The JFK 50 is the oldest ultra marathon in the United States. It takes place every year in Washington County, Maryland. Our ambassador Reid Burrows took on the challenge.
Discover his race in this 4th Episode of Ultra Distance.
"It’s 4am. It’s race morning. I have done all of the work. I have been dreaming of this moment ever since I first heard of ultramarathons.
The 59th annual JFK 50 miler had an exciting element to it. All of the best racers show up ready to race and the course is runnable. This isn’t a survival or a death march ultra. This was a running race and it scared me. The scariest things in my life always turn into the best moments.
Back to race morning. If you know me, coffee is how I start my days and race morning is no exception. This morning I had my aeropress (I won’t travel anywhere without it) and my Näak Waffle after a short shower. Showering before running 50 miles may seem counterintuitive but it is about getting in the right mindset to race. For me, feeling fresh is important. A fresh haircut, fresh pair of shoes and clothing that makes me feel fast and comfortable are critical to get my headspace right for race day.
After going over my fueling details with my dad, we headed down to the race start line. The gun goes off at 6:30AM promptly and I wanted to warm up before we start. I changed into my race clothing and dropped the heavier (and warmer) gear. It was cold this early in the morning and I decided to race in a long sleeve shirt over a singlet. The gun goes off.
The race starts on the main road in downtown Boonsboro Maryland. We head up the road to the Appalachian trail where the field begins to separate. I tried to ease off the pressure during the long pavement climb and began pushing the pace as I entered the trail section. This is where I have the most race experience and confidence.
During the Appalachian trail section, a chase pack of about 5 of us formed. Coming from fall in Ontario, I decided to use my headlamp. By the time we completed the 2.5-mile road section, I was running with the most expensive headband I’ve ever owned. There was no need for my headlamp to guide me today (a mistake I will not make this year). We took turns leading but the two men that we were chasing were well ahead of us (the winner finished just a minute shy of the course record so it’s a good thing I didn’t try to run with the leaders).
The first aid station was about 14.5 miles into the run. Just before I reached the checkpoint, I rolled my ankle. It wasn’t a day ending ankle roll, but it hurt. I ended up taking the last descent easier than anticipated to save my ankles. This is where I got to see my dad (my one-man crew). In about 30 seconds I dropped my bottle, grabbed my hat and started running along the canal. I was feeling pretty good.
As I started on the C and O towpath my legs felt flat compared to how great they felt on the challenging Appalachian trail. I had put in so many hard training runs on the Hamilton to Brantford Rail trail, including a 2:45 marathon three weeks prior. My training mimicked the race perfectly, but my legs still felt flat.
At checkpoint number 2, 27 miles into the race I was 7th place coming into the aid station to see my dad. The last point I saw my dad was 38 miles into the race. My legs were still feeling pretty flat. I tried to hold the pace I was running (about 4:45/km) and kept pressing knowing my legs weren't there. I stopped for a moment the final time I saw my dad, and he told me some encouraging words. I was now in 11th place.
The last eight miles were on rolling country roads back to the same high school where we parked just 6 hours prior. My legs were done, but my mind gave up more than my legs. I had to walk some of the longer rolling hills. I was a little disappointed because it was honestly the first time I started walking. I just tried my best to dial in to 5:00/km and not get too discouraged as runners passed me.
I'm happy with the wins I took home today. My stomach gave me no issues. I ran within myself on the day and didn’t pack it in when things got tough. I'm not always going to have a good day and I realize that. The training leading up to the race was almost perfect. We focused on speed all summer long and then started adding some very hard long runs to mimic the fast nature of the JFK course. My result only makes me hungry for more.
I want to thank everyone for the kind messages before and after. I felt the love and I tapped into it today. I knew today wasn't my day, but I knew I'd still have the same support when I crossed the finish line. Thanks to my dad for flying down to Toronto and driving much further than 50 miles to come support me. I’m not exactly happy with the result but I plan on tackling JFK again this year. I have some unfinished business and I can’t wait to throw down on November 19th, 2022 at the 60th annual JFK 50 miler.
It’s going to be a good one."
- Reid Burrows
Discover Reid's stories on his website at www.reidburrows.com
Follow his adventures on his Instagram @reidburrows