Thursday, October 25, 2007

JFK tips for my friends

Three friends from my running club are signed up and preparing for this year's JFK 50 Mile. Their first ultra. All three are experienced marathoners and taking the ultra plunge. They've bypassed the 50km distance and went directly for the 50 mile!

I promised that I'd put together a short set of JFK tips for the first time ultrarunner. Its pasted below in its unedited entirety.


Hello all,

I promised that I'd put together a guide for JFK and here it is. I certainly could write a book on running 50 miles, but that's not my intent here. I just want to share with you some tips that might help you with your first ultra run as well as some insight to the JFK course.

First and foremost, you should have no great worries about finishing JFK. If you think about this more as a long trek, and less as a race, you are already trained enough to go the distance. You do, however, have a few weeks to do some training so that you can increase your enjoyability at JFK. If you still have doubts, the FAQ section at the Reston Runners website is a good starting point for first-timers.

In my mind, the essentials to running 50 miles are these three things:

1. Taking care of your feet (and body):

I ran the JFK in road shoes. Most of the course is Towpath or road. Only about 12 miles are on the rocky AT. If you have a crew, a good idea is to wear trails shoes until mile 15 and change when coming off the AT at Weverton Cliffs. Regarding taking care of feet, the best policy is to take care of problems right away. If you feel a rock in your shoe, take the time to stop and remove the rock. A small problem can escalate quickly in to a huge problem. Ideally, you will not have to remove your socks during the race, but if you have a large blister that is hurting you may want to have it lanced and bandaged. I've never had this problem, but I have had to stop on the side of the trail to adjust my shoes and socks.

Its normally cool/cold at this race. You will be cold at the start, then get really warm as you climb the hill (first 4 miles), then you will get cold again as you run a slower pace on the trail section. I recommend wearing a long-sleeve layer that you can tie around your waist when you warm up. Later on in the race, when you're walking more often, you will chill easily and you'll want to have that second layer available.

Muscles (sore quads): After a long time on feet, your muscles will get sore and tighten up. Its not a bad idea to stop every once and a while and keep the quads and calves stretched out. Once they tighten up, its hard to loosen them up late in the race.

2. Hydration (includes electrolytes):

Staying hydrated is a no brainer. You'll want to drink small amounts frequently throughout the day, as opposed to drinking large amounts only when at the aid station.

Salt: Sodium is the catalyst for liquids to digest into the place you need it most -- into the bloodstream. Your electrolyte needs depend on sweat rate. If you take some sort of electrolytes on an hourly basis, you will ensure that the liquids you do comsume are being used and not just making you bloated. Paying attention to hands and feet are a good indicator. Know that swollen hands is a sign of low electrolytes and indicates that its time to take some salt.

3. Energy (consuming calories):

Food. This is probably the most difficult adaptation that the marathoner has to make in the transition to long ultras. Consider that one can survive a marathon on as little as a couple gel packs, or couple hundred calories. For ultras, the energy requirement is considerably more. The formula that has worked for me is to target 200-250 calories per hour. You should imagine that you'll require 1800-2000 calories to endure JFK.

What to eat? In my experience, and generally speaking, liquids digest more easily and convert to energy faster than does solid foods. Examples of liquid foods: gels, energy drinks, sodas such as Coke and Mountain Dew, and soups. A good idea at each aid station is to grab a few handfuls of food and start walking. For solid foods, I like calorie dense snacks like trail mix, cookies, and pretzels.

All-in-all, know that your hydration and energy consumption is a continual balancing act. You will have to be aware of your body and know when its time to replentish your stores. Its highly probable that your stomach will rebel at some point. Its up to you to figure out when to take more or take less food or drink. At some point late in the race, say after mile 30,

Always keep a gel, block, or a piece of candy on hand, as your blood sugar can take a nosedive in a hurry. If you're in walk mode, it might be 30+ minutes to go the two miles to the next station. It sucks having to get going on empty.

That's it. Those are the essentials. Everything else is a luxury and I will list a few below.

What to carry:

A water bottle, a couple hundred calories in gels or blocks, and a water-proof baggie with some small items such as: electrolyte caps, ibuprofen, Tums, chewing gum, chap stick, and the like. Jolly Ranchers and Starburst candies are are good to have too.

What to expect:

- At some point after mile 30, you will have a low point(s). Your energy will be zapped and stomach might rebel. Know that it will pass and if you keep walking forward, you will start to feel better. It never always gets worse.

- You will discover the foods that work for you. At my first JFK, after I hit my low point near mile 30, I turned to Coke and pretzels. It was the only things I could stomach. I made it all the way to the finish on Coke and Prezels alone.

- It’s a good idea to have a plan at each aid station. The basics: Have a volunteer refill the bottle, drink a cup of something, eat, and fix any chafing. I can't tell how many times I've forgot to fix chafing and it drives me crazy to have to wait until the next station.

The course:

As far a courses go, JFK is fairly simple. The technical section ends at mile 15 and the goal is to arrive at the towpath without injury. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is tricky with all the rocks and leaves. Here is a quick description of the course:

The course starts on road with all the major climbing done in the first 4 miles (total of 1200' gain.) Miles 1 & 2 are on road, mile 3 on AT, and mile 4 on paved road. By the time you reach the AT again at mile 4.5, you are done climbing and the rest of the AT is along the ridge line.

The first major aid station is at mile 9.3 and the next aid is at mile 15.5 at the start of the towpath. Then next 26 miles are on the towpath and the final 8.5 miles on rolling country roads.


There only a couple weekends left to do anything substantial before a two-week taper. My suggestion is to continue a normal weekday schedule and load up on big runs on the weekend. Back-to-back runs on Sat/Sun are as beneficial as one long run. It depends on your time availability. The goal is to practice running/walking on dead legs.

Ideally, you will complete one 5-6 hour run. Doing so will test your shoes and socks and you will get an idea of what it feels like to run on depleted energy stores. You'll discover what it feels like to keep going when tired and how to replentish calories and liquids. Its not easy to push yourself to 6 hours of motion, but doing so will help you adapt to the 9+ hours at JFK.

You all with do great. There is one rule I allow for myself. In the race (as well as training) I'm allowed to walk at anytime. In fact, I encourage it! Only the really talented can run the entire distance, so I don't even try.

Enjoy your preparations. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.



Blogger E-Speed said...

all very good advice!

11:10 AM  
Blogger The Salty One said...

Congrats on a new PR!!!!!!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Lloyd - Good advice. Brandon is a first timer at jfk this weekend. I'll make sure he reads this. His prep runs all went well.

- Mike

8:59 PM  

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