Willsboro, NY – October 9, 2021
1st – 1:30:16* (CR)
* (new course)
Boonsboro, MD – November 20, 2021
6th – 5:56:14
(written on 6-25-22)
As the sun rose on a cold 25F morning, the lead pack and I charged up the climb out of town on Route 40, fairly easily. All you could hear and see was exhaled breath, snot-rockets, and sloshing fluids as the first light began to peek through the trees up on the Appalachian ridge. What an atmosphere. The Calm before the Storm.
I went out too conservatively on the AT. My goal was to split 1:57-ish upon completion of that section, but I was about four minutes off that time (did stop for about 45sec to water the flowers). Felt under control through the entire section. My plan was to let the runners ahead of me go, and that I did. The final technical switchback descent down the Weverton Cliffs to the train/crew area was a blast. I actually split the fastest time of the day down this section.
Then (to my knowledge), I was the only runner who got stopped by the train at the crossing before the Towpath, which was just bad luck. I had dreamed of a perfect race and this was the first mental roadblock I had to hurdle. I remained calm and laughed it off, uncharacteristically. I changed into Nike speed-shoes right there (AJ Beers crewing me – he actually changed my shoes and tied them for me because my hands were too cold) and stood around for 4.5 minutes and talked to New England mountain crusher JaShua Reid. Felt like I wasn’t even racing yet. My heart rate went all the way down and my race felt like it was slipping away from me already. I had built up adrenaline and was ready to unleash on the Towpath. I needed to re-focus, re-assess, and attack. I was in 14th at this point and the other 13 dudes ahead of me were all running away from me on the Canal at 6-minute pace as I stood there, helpless!
Train finally passed and I crossed the tracks, hit the Towpath and started rolling 5:50 – 6:05 miles for about 18mi. I felt solid, although cognizant of my pre-race Towpath goal pace of 6:10/mi. I just went with the rhythm. It took awhile, but I stayed “in the hunt” and finally started to pass the runners ahead of me until I was in about 9th place. As I was closing in on AJ for a bottle swap around 30mi, I literally started crying as I was clicking away at 5:50/mi pace because I felt so good and I thought I was going to somehow crawl my way back into contention for a sub-5:40 finish. I split a 5:57 mile for mile #31. I literally yelled out loud to myself, “Going hunting, bitches!” I was on the hunt.
However, by mile 35, earlier than I expected, I started to feel the day’s effort. I saw 5th/4th place ahead of me on the Towpath, far far ahead of me. They were little black specks and I was encouraged to fight through the pain to keep pace, but I was never able to gain ground on them. Turns out, Justin and Sean both ran some of the fastest final 10mi splits in JFK history!
In hindsight, I split a 2:04:54 from miles 20-40. I couldn’t have asked any more of myself. My overall Towpath split was 2:45 (~26.5 miles), which I believe is the 8th fastest split in JFK history.
By 40, I was getting a little foggy in the head and my vision was slowly becoming wobbly. I changed my goal to sub-5:50 on the fly. I needed a goal to chase all the way to the finish, or else I would have given in to the pain and trotted in. By 45, my only goal was to break 6 hours. I would not let myself live that one down if I didn’t break 6h. From miles 43-46 on the rolling country roads, I actually stopped running a few times and took a deep breaths and tried to re-focus. My legs were screaming at me. I took a few handfuls of potato chips and Oreos from the last couple aid stations. That saved my race. I felt clunky and the Nike shoes were killing my toes and feet but I found a rhythm again the last 5K and needed to run about 7:50/mi over that distance if I wanted to break 6 hours. That I did, and was even able to run a few more miles under 7 to close out the race. Overall time was 5:56:14, which is a 2-hour PR for 50 miles. It was my 2nd 50-mile race ever (first was North Face in Cali, 2019, 10,000ft gain).
My split from the start of the Towpath to the Finish (~34.8mi) was ~3:48:30 (~6:34/mi). I trained hard and honest for that, and I am proud I was able to show off the work I had done in the Fall. This training block changed my life and I will never forget it.
I had been injured in the Spring and early Summer, gaining weight and eating unhealthy in the process. I was able to put in some bike training, however, and a handful of solid runs eventually, but everything was on a whim. I’m so grateful for my friends Aaron Newell, Ryan Recchia, Ben LeBlanc, Ryan Atkins, Joe Sullivan, and Sarah Keyes who invited me for training sessions. I was living alone in Keene Valley after going through a breakup that summer which killed a piece of my soul. I was planning my move back to the Midwest, ending my time at Old Mountain Coffee Company, preparing to start a new journey with Infusco Coffee Roasters in Michigan, and preparing to train a brand new GSP puppy I was to be picking up en route to the Midwest (after JFK).
Through this time, I had no choice but to be a psycho and dial-in my mind and focus on the training and my diet like never before. It was my escape, my everything. Lord Huron’s new album “Long Lost” was my soundtrack for everything. I missed zero training sessions. I cried during many of them, sometimes because of heartbreak, other times because of anger, other times the passion and reverence for this sport took over and I envisioned pulling away from the pack at JFK. I had some of the best training sessions of my life. I was so fit and so consistent. I was doing things I’ve never done before. I honestly think my race result reflected only about 80% of my fitness. But, that’s trail running! It never goes 100% smoothly.
It was nice to chat and hang with AJ, and friends Eric LiPuma (3rd place!) and Joanna Fortier after the race before heading for the podium. (AJ and I stayed in the coolest AirBnB cabin with goats outside and a suspension bridge.)
These ultra races confront you with pain and discomfort in so many ways, offering you so many chances to fold up like a cheap tent and give in to fear/pain. The Gift, however, is grinding through these times and running the pace you need to run, despite not feeling like it. I live for these moments and chances to experience the Hurt again. I will be back, JFK!
AJ, what an awesome friend and competitor he is. I always looked forward to seeing him on the Towpath. We were so efficient swapping bottles. He ran along side me stride for stride a few times for a handful of seconds. Thanks so much, AJ, I could not have run 5:56 without you.
So much to work on, but tons of positives to take away from this. I’m learning how to train better, block after block. I’m heading in the right direction and closing the gaps on the best of the best, guys I look up to. I really want to break 5:40 next year and one day win this race.
Albion, IN – December 18, 2021
DNF – dropped @19.2mi (leading by 8min+)