Running the 55th Annual JFK 50 Mile Memorial
It started like a typical race morning with my ever supportive crew. I was still feeling under the weather but that didn’t seem to affect me much heading into race morning. The months that it took to get here was finally here.
Everything seemed like a great idea when I signed up for this race in March, I did a few things to get ready: I read books like my year of running dangerously by Tom Foreman. I also listened to A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valero which kept me company via audible while I ran 20+ miles. Mike and I would often go to West Point, Rockefeller Center Preserve or New Paltz to do workouts avoiding the sanctuaries of Central Park.
Everyone at my job thought I was insane or a superhero. I’ve run 50 miles before but it was a challenge within itself. I was injured the last time I ran in Bear mountain. I did the North Face Endurance Challenge in 2015. The 50 miler there was the hardest medal I have ever had to work for in order to not DNF. Back then I finished in almost 14 hours and I promised myself that this time around I will not run that long for that long and I will try to not get injured after mile 33 like before.
This time around, I had an arsenal of well-wishers around me. I had an amazing sponsor NY Custom PT and Performance Center, a compression socks sponsor (Team Tiux) and an amazing boyfriend who kept reminding me to stretch and foam roll. I also had lots of well-wishers who were very supportive, although sometimes, not understanding of the reasoning behind marathon distance training runs.
So here I am the morning of JFK 50 miler, the race started without me. I saw everyone running in the distance. Where was the start line? The race director had already shouted it for everyone to start running. We had already walked almost a mile to get there. They had done away with the dual start so everyone started together. I started my Garmin anyway and followed the pack. There were hundreds of people. From what I remembered from my ultra running friends, the first part of this race would go along the Appalachian Trail. However, we were not starting on the Appalachian Trail. In the gymnasium 20 minutes prior, a fellow runner mentioned that the race would begin with an uphill climb for about a mile, he wasn’t wrong. Here we were jogging for half a mile and came across the longest stretch of uphill that I have ever seen during a race. I decided to save my energy so I walked. I have lots of time to catch up. Besides 50 miles is a long way. I knew the first aid station was 2.5 miles so I reserved my energy, assessed everything around me, and remembered that I would have to eventually pass people since some of the trails were a one person’s path. No one was talking to me and neither was I. Most seem to be from the military, seasoned ultramarathon runners and from what I remembered, some were doing 50 miles for the first time. I was told that JFK 50 miler was the perfect first 50-mile ultramarathon race. It started in the 1960s and has been going on for 55 years. The record holder of JFK 50 ran under 5 1/2 hours. Imagine 5 1/2 hours for 50 miles, crazy right?
I got to the top of the hill at mile 2.5 and immediately use the bathroom I don’t know what was going on since I had used it less than 30 minutes prior. I was able to cross the first check-in and followed other runners along the trails. My friends who ran this course were right: the trail was starting single file and some people apparently were not use to trail running.
I finally started to chitchat with some runners along the course. I met wonderful veteran runner named Lisa a marathon maniac. I also met Cheryl, Deepak, and Allison. However, I left them somewhere along the trail, never to see them again… except Lisa. She realized I figured out how to run between the rocks.
I had run a recent trail marathon a month before so this was my universe. I absolutely love trail running. It keeps me alert, it’s interesting, and since we couldn’t use any music during JFK 50 miler, I welcomed the scenery for distraction. It wasn’t long before other runners were annoying me. I just couldn’t pass them some were running very daintily and I heard that it was going to rain around 10 o’clock. I did not want to be on the trails for the rain. The thing is, trails are amazing when the weather is perfect and when the leaves are dry, however, this trail was covered with leaves, roots, and rocks. The rocks were slippery while it was still a little damp and I can only imagine the possibility of me falling once there is a downpour. Unfortunately, the rain started pouring in the middle of Appalachian Trail.
Once again I was caught between people who weren’t sure what was happening. I tried not to be rude and politely kept telling runners that I was on the left while I passed by. Some weren’t aware of my presence so I kept saying good morning. I finally caught pace with two women who were in the Navy who have done this trail for over five times. It wasn’t a pleasant downhill experience being aware of the caution tapes to remind us that there was a steep decline in where we could fall. However, we made it. One of them told me what to expect once I left her at an aid station.
Once I clear the Appalachian Trail I almost got caught waiting for a train to pass by however I cleared it just in time to start the canal route. It was a bit frustrating because my hand started to swell up. I know that my body swells when I have lots of sodium so I tried to avoid anything with it during the aid station stops.
The canal was a lonely area to run in but peaceful I came across my boyfriend at mile 27.1 and I was very thankful for it. When I run distances like this, the marathons feel like nothing however it’s different when you only trained to up to mile 28. My race finally began after leaving him at the checkpoint.
He also met me at mile 37 and once again, a few miles before the 50th Mark. I was so thankful for it because he even played me some reggae in his car while passing me by haha.
Before reaching those last 8 miles the canal becoming quite daunting. However, I regretted it once we got to the aid station. What my friend described to me as rolling hills actually started with a very long incline on the pavement. It had past 3 PM so the volunteers gave us bright yellow vest to wear so that oncoming vehicle could see us. I decided to do a quick Facebook Live update on my progress. I had signal after all. I had actually anticipated finishing in 12 hours however I realize I was close to my goal. Although my muscles had started breaking down, and my leg started feeling sore, I knew I could do it close to 10 hours or 10.5. The pain is only temporary.
When I saw my boyfriend again I hadn’t expected him. I was so grateful at that moment. I pick up my speed a little bit and spotted something on the ground. I look to see what it was and realize that a fellow runner had dropped his ID. It was a runner who had complimented my Camelbak some miles prior. I hadn’t taken his name, however, I remembered his face. His face matched the ID that I saw. Oh no, I had to catch up with him. I quickened my stride because I saw him in the distance.
“Is your name Sanjeet?” I called out. He didn’t answer. He probably couldn’t hear me.
I got closer and realized he was on the phone. I asked him again.
“Is your name Sanjeet?”
“Yes!” I handed him his Military ID. I continued running.
Some minutes later I heard some steps behind me. “Hey, I wanted to thank you so much for this! I would’ve been in trouble on Monday.”
“No problem at all.” I welcome his conversation during these last few miles we only had 4 to go. He projected 10 hours 35 minutes I told him mine was probably going to be around the same. He told me had a few minutes before he would have to start walking again. I guess he was run-walking.
“I’m sure you are going to catch up with me again on this course before I finish,” I said. I actually did not meet him again.
I picked up my stride for the last 5K. I told my body that it’s used doing 5ks so this should be easy. It wasn’t. Everything hurt. I couldn’t convince my body that the pain was temporary. I passed a few military guys and they cheered me on. I passed a couple who saw me numerous times on the course and powered through. On the last hill, I almost started to walk but realize that finish was in the distance.
“I can do this!” To be honest, I just didn’t want anyone to see me walking.
I finished 375th place. 10 hours 33 minutes 48 seconds. Immediately I thought about how much better I could’ve done but I didn’t care. I finished my second 50 miler. I wasn’t injured. I was happy. If I had to do this course again, it would be curiosity of a PR, nothing more. However, I’ve crossed off the oldest marathon in the U. S. off the list.