As I started onto the towpath I looked around. Runners were a bit more spread out now. I had been passed by a large group while I was changing shoes so these were mostly new faces, and a few ones I had seen earlier on the trail. I tried to settle into a comfortable pace as SP told me to run my own race now. I saw B50 back and forth for quite a bit through this section. We just weren't running the same pace and taking the same walk breaks.
There were a few people I noticed more than others. One was Conrad. He was wearing red and we had chatted briefly earlier on the trail. We were both running at a decent clip so we decided to hang for a bit. He had a sub 10 goal as well. My plan for the towpath was to run 20 minutes/walk a minute and walk through all aid stations. I think Conrad was on more of a run to each aid station and wait for his friend plan. I had to lose him a few times for my walk breaks but would see him at the next aid station where he would be stretching and waiting for his friend while I snagged some potato chips, a cookie, and more gatorade. I would have liked to keep the permanent company but I felt like this "easy" pace wasn't quite easy enough and that I needed it to feel like I was holding back a bit. Conrad went on to finish in 9:35!
There were stone mile markers along the towpath. I knew that we got on somewhere around 58 and we got off at 84ish but I didn't pay any attention to the mile markers for the first 15 miles or so. I really didn't want to be thinking about how far I had gone or how far I still needed to go. Instead of looking at actual miles I would occasionally glance at my watch every two markers to see my pace, knowing that if I had crossed one at 21 minutes and the next at 41 I was averaging around 10 minute miles. I feel like a big part of mentally surviving extreme endurance events is just staying in the moment.
The towpath seemed to be more dirt than gravel which was nice. It felt more like a trail than the towpath in Cleveland does. The Potomac was raging until we hit the first dam where it suddenly became calm. I have always loved running along the river and tried to enjoy the chaos of the rushing waters. The views of West Virginia across the river were beautiful too. There were a couple places where you just had to slow and soak it all in.
The wind was a bit fierce for a few miles early on and I threw my jacket back on just in time for a photo. Luckily I found that one in the lost and found.
During each one minute walk I would try to eat some sports beans and drink. For awhile the 20 minute intervals seemed pretty long. I would glance at my watch thinking it must be close to time for a walk and it would only have been 4 minutes from the last walk.
I thought it was so funny how you would see the same people over and over again because of the difference in run/walk plans. I ran with another lady for a mile that seemed a good pace for me but then it was time for her walk break. Everyone was very friendly, runners and volunteers alike. Always commenting on how well I was doing for my first time or cheering for the "pink lady" and "Wild Bill." I saw the same cheering crowd at almost every station along with a man holding a sign for Ray.
Since the healthy aid station stop I had made at 15.5 for orange slices and bananas I made a switch to foods with more sugar and salt. I was taking a handful of potato chips and a cookie at every stop. (Who knew those little half vanilla half chocolate with cream filling cookies were such a great fuel?)
Around 22 miles I accidentally tried to take chips at the same time as another man, Travis. I apologized and we both got our food and walked on. I noticed his shirt said North Country Trail Marathon and I commented that I loved that race and was planning on doing it again next year. We started to chat and decided to run together for awhile. I convinced him to switch over to my 20/1 plan so we would both have company and hopefully run at a slightly faster but still safe pace. This was his second JFK and his goal was to break 10. His wife was also running and he estimated that she was about 30 minutes ahead of us. He was looking forward to seeing their family at the aid station at 30.
What feels like a few miles into our run now but must have only been a mile or so thinking back I saw B50 up ahead and watched as she bit it, Hard on the path. I jogged up to her and Travis said goodbye to me. I looked at her in the eyes and asked if she would be ok. She looked back at me and nodded. Two men had already stopped to take care of her so I decided to catch Travis and keep running. Thankfully one of the men that stopped with her caught us and let us know that she was just fine and that she had just knocked the wind out of herself but was more in shock than hurt. From that point I thought of her often and wondered if I had made the right decision to keep moving along.
I chatted with Travis every now and then but for the most part we just kept each other company. Even if you aren't talking it is nice to know you have a friend along for the ride with you. Around 24 miles we picked up one of my friends from Cleveland, BH. BH had a huge year this year, running well in several marathons and ultras. He was walking and he recognized me as we passed and picked it up to stay with us. He said he had gone out a bit fast on the trail, and just wasn't feeling it. He said he was ready to drop and was just trucking along until the next aid station which he thought his wife would be at.
I was disappointed he wasn't going to keep running, it would have been nice to run with someone I knew. But we enjoyed the miles that we did get in together. Somewhere through here we passed the local legend Leo Lightner who I had been lucky enough to run with earlier this fall at West Woods. I think this was his 10th JFK in a row at age 78! As we passed a towpath marker Travis remarked that we must be halfway done. I looked at my watch which was around 4:58 and thought "No way!". I expressed my joy in being right on pace for a 10 hour finish. I didn't think I would be so close to pace yet, feeling that I would slowly make up the slow trail miles over the course of the towpath marathon. Travis wasn't quite as happy mentioning that he would like to have a bit more of a time cushion. The three of us stuck to the 20/1 plan and I continued on with Travis as we left BH at the aid station around 27 miles.
These miles are blending together in my mind which is probably due to the good company. I honestly can't remember but swear there was also an aid station at 25. Seems like a lot of aid stations in a small space though.
At the 30 mile aid station Travis found his family and I ran ahead. I saw a few runners that had blazed by us early on the trail and overheard one of the girls say "I thought running was supposed to be fun, this isn't fun." Thankfully I was thinking just the opposite as I headed for the food. I think this was the first aid station with soup and I gratefully sipped on that while walking through this section. I grabbed three salt pills and took one with some water, storing the others in my fanny pouch thing. I ate a cookie and moved along. A few minutes after the aid tables I hear "Go E-Speed" and see Rootsrunner and his friends sitting at the side of the trail. I stop to chat and he asks if he can get me anything. I blank a bit but then ask for electrolytes. I tell him about B50 and BH and he offers me some gum which sounded good so I took a piece and headed on my way.
During the next 4 miles the trail became a bit more shaded and I spent most of the time just moving forward. I found TB and we ran together for a bit. I would run ahead and make a pit stop and then find him ahead of me again at the next aid station. This happened twice over 8 miles and made me laugh both times as TB commented that it was awfully nice of me to keep making the pit stops so he could catch up to me. (I swear a portalet would magically appear every time I needed one on the towpath, the ultra gods were definitely smiling on me)
During this section after one of my pit stops I got out my carbo pro in a baggie and dumped it into my gatorade. Well I must have somehow got the baby wipes on that bag and every sip I took tasted like baby wipes and made me want to hurl. I thought maybe I just got it on the mouthpiece so at the next aid station I thoroughly washed the cap with water and moved along. Unfortunately somehow I had gotten the baby wipe flavor in the bottle so I had to dump the whole thing and wait for another refill until the next aid station. I was ticked because that was about 300 calories I had to dump but I figured I must be getting enough in at all the aid stations, and that it was better to have less fuel than to get sick off baby wipe flavored gatorade.
Around 34 miles I stopped to empty my shoe and saw a possum ahead running along the towpath towards the runners going the other way. Not sure what he was up to but it was a nice distraction from the task at hand. Later I found out that B50 stopped for him and tried to share her cookie but that he kindly turned her down and said he was headed for the aid station and better grub. :)
It was somewhere before the 38 mile special that the snotting incident occurred causing me to laugh out loud and exclaim that "You Got Me!" Turns out the snotter had sold me my JFK bumper sticker the night before and was very friendly. I saw him back and forth for the rest of the towpath and he would often encourage me and remind me that I was going to finish. To which I replied that at this point finishing was a sure thing, now it was time to think about finishing under my secret dream goal.
I eventually made it to the 38 mile special station and was elated to find jolly ranchers there waiting for me. I took a handful and grabbed a cup of chicken noodle soup. I walked along slurping my soup. Grabbed a P&J sandwich but it didn't taste good so I stuck with the noodle soup and laughed as a lady passed me with soup too but she had managed to find spoons and was doing much better with hers. I laughed but kept on slurping.
This section of the towpath was pretty well lit and I really noticed the fall leaves as I sucked on my jolly rancher. I noticed a runner about my pace and decided to stick with him for awhile to pick up my pace a bit. The miles were starting to slow down and I wanted to get back in a groove. I hung with him for a bit and we picked up others and passed some more of the AM starters. I always tried to pass along a "great job" to anyone I went by. It was such a treat to see so many groups of runners together laughing and having a good time, and thinking of how most of them had already been out there for two more hours than I had.
Check out this Flickr Page for some more fun JFK 2006 Photos
Through this section I started to feel a bit tired, never depressed or like I wouldn't finished, but a little less peppy. I slowed for a walk break. Somewhere after mile 38 I started trying to do some math. It wasn't going so well. I kept running the numbers but they weren't coming out right and I finally decided that I actually had an extra 2 miles more than what I thought was left on the towpath which may have also contributed to the slightly more tired feeling.
Despite those feelings this was the section of the race where I really started to realize what an amazing accomplishment the day was. I had made myself a pact to be happy with whatever the day gave me and I was so excited that it was going so well. During this section I made a lot of self reaffirmation. This is where I truly realized that it didn't matter if I took one more step, I had proven to myself that I was a good runner and that I had earned the title of one.
Luckily I was just really bad at math and shortly after the mile 84 marker I saw an aid station and stopped to get some cola (deciding the poor math skills and lack of peppiness warranted some caffeine!), chips, soup, and a cookie from some very under enthused teenage volunteer's (perhaps they hadn't chose to do this ;)) I followed a taller man I had seen back and forth since before the possum off the towpath with a shirt that said "Size Matters" on the back, and he turned to me and said "We beat the vest." I looked back at him in disbelief and replied "No freaking way!" and then I started hooting and hollering and proclaiming "We beat the vest!" while pumping my fists in the air. I heard a few comments from behind about how I shouldn't get so excited "The hardest part was yet to come." I honestly didn't care one ounce! I looked at my watch which said 7:56 and realized I could walk in and finish under the cutoff and was elated.
I had finished the towpath marathon (26.3ish) in 4:40.44 and was super pumped up for the last section of the race to begin.
C & O Towpath pictures from this site