some parts are tough to be runnable. Then comes one more smaller runnable climb before hitting some rocky switchbacks and  you’re dumped out on the canal. Fun part of the race is now over.

2.       The Canal: Anyone will tell you that this is the toughest and most brutal section of the course, and they would  be right. It’s 27 miles of complete pancake flatness on a gravel road and everything looks exactly the same. It might not seem it, but it’s tough. Especially when you have mile markers along the way to remind you just how slow time is passing by. Some of the longest minutes of my life have been spent on that canal. Plus everyone makes the mistake of going out too hard on the canal, only to die before the end of it. And trust me, you will be wishing from some more mountains to climb before you get to the end of this one. Usually a good indication of if you’ve been running a smart race or not is if and when you come to all  the carnage at the end.

Forget all this talk about the course--my crew was even MORE prepared!
3.       The Road: Once you get to the road you climb the hill that signifies the end of the canal. You will never be so happy to see a hill in your life. One more big hill and then home stretch to the finish line! Except not really. You’ve still got 8 miles to go and the race is not nearly over. The asphalt can hurt, but at least you’ve got some nice gentle rolling terrain to work with. 

The pre-race excitement was the highest I have ever seen at any JFK so far, and it was hard not to get caught up in it with the crowd. Plus, Nicole and Ducky had come to crew for me and cheer me on in the race again and they pretty much make it impossible to have feelings of doubtfulness. After all, I was Jackie Palmer, human beast! (Obviously these two have never met Ellie Greenwood…) I planned to just take what my body would give me on this day, and have fun. After all, the whole thing was in my own backyard, so how could I not be having the time of my life?!
RACE DAY: The execution

The Trail:

The race started at 7:00AM sharp, as usual. For once I was actually ready and waiting at the starting line! I wanted to get to the head of the trail before the bottleneck I had gotten stuck behind my first year, so I was a little less conservative running up the first 2 mile gradual climb. I was running sub 10 minute pace up the hill and when I saw my aunt at the top and she probably thought I looked a little winded heading into the trail section, but as I was catching my breath I could tell I felt pretty good and had high hopes for the day. 

Then came the big-big climb.  Here I was running with a couple of new guy friends I had just made along with Anne Spinnale(sp?), who I had formerly met at UROC when she rad a solid race to come in 3rd place. We ran together for a bit, up to the very steep sections at which we turned to a power hike. Except Anne’s power hike quickly put me to shame. I thought I was pretty swift with the power hike until I saw her. I mean, she was trucking up that hill at a walking pace I had never seen. It almost looked like something out of the race walking Olympic games. Anyways, there was no way I was keeping up with her and she soon put me in the dust. Womp womp L But soon a pack of Navy marathon guys came up behind me on a climb, including Mosi, LT, and a couple other guys I didn’t know. I joked with them that I would be seeing them in about 40 miles. They may have slowed down because they didn’t actually pass me, except for one younger one who kept running the climb on up ahead.

We got to the top of the climb at mile 5.5 and it felt great to get on the trail. And I was feeling great! Everything seemed to come together for me there and I was flying with little effort over the rock gardens and along the trail. I knew exactly what was coming; every up hill, downhill, turn, dip, crevice and rock in the trail that would come next on the trail I had trained so much on. I do not consider myself a great technical runner, but I was passing a lot of technically challenged road runners (usually given away by the road shoes) and even ended up passing Anne. Everything felt comfortable and effortless. I caught up to the younger Navy guy and was running with him for a bit. Then we both briefly got caught behind some 5amers on the switchbacks.
Loving life coming out of the trail

Then it was another spirit boosting lift to emerge from the switchbacks and have a parted sea of people at about 8 people deep screaming and cheering for you. My crew was there waiting for me and I did a quick water bottle exchange before I was off again. My stomach was taking calories well so I kept the Cliff block shots coming. 

The Canal:

I came to the canal about 5-6 minutes before I reached it last year and felt perhaps a hundred times better. Over the past 3 times I have run this race, I have learned that I have always been able to tell how my race is going to go by how I feel when I step on the canal. And today I felt great! It was going to be a good race, although I didn’t want to jinx it at the time. 

I passed several more 5amers on the first section of the canal including a guy with a bloody head (yikes!). I came up to a girl in the regular start before long. She picked up her pace to stick with me for a while and I was accepting of the company. She was from Colorado and on the Airforce team and had traveled down with her friend who was up ahead and hoping for a sub 7 hour finish. Whewww good luck, I told her. She said she had gone out with her friend on the trail and admitted that it was probably a mistake. I silently agreed, but kept quiet. You’re in trouble if you’re feeling bad at this point in the race. She wasn’t doing too horribly though, but I could tell her effort level was above mine for the pace. We ran together for about 5-6 miles before I lost her at an aid station. I was not keeping tabs on my mile splits, but I was wearing  my Garmin, which I usually do not do for racing, but this was really more of an effort to keep my pace controlled and steady. I only displayed the total time and average pace, which I was watching steadily drop from a 9:40ish minute mile coming out of the trail section. I estimated I was probably running around 8:30 pace. 

I remember this was the AS where I wanted to try some solid food and was feeling risky so decided to take an Oreo looking like cookie. Ughhh—big mistake. I only ate half a cookie but the sweetness of the frosting made me feel a bit sick for a while. So Oreos have now made their way to my list of race No-No’s. 
 But the bit of nausea was really more annoying than it was detrimental to my race. My legs were still feeling great and I was actually able to pull ahead of Colorado girl as well as a couple of other girls. I was looking forward to the Antietam AS where I knew my crew would be waiting for me with a Cliff bar, of which I knew was safe for consumption without stomach rebellion.  

I reached Antietam in good spirits and once again up lifted by my crew and ready to eat again. I have learned that when you feel like you could eat in an ultra, you probably should. Plus, one of my biggest mistakes from last year was taking gels only and not eating solids.

I took a quick pit stop at the bathrooms there and appreciated that JFK is probably the only ultra where I have had the privilege to use a legitimate toilet mid race. When I came out, I saw that Ann has zoomed by at a blistering pace and I knew it was neither the day nor within my reach to try and catch that woman. Leaving Antietam, I was just moving comfortably, not pushing the pace, just munching on my Cliff bar. Life was good. 

However, life did not seem good for most other people around me. People were far less chirpy when I passed them, and I was passing them at a much faster rate without even having increased my pace. Ahhh, the mistakes of the canal. A few minutes later I felt someone close on my heels, then a minute later practically breathing down my neck. I could tell it was a guy and thought he might have wanted to pass but said he was just trying to hang on if I didn’t mind. Sure… He could pull too in a bit if he wanted. We began talking a little about not a whole lot of importance, but something to pass by the time on the canal and tick off a couple miles. Conversation on his end became more and more short until he finally apologized to me that he couldn’t take any more and suddenly stopped to vomit right there on the side of the trail. Ekkk.
Crew mom

I stopped to ask if he was ok, and felt almost guilty that when I continued on I was feeling just as smooth as ever. I was actually tempted to push the pace here, even though my pace was continuing to drop, but I withheld the temptation. Then, a few miles before Taylors landing “YOU AGAIN!”   There was my 19 year old friend that I have now seen every single JFK at this same exact location in the race for the past 3 years. 

“Well why don’t you hang on this year?” I laughed tauntingly. 

And so he accepted the challenge and off we continued together. I was happy to have another running buddy again (the canal can get REALLYYYY boring, especially with no music or pacers allowed).  The guy looked like he’d been hurting right before I came up, but now he was being pretty cheerful. He ran collegiate cross country for some school in Boston (I think?). We stuck together for a lot longer than I had expected. He promised he would stick with me till the end of the canal section, although maybe not the end of the race.
I’ll admit that I was pretty surprised when I didn’t lose him at the Taylor’s landing AS when we both met up with our crews. But a mile or so before the end of the canal, he too suddenly stopped to puke. Lost another one. 

But having his company had actually made the miles tick by pretty quickly so for this I was grateful. I was still feeling pretty good, but not immaculate. The canal will do that to you.  
I met another buddy just before end of the canal. I was rather saddened to lose my last friend and didn’t want to fall into another well of boredom so I said hello and told him he was looking strong and he should come along with me (pah!). So he did. Yayy replacement friend! Good thing, because this next section can be pretty boring too.

The Road:

We arrived at the last canal aid station. Hearing the volunteers orders to turn right off the canal path was like hearing the voice of God and seeing that long hill leading the way looked like the stairway to heaven. My new friend immediately asked me how long this hill was as I took off running up it. It’s runnable, as I continued on and he followed suit. At the top of the hill was the 8 mile to go mark. My friend stayed with me until the Williamsport HS aid station, so for about 3 miles. 

 When I got to the road it was a little tough to practice some mental restraint that wanted to drive myself into the ground pushing to the finish line with everything I had left, which I was pleasantly surprised to find back once I finally got off that damn canal, was quite a bit! Still, my legs were feeling it a couple miles into the road section but I almost had a feeling it was largely due to the asphalt rather than the distance in itself. 

Meanwhile my average pace was continuing to drop closer and close to the 9:00 flat mark, of which I knew was my PR pace for the course. I had a few miles to go and I knew that if I dug deep and pushed it in, I could probably have my PR by at least a couple of minutes. Still, I reminded myself of the two words to sum up the purpose of this race for me: Training. Run. This was too dangerously close to Hellgate to gamble with anything like that, especially with the way I had been feeling the past couple of weeks. Plus, although I had lost track of my position in the women’s field at this point, I knew there was not another woman for at least 10 minutes ahead of me. So I held my pace, which was had become a bit of an effort at this point and enjoyed the last few miles of asphalt pounding. 

I saw my dad on the road with about 3 or 4 miles left to go at one of the aid stations. It is really great to see someone along that road section, because otherwise, you are running for a very long last 12 miles without seeing anyone and it can be pretty tough mentally to not have a mini goal in mind before the finish line. He told me that the woman ahead was about 6 minutes ahead and I figured she was probably out of my reach right now. So I ran on. 

And shockingly, I passed a woman walking just a few minutes later. I thought it must be a 5am starter, bit I had stopped seeing them hours ago. I tried not to get excited but I knew if she was who I thought she was this could put me into the top 10 again! 
Traditional JFK finishing kick
 With 2 miles to go, I let myself pick up the pace a bit. I was a little disappointed to find that the 1-mile-to-go sign holding Furby was not there this year at that little aid station I have never stopped at! I actually told the volunteers working the aid station but they just looked confused..Furbies??? Must be those nearing 50 miles hallucinations... 

After that little hill, it’s pretty much all downhill along the highway and a straight shoot into the finish line at Williamsport high school. I stretched out my legs and gave a nice little sprint for the last few hundred meters into the finishing stretch, and was happy to find that the speed came much too easily after 50 miles of running.

And there was my amazing crew, family and friends all waiting there at the finish line for me. Then Team Jackie went crazy with celebratory hugs and cheers. I have such an amazing family and truly awesome friends who support me. It really was a good day :-)

I finished in 7:32, just a measly 3 minutes off my PR and 50 times less effort to get it. We also all went ballistic when the announcer announced that I had made it into the top 10 overall female winners, so I would get to stand up on stage with some of the greatest ultrarunners in the world, sweet!!! The announcer also loved the entire Team Jackie, maybe because I was the first local person to finish, but probably because we were all just crazy, with purple and gold matching T-shirts to top it all off. But he continued to make comments about us over the loud speaker between his other finishers announcements for at least 10 minutes. I think it was entertaining for all of us.

Auntie Ann...


Nicole...finishing hugs for everyone!

Just a little chatting with the press. Nbd ;-)
Jacqueline Palmer stands in the top 10 in the fastest most competitive race in JFK history!

Meanwhile, the elite field tore up this 50th 50 mile anniversary celebration. Two guys, Max King and Olympic marathoner Trent Briney both shot down the course record with 5:34 and 5:37 finishing times. (Trent even talked to me after the awards ceremony and commented that I have many many years of distance running left for large improvements with my young age. Well, if the elites think it…Yippppeeee!!)  In the woman’s field, Ellie Greenwood once again surpassed everyone blowing out the old CR by about 20 minutes, finishing in 6:12 and even earning herself a top 10 overall, in the guys field, which is the first the that’s ever been done in this competitive race. Olympic trails distance runner Emily Harrison, who was the talk of the event, did give Ellie a bit of a run for her money and finished in 6:17, still well under the old CR. Of course, as Spinnler puts it, today is a day that will go down in history forever!
Execution, flawless :-)

Me with the amazing EG.

Sharmanian Devil came in 4th. (And we're practically BFF now ;-) )  

 Next up, the Hellgate 66.6 mile Special to end my 2012 season. Three week count down begins! 

Picture complimentary of my Auntie Ann, who found David Horton's car in the parking lot while he crewed for EG.

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