50 Miles in Maryland

Here’s an update on another 50-mile run … last week’s JFK ultramarathon in Maryland. I did it last year, and it was fun to come back and do it again this year.

Most of the time, the slow process of life’s increasing decrepitude seems to mean that every year I get a little worse at most everything. It’s pretty awesome to do something where you actually get a little better from one year to the next … which is what happened with the JFK this year … since I did actually get a little faster!

Before I get into the deets about the run, let me ask … as usual … how is this like starting an apparel brand? Well, maybe it’s just that sometimes you keep doing the same thing and you actually DO get better the next time – which actually does some of the time feel like what I’m doing with Mill & Mountain!

The Run. I finished last year’s JFK saying “I will Never do this again” … so it definitely wasn’t in the plans for this year. But my friend Brendan wanted to do it, and he hadn’t been able to do it last year because of injury. My goal was to help keep him injury-free and get him over the finish line … but actually he was a complete beast – and it was with his pacing that my time improved.

The JFK is an old ultramarathon, dating back to the 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy called on Americans to do what Teddy Roosevelt had done with the Roughriders – which was to hike 50 miles in 24 hours or less. A lot of people around the country answered the call, organizing races to do just that. The JFK happens to be one of the few that’s still going. It’s amazing that the original call was to go 50 miles in under 24 hours … and the top runners in the world are capable of doing 50 miles so much faster than that. (The top people finished in 5-6 hours last week … we were about double that.)

Anyway, the field for the JFK ultra marathon is pretty large – about 1,200 people run the race every year. The event starts in the town of Boonsboro, Maryland, proceeds on the road for a few miles, and then gets on the Appalachian Trail for about 15 miles. After transition point over a railroad track, you then get on the Chesapeake and Ohio towpath which goes about 26 miles alongside the canal that used to run from Washington DC to Pittsburgh, PA. The last 8 or 9 miles are on a road that goes to the town of Williamsport, Maryland.

We started pretty far in the back of the pack from the starting line, and we never really got through the pack all the time we were on the Appalachian Trail, which definitely slowed us down. We made pretty good pace on the tow path, probably in the 10 to 11 minutes a mile range with some miles faster than that. The last 8-9 miles on the road were a killer, but we made through it that made the way through it – and again with Brendan‘s pacing we were actually doing pretty well. It felt awesome to get through the finish line.

Gear. Road shoes on my feet, not trail shoes. I had a new pair of Hoka Clifton 8s that I was wearing, and they worked out pretty well. I felt a little bit of pain down the stretch, but that’s to be expected. It was cold that day, so I was wearing leggings that were made for biking, and they bunched up around my ankles and led to some muscle pain unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I had a couple of neck gaiters, a small hat, and a few layers – but it warmed up during the day, so I definitely was more hot than cold. Doing it again, I would definitely leave the leg warmers at home. Poles definitely not needed.

Food. As when I did it before, JFK features a ton of aid stations along the way – so there’s basically no need to carry any food or water. It’s not the most highfalutin spread at these aid stations, but it’s pretty nice. The community really shows at to support the event, and that’s just awesome – because the people are super supportive and positive at every aid station.

I did find some food along the trail that other people had dropped, and I ate that – it tasted pretty good actually. OK, it was actually just a couple of gel packets at other people had dropped, but it wasn’t trash – it was food for me!

Can you run 50 miles on the JFK at? For sure, this is definitely a great ultra to do. I am still not sure I’ll do it again, but I know that you can make it if you set your mind to it!