Friday morning I rushed around hauling all my packed stuff downstairs and making a last minute CD for the trip. I was riding with three Cleveland runners, Rootsrunner, Dr. Louis, and B50. We made really good time with Dr. Louis at the wheel. We were all pretty excited for the next day and discussed all the little intricacies of our planned wardrobe, pace, etc. I provided my friends with pace charts for 10, 11, and 12 hour finishes. We arrived a bit early so we went straight to Boonsboro to check out the first few miles of the course. Gulp!
The first 2 miles or so are up a monster hill. You start in Boonsboro on US Route 40 and head uphill about 2 miles to jump onto the Appalachian Trail. We drove up the hill then hopped out and checked out a bit of the AT. Not too many rocks right there so I wasn't too worried and we headed out to pick up our packets.
I ended up purchasing a bumper sticker and a hoodie and figured that was my motivation to make it to the finish line. You can't wear race memorabilia if you don't finish the race right?
We headed to the hotels and laid out our stuff for the next morning and then it was off to dinner. I scarfed down a small pizza, a bottle of gatorade and carbo pro, and a beer and was getting extremely tired and figured I would get a good nights sleep.
Hmm not so much. I laid in bed all night tossing and turning and never drifted off. So it was no surprise to me when we got our wake up call at 4:45. I jumped up and made some coffee. Took a quick shower then body glided everywhere! I did not want any chafing this time around. 26.2 miles is one thing with chafing, 50 miles with chafing is quite another! Downed another bottle of gatorade and carbo pro and got dressed.
On the way over we all pumped up our tunes. I chose "I can't get enough" by the Infadels to get me ready. I managed to get down a banana and an apple but food didn't really sound all that appetizing.
Found a short line for the portalets outside the high school and I partook then it was off to the gym for the pre race chat. I searched for SP's friend and his wife who were so kind as to offer to take my road shoes to mile 15 so I could wear my trail shoes on the AT. I found them and shortly after found SP. We decided we would all try to run together on the AT since we all wanted to finish around 10 hours.
I had hydrated a bit too well and had to make a pit stop at a gas station on the way over but made it to the start line in time to realize it was pretty warm and tied my jacket around my waist. I wanted to keep it in case it got cold later. If I were to finish in the dark I knew I would want it.
The group starting was huge, over 1100 runners. Nothing like the 100 or so that had done North Country and YUT-C. The race started and we all jogged up the road. I wanted to jog up the hill.,I didn't want to go too fast, but I also didn't want to walk and risk having to try and pass on the single track AT.
My shins were on fire instantly but this has been common lately and I knew it would subside in 30 minutes or so. I also noticed my left contact didn't want to sit right in my eye. We all laughed and joked as we made our way up the hill. I spotted a man having trouble keeping his shorts on and nicknamed him assman. Unfortunately for him that is awful early in the race to have your shorts falling off! I commented to SP that we need to beat assman to the AT because frankly I didn't want to stare at this mans posterior for 15.5 miles!
We managed to jog most of the hill but some places were too steep and we power walked. We made it to the top in about 20 minutes and headed onto the trail. This section passed quickly as we cruised along the trail passing a few people and being passed by a few others. SP's friend TB was sailing on the down hills while we were a bit slower. After about a mile or so of trail it was back to the pavement and a huge incline.
I knew about the pavement and I knew most of the elevation gain was in the first 5 miles but shit this hill was not what I had envisioned! We power walked up the hill with about 100 of our friends. We chatted with a Reston Runner named Jim and awed at a very tall runner who was walking up the hill about twice as fast as us. He claimed it was all in the turnover but I started taking my steps in time with him and still couldn't keep up. I noticed another Cleveland runner I had seen at YUT-C and figured I should keep behind him since he had run about 30 minutes faster than me at YUT-C.
We finally hit 5.7 miles at around 60 minutes and it was back onto the trail for the next 10 miles. After the pavement it was a quick downhill with some technical rocks. A few runners came flying by down the hill but most of us were running around the same pace. We came to a point where if you had kept running straight you would have went straight off a cliff. The view was awesome and a few runners stopped for a picture. We turned to the right and continued down the trail. I spent the next few miles following SP and keeping track of her foot placement. This was her 4th or 5th 50 miler so I figured she knew what she was doing!
That plan worked out great for me and we hit 9.3 miles pretty quickly. After a steep descent we exited the woods to loud cheering and a huge crowd. It was surreal to come out of the solitary woods and the rocky trail to this huge crowd of spectators and volunteers. I grabbed two pretzels and waited in line at the portalet. I ate a handful of sports beans while waiting and SP said she would walk until I caught up. After the short wait I headed up the trail.
I tried to jog to catch up but this was a steep incline and there was a long trail of runners walking. I would jog a bit then walk a bit until I finally caught SP. I felt bad because I didn't want her to slow down for me. But it worked out fine and we began to run at a good clip again after the hill. This section was rockier than the first miles on the AT but most of it was runnable. My mantra became "Stay Upright." I had visions of face planting on one of the pointy rocks and that wasn't how I wanted to end my day. I only saw one man fall here and he hit his knee pretty hard but seemed to be okay. We stayed in this group of 4 or 5 for quite a ways and SP and I would trade leading on the trail.
At some point a young man came running by and we chatted a bit. This was his 2nd or 3rd time at JFK and his plan on the AT was to walk the downs and run the ups. It must of been working well for him because he predicted we would be off in 3 hours which was faster than I had planned. Well he cruised along and probably did get off in 3 hours. My body was starting to get sore so I took 2 ibuprofen as we walked up another hill. I had 6 pills with me (the max allowed in 24 hours) and hoped not to have to take all of them. We talked with the man who had fallen and he asked what our plan was for the marathon on the towpath. I said we were hoping for 5 hours, he was hoping for the same. Other than those few small conversations we didn't talk much. The trail was pretty technical in areas and I really just wanted to focus on getting off the trail in one piece.
We started passing some 5 AM starters with a mile or 2 to go on the trail. The sweeper was walking behind a young woman in her orange bib and we joked that he wasn't doing a good job of sweeping as the trail was still covered in leaves (insert chuckle here).
After we passed the sweeper the downhill started. I encouraged any orange bibs I passed as I tried to make my way down the rocky hillside. I had to slow a few times to find a safe place to pass and to let those behind me through but for the most part I was able to run my own pace here. I let SP go as she was much better at the downhill. Someone informed us we were almost to the switchbacks.
The switchbacks were not as bad as I thought they would be and for the most part were runnable. The rocks here were larger, mostly boulders so you could run on top of them (thank goodness for trail shoes!). I made my way down without any trouble although my stomach had began to rumble and I realized I was starving! The photographers were waiting for us as we descended the switchbacks (they had also been waiting on the downhill at mile 9) so I smiled but kept my eyes on the path. I didn't want to be caught slipping on the hill on photo!
We ran off the trail at what I thought was 15.5 and found TB's wife waiting with our shoes, she had them set out with our fresh socks ready to go! What a Saint! As I am switching my shoes out I hear Rootsrunner behind me ask what I need. He was supposed to be well on his way along the towpath and caught me off guard. Turns out he sprained his ankle really bad and was done for the day. He went and got me water to refill my bottle which had been empty for a ways and then gave me one of his gels. I stretched and headed on my way.
My left contact had been moving around in my eye the entire time on the trail. Apparently it didn't get the memo that in order to avoid rocks you need to see them. Well on this little section before the towpath it finally fell out and landed on my cheek. I stuck it in my mouth as I tried to follow those around me up and down a few narrow trails before finally coming to an aid station. I stuck the contact back in and grabbed a banana and an orange. A man told me this was 15.5 so I hit my watch split again and was happy because this was more in the range I expected than the 3:09 we had coming off the trail. B50 came up right behind me and we all headed onto the towpath. SP told me to go ahead so I began my marathon on my own after stopping to ask some ladies if they could throw away my orange peel and in return they asked for my number. My split at 15.5 was 3:15 and I was told the next aid station was 6 miles away.
I was off the trail and was happy for it but mostly because that meant I was closer to the finish line. The AT was rough but because I envisioned the whole trail being like the worst parts I think it was easier for me. My right ankle was a little tender from a few near twists and my left hamstring was tight but I felt pretty good starting the marathon.