Let me start by saying that the JFK50 that we (Shonda and I) completed last year was 1000x harder and also more interesting. If you haven’t read that recap, you should. And maybe just stop there, because this recap won’t be nearly as entertaining. LOL.
Rewind to 3 weeks before this race: Shonda and I fly to Chicago to do one 12 mile training run, and the Chicago Marathon, and fly home less than 48 hours after landing. Why? We have no idea. In retrospect, it was dumb. But after we ran a Virtual Chicago last year, we wanted to go run in person. We also had to run 26 miles that weekend anyway, so YOLO. Why not do it at Chicago Marathon? Because flying marathon weekend is expensive, and hotels are outrageous, and flying the day you run a marathon is not that fun. That’s why not.
RACE MORNING: Shonda and I have learned a lot since we started doing ultra distance races (and training runs). We’ve focused a lot on nutrition and hydration, and it is seriously a game changer (read about how I force fed myself to a marathon pr HERE). So, we got up at 4:30am to start eating and drinking. We wanted to get in 200g of carbs before our start time of 7am. We had also eaten 400g of carbs (or close to) for 3 days prior to the race. Eating 200g of carbs takes TIME, so we allotted plenty.
We got an Uber from our hotel at 6:15am. While we were waiting in the lobby, we saw the woman working at the front desk get harassed by a man we deduced to be her boyfriend. We confronted him and waited until he left before we got in our Uber. #seesomethingsaysomething
We arrived at Foster Beach on the Chicago Lakefront at 6:30am. There were 44 people registered for the 50 mile distance, and another 160 signed up for the 50k (31 miles) which allegedly started an hour after us; you could in fact start either distance whenever you wanted, so long as you told someone before you started. We grabbed our bibs and t-shirts (bright purple v-neck?? My gal pal Jackie immediately donated them for us), and ate a little more food. We met two people who used to live in Framingham, used the porta potties AGAIN and then toed the line.
The race director had explained that because of the volume of rain Chicago had gotten during the week, the actual turnaround point (6.25 miles south of the start) was inaccessible. Therefor, we would be turning .14 miles early, and then run 200ish meters past the starting line to a blue dumpster (very reminiscent of crossfit TILT) before actually crossing the start line to begin our next loop. Our 50 mile route was this loop: from the start line, to the south turnaround, and then back PAST the start, 4 times.
We weren’t sure whether or not we were going to like the loops (the same route? FOUR TIMES?)… but we actually loved it. For a bunch of reasons, but here’s my number one. I never ONCE thought about how many miles we had run or how many more we had to complete. I only ever thought in terms of loops…. Meaning that on our second loop of 12.5 miles, even one mile in, we could say “after this loop, we are halfway done!” and during our third loop we could say “only ONE MORE loop!”
As most of you already know, or can guess, that aside from needing a decent base for running, 90% of these kinds of miles is mental. So being able to talk to ourselves in terms of 4 loops, rather than 50 individual miles, was incredibly helpful.
What was the hardest part, you ask? Well, last year when we ran JFK, the hardest part was the MOUNTAIN that we climbed on the Appalachian Trail over the first 15.5 miles. It actually was less the climb (which was annoying) and more the descent: 1,000 feet over a mile destroys your feet and your quads. Our bodies were wrecked by the time we hit the tow path and had almost 35 miles remaining. The rest of the course was smooth sailing, but we had less to give.
This time around the hardest part came after the southern turnaround. There were about 15-20 mph winds, blowing south. Meaning that for the first half of every loop the wind was at our backs. When we turned around at the southern turnaround (a little north of Navy Pier) we hit a literal wall of wind. We battled into these headwinds for about 3.5 miles at each turnaround, before the lakefront bike path turns inland a little bit, and we would get a break from the winds… we would get a little more headwind toward the start/northern turnaround, but it was short and not nearly as ferocious.
So, for the JFK 50 the first 15.5 miles were unrelentingly hard. They took us 3.5 hours. This year, about 14 miles were truly challenging, but it was broken up. We never were battling for more than 30 or so minutes at a time, which made it all seem much more manageable. The flat terrain also made for a MUCH faster average pace than JFK. By almost 2:00/mile. We also were barely sore after… I have been more sore from 15 minute CrossFit workouts #iykyk
The other cool thing about a race with loops is you get to see everyone who is running faster AND slower than you. We also got to see all the 50k runners. Over and over again. If you know me, you know that I am obnoxiously and aggressively friendly. We kept seeing our Framingham friends, and a man named Matt who was doing walk-run intervals, which WORK let me tell you! He beat us by 42 minutes. We saw the guy who took 1st in the 50 mile over and over again, cruising AND having a little one-man party. Another man I affectionally referred to as “Beard” (Ted Lasso anyone?) We also saw a handful of people who would not wave or cheer back. Shonda and I don’t like that.
ANOTHER great thing about doing loops is for your crew. When we ran JFK, which is a point-to-point race, we only got to see our dear friend Nikki twice: once at 27 miles, and again at 38 miles. This year, we had my dreamboat boyfriend (FKA Sweet Sam) and Nikki’s twin sister Jackie.. and occasionally her dog Mya. And we got to see them 8 times!
Sweet Sam sat where he was supposed to sit: at the unmanned water station 2.5 miles south of the start. Jackie came to watch us start at Foster Beach (conveniently .7 miles from her apartment!) and then saw us at the first turn around (12.5 miles) and then moved to the unmanned water stop with Sweet Sam. It was awesome to have them there for us, but also awesome to not have to carry allllll the food with us. Each time we passed the unmanned water station, we grabbed another snack (and/or I would shove a baggie of potato chips in my face), and one time we even refilled our hydration packs with water. Also at mile 35 I changed my shoes. TBD on whether that made even a slight difference. THE ONLY thing that bothered me at the end of the race were my feet. Hokas: here I come.
I know what you’re wondering… What did we eat?? I will tell you!! Before the race, we had bananas and oatmeal (and coffee, obviously). I also had a blueberry muffin from the hotel’s continental breakfast, and we both had some PaleOMG Chocolate Chip Oat Bars.
At the start, I had a Honey Stinger Waffle which still give me nightmares. On the course we ate: potato chips, GF pretzels, more PaleOMG bars, Clif blocks (margarita flavored with sodium + caffeine), coca cola, Clif bars, and drank Tailwind… At mile 40 we decided we could no longer eat. We discussed caloric intake, and decided that as long as we drank coke at the aid stations, that we no longer had to take in solids.
However, around mile 47 or 48 I started to feel nauseous. Nauseous? No, I was STARVING. We had dropped our packs with Sam & Jackie the last time we saw them, so I had nothing on me. As soon as we crossed the finish line I ran to the aid station and inhaled a piece of cold, Dominoes meatlovers pizza, two chips-ahoy cookies, and as many potato chips as I possibly could. I would have had more cookies, but there only were 2 left.
I finally surfaced and Shonda and I chatted with the winner, the race director, and the woman who fed me pizza about her most recent hundred mile race (our next big adventure?? maybe!)
The woman responsible for timing approached us and said we had to decide who crossed the finish line first. Crossed first? We were all but holding hands. She explained to us that we were the 2nd and 3rd female finishers, so we would need to decide who crossed first to figure out who won our age group. I excitedly told that woman that we were in different age groups! We both win! Because believe it or not, Shanda is 10 whole years older than me!
I enjoyed every single minute of this race. The training worked (6 months of it!) and our focus on nutrition and hydration made a difference. The other game changer for me was wearing contacts. I can’t go that many hours (8:50:41) without glasses. I tried to during JFK and it was a huge mistake. We have learned so much for our previous experiences, that we were able to apply to this race day. I was an absolutely JOY for 50 miles.