Race Report: The JFK 50 Mile Ultra Marathon (Boonsboro, MD) November 21, 2009
This is undoubtedly one of the greatest athletic performances of my life! Over 1000 people do this each year, it is highly highly competitive. Yet I came in 2nd overall this year, yet more importantly and more shockingly – my time today was the 4th fastest time in the races 47 year history – yes that is correct, only 3 people have ever run faster than me in this 47 year old legendary race – and the guy that beat me today passed me with ¾ of a mile to go! Read on!
I am at a loss for words and don’t know where to start. I am going to skip around a bit going back over 3 years ago.
First a little bit of information about this race and its history.
The JFK 50 is the oldest and largest ultra marathon in the United States. This year’s race (2009) was the 47th running. The race sells out almost overnight and I believe about 1200 runners participate each year.
The race is a mix of very technical hilly trails (15.5miles), dirt flat path (26.3miles) and rolling roads (8.4miles) (the race is actually 50.2miles total). http://www.jfk50mile.org/RecordBankjfk.htm
(more info on this race here)
I ran my first JFK 50 Mile Ultra Marathon in 2006.
I was completely unprepared for the race and imploded about 20 miles into the race, finishing in 8 hours and 8 minutes, very humbled.
Between my 1st and 2nd JFK ultra marathon experience I took up my new low fat raw fruit and vegetable diet.
This diet remains the bedrock of my seemingly sudden catapult in performances over the last 2 years.
Many people that know me simply brush off my seemingly extreme diet as not having any measureable impact on my performances, rather they believe my ‘training’ is the reason I am suddenly performing so much better.
I will explain more later in my race report on why they are in a way very wrong. ‘Training’ is not just about what you do in your workouts!
I went back to run my 2nd JFK 50 last year in 2008 (while on my new diet) and ran the race well in 6 hours and 24 minutes to finish 5th overall. (a week after winning the NYC Knickerbocker 60k Ultra marathon!)
In 2009 I was setting all new records in my running.
Because of my ultra clean low fat raw fruit and vegetable diet I recover in hours, not days or weeks. I am able to train harder and more often, my performances have improved in leaps and bounds since adopting this ultra simple way of eating.
I don’t get sick anymore, I haven’t had a cold or cough in almost 2 years since taking up this diet in early 2008.
I have not had an injury in my training – the first time in my life!
I eat as much as I want and I never gain excess body fat!
The benefits are so numerous I could write pages and pages about it.
I suggest you just read this book – it can revolutionize your life as it has mine:
(to order the book)
SO back to the JFK race report:
My training partner Oz Pearlman and I were planning on running this race together since early 2009.
Yet my main goal for 2009 was to run a sub 2:30 marathon, and run the JFK 50 as a ‘fun’ run.
My plans to run a really fast marathon got wiped out when in late July a bicycle rider in Central Park NYC crashed into me when I was out for a run and cut open the back of my Achilles tendon, putting me in the hospital with stitches.
I was on crutches unable to even walk for 3 weeks. I was devastated and I couldn’t run until about 6 weeks after the accident.
I was forced to start my running at 9 minute mile pace, as tendons heal tediously slow. My range of motion was impaired and I was quite depressed to say the least.
The option of me running a fast marathon was out of the question, this injury was going to take many many months to heal.
But I had to run, even if it was so slow! So I started running slow all the time. I ran 9 minute miles for a week, then was able to run 8 minute miles, and then 7 minute miles.
I ran a lot. Lots and lots of slow easy miles.
I couldn’t run fast, the tendon would just pull and be painful, so I just kept running tons of slow easy miles. Soon I was running over 100 miles a week, yet almost all of the miles were between 6:50-7:30 pace.
2 months before the JFK 50 ultra marathon I was running at least 100 miles a week, usually between 105-115 miles, with a few weeks of 130 and even 149 miles! I ran loads of double workouts, a run in the morning and one at night.
My Achilles injury was in some cases a blessing in disguise. It forced a new training regimen that has brought me some added benfits to my fitness.
My diet allows for ultra fast recovery: I could run 15 miles in the morning, eat tons of fruit all day and then feel fresh and great to run another 15 miles in the evening.
Soon my legs were seemingly indestructible over lots of distance.
I ran a 2:35 marathon in the NYC marathon with no speed work or tempo runs, then a week later I ran the Harrisburg, PA marathon and won it in 2:32, all while never reducing my 100+mile week mileage.
My diet – really is a massive piece of this success! I recover and train so well because of my diet folks.
So my 3rd JFK 50 begins:
I knew for the JFK 50 that I had a chance to place top 3 and lofty dreams of a win!
In the world of ultra running, winning the JFK 50 would be equivalent to winning a major city marathon, like NYC or Boston.
The JFK 50 is hallowed ground in the world of Ultra running!
My training partner Oz Loves the 50 mile distance. 3 weeks before the JFK 50 race he ran and won the Chicago 50 (flat road) Ultramarathon in 5 hours and 25minutes (6:30per mile average!), and there were 20mph winds that day!
We did all of our training together, but Oz didn’t think me running almost 20-30 miles a day was for him and he usually just ran 15 with me.
Yet I really felt confident that my ultra running was getting me set for some big performance. There was no question that both me and Oz were ready to run some really great times in the 50 mile Ultra Distance!
Me and Oz were invited by the race director to run the JFK 50 this year. Yet we soon found out just before the race that the race organizers put together the most competitive field ever assembled.
It was very hard for me to read about all the incredible (and legendary) ultra runners that were coming to run this year’s race.
The starting line was a ‘who’s who’ of ultra running – people from all over the world flew in to run.
(article about the most competitive field ever assembled for this race:)
Me and Oz had wishful thinking of placing top 5, honestly I was hoping for top 10!
The race starts and I soon find myself in a state of ‘I’M HAVING AN ‘ON’ DAY’! I felt great right from the Gun! I knew I had to play it smart though, and not go too fast no matter how easy it felt. This is a 50 mile race, there are a lot of miles!
The first 15 ½ miles are treacherous single track trail (a portion is on the Appalachian Trail).
Hal Korner was running in front of me (2 time winner of the Western States 100m run!) and I asked him how ‘bad/difficult’ this trail we were running on when compared to some of the crazy races he has done?
He said ‘this is about as bad as I’ve ever experienced!’
The trail is a mine field of leaves over jagged pointed rocks, tons of hair pin turns, logs, and obstacles galore, a perfect place to break a leg or arm – just stupid crazy running (for 15 miles!).
I knew I was running fast, because Scott Jurek (7 time winner of the Western States 100m run!) was a few minutes behind me!
I survive the hills and trails after 2:00 hours and exit onto the flat dirt path that runs 26.3miles along a river – a complete opposite type of running – great easy terrain, pure joy!
My best hope was to run a 3:00 hour marathon over this next 26.3mile section of the course.
I knew I had no business running any faster than 6:50 per mile. Yet I was running 6:20’s and 6:30’s effortlessly.
I knew it was suicide pace, but me being so stupid I just didn’t slow down! (yet this time going too fast was the right decision!)
I ran with about 6 runners in a pack until about mile 21 and then took the unfathomable risk of sticking to a very fast pace and I broke away from the lead pack group.
The first place runner was in sight about 2 minutes ahead of me, I caught him about mile 27. The pack behind me wasn’t even trying to stay with me, I’m sure they all said I was going to fall to pieces by 40 miles, since I was on course record pace!
By mile 35 I was still feeling fresh– really I am not kidding! All the race officials were telling me that I had a massive lead over the rest of the runners. I was in disbelief, and starting to believe that maybe I could not only ‘win’ in the most competitive field ever, but also break the course record! I felt like Billy Mills in the Olympics! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QaDQL0rMWw
I couldn’t believe my body, just utter shock (I still can’t believe it!)
I was running 6:20’s even a few 6:10’s – at mile 40, 41 – just crazy!!
At mile 41 the race director comes onto the course and starts yelling at me that I am on pace to break the course record – yes I was on pace to run the fastest time ever on this 47 year old race! I told him I was going to try like hell to do it!
At mile 42 the race exits the dirt road/path and goes on rolling slope roads for about 8.4 miles. This is the last section of the race.
This is where the race is won and lost! It’s a 50.2mile race, not a 44 or even 49 mile race, you have to run 50.2 miles to win!
From mile 42.5 to mile 45 I am being escorted by bikers, police vehicles, camera men in cars, and the race director himself. The race director is crunching numbers every 30 seconds about my pace, my projected time and my deadlines to stay on course record pace. He says, you must maintain 6:24 per mile to break the record. He says if you slow to 7 min mile pace you will still break 5 hours 50 minutes (only one person has ever broken 5 hours 50 minutes!), he said if you run 8 min pace you will run 5 hours 55 minutes (only 14 people have ever run under 6 hours!), and on and on with calculations.
The race officials escorting me said that that I had a massive lead (I heard ‘miles’) ahead of 2nd place and that I have the win locked up! I am running my heart out now trying to stay at 6:20 pace to break the course record. My form is still very very good – yet my leg turnover is slowing, I just can’t hold the pace after 2 miles with the race director flanking me, trying to push me to stick to a new course record pace... and the course record is slipping away.
By mile 45 I am certain that I won’t be able break the course record and I slow to 6:40’, then 6:50’s and 7:10’s minute miles, yet all along everyone is telling me that I have the race in the bag and that there is no one ‘even close’ to me.
The people telling me this are guys with radio’s, guys with all the details of the race etc etc.
So I turn to internal reflection over the next 4 miles: I say to myself, Mike you have done something beyond ‘great’ today, something that will forever be ‘yours’.
Something that I will talk about and remember for the rest of my life – something of greatness that I am doing today. I slow to 7:20’s per mile in my reflection and seemingly ‘victory’ lap.
I am on cloud 9.
I don’t even both to look over my shoulder.
Why would I when everyone told me that 2nd place was ‘miles’ behind me?
Then just before mile 49! I casually glance back behind me and to my shocking disbelief there is a guy running less than 20 feet behind me! I am in utter disbelief!
I literally am wondering who is this recreational jogger out on the course running with a number on his shirt. I asked the lead biker next to me if this guy was even in the race!
I refuse to believe how some guy seemingly just fell out of the sky behind me! NO WAY!
It’s Greg Crowther! – an ultra running dynamo and low 2:20’s marathoner.
Prerace I would have given him 1 to 2 odds of winning – with me not being even close to him!
He is running fast!
I just ran the last 4 miles in la-la-land - day dreaming about my victory speech and points to cover in my interviews! LOL!
I immediately go from running 7:20’s to 6:20’s – yup, switched 2 gears instantly at mile 49! How’s that for still having gas in the tank! I ran my last mile in 6:27, yet Greg being a low 2:20 marathoner and an absolute stealth bomber outmatched my last bit of exertion and won in the 2nd fastest time ever…. I am still in utter disbelief!
I have a complete mix of absolute euphoria in my performance of 5 hours 50 minutes being the 4th fastest time ever run on this 47 year old race, YET coming up short in 2nd place due to utter complacency! It is a ball of explosive emotional confusion!
Had I known Greg was coming up miles before I never would have let up on my pace –instead of ‘victory lap / day dreaming’ 7:20 minute miles, I would have pushed hard to the finish!
I am certain Greg would not have been able to make up the distance if I had any idea he was close behind me, I surely would have won the race.
I was not at all falling apart! Yet he won.
Frankly speaking I am very upset with the information that all these race officials were giving me.
I can’t understand how no one said anything to me as he was closing up behind me so fast?
I feel as almost it was some conspiracy or something – really! Uh uh uh, wow! I still can’t believe it!
I cross the finish line, the announcers saying it was the closest finish in over 20 years, and the 2nd and 4th fastest times ever run. Incredible performances by both me and Greg.
I was less than excited when all the reporters swarmed Greg at the finish and I might as well been the last place finisher!
All I wanted to do was talk about how I only eats raw low fat fruit and vegetables and I could run so fast today!
My training partner Oz came up soon after me and was so ecstatic with my time, he just couldn’t believe it!
Earlier in the week before this race I was still running tons of miles each day and Oz lambasted me when he found out that I ran 17 miles on Tuesday, then 30 miles on Wednesday, (just 3 days before my JFK50 race). – He said “Mike, you just lost your chances to win the race” But I said half jokingly, ‘Oz, my diet allows me to recover from my workouts in hours, 3 days before a race is more than enough time to recover from a 30 mile training day…’ Maybe Oz was right! ;)
Get the book!
Please don’t reply and ask me ‘do you eat A, B, C, X, Y, Z….’ If you want to know what I eat it is REALLY simple:
I ONLY eat raw, fruits and vegetables – NOTHING else (no, no oil, no salt or condiments, no supplements –nothing BUT raw fruits and vegetables).