Race Report – JFK 50 – Chris Spurrier
You know that feeling of invincibility you get when you crush a goal? Sure you do; the one where you are driving cross country after finishing Dirty Kanza the bike still dirty, sweat still behind your ears, and you call your friend and say “I think I want to tackle the JFK 50 again”. Then over the phone, you hear “OK, I’ll be there for you”. Ok, good deal then let’s do it. You call your coach and say “Hey I want to run now”, and he says OK. Yeah, that feeling of invincibility. Just wanting to push your limits and test your mental fortitude. After all, why not?
It has been an epic year for sure. By May I had done a 500 mile training week and a 150-mile gravel race. Add GRUSK and Hilly Billy Roubaix on top of a 14hr DK200 and I was having a great year by far. Heck, I even knocked time off of my SM100 time. So why not tackle the JFK again? I wasn’t going to travel to CXNATS so I didn’t have a ton to train for this fall. It was also an opportunity to step back and reset, do something different. So with two feet and a ton of support, we jumped into it. I really do mean we, because I couldn’t do this alone. My family, friends, and coach were all by my side (some questioning what I was doing).
I sat down with Chuck and we formed a game plan. Luckily this wasn’t new territory for him as he was a finisher himself. We discussed my willingness to train and what kind of load I thought I could handle. He had the perfect plan, and so it began. Starting in August I was lacing up my running shoes and ditched my spandex. As the training progressed I would fight small injuries here and there but overall was able to adapt and continue on. I learned quickly the importance of recovery. Then I was a few weeks out and the realization finally set in.
A lot goes into planning any endurance event. This one was no different. I asked a lot of questions and agonized over many small details. Again, luckily I had experience on my side to help. Keith Ives and Christina were there to help me through the event. We stayed at the hotel the night prior then they carried me through the event with support at the aid stations. We devised a plan based on the weather and talked through most of the possibilities to have a plan B, and C, at any given time. Knowing they would meet me at three locations I prepared three bags for them that would have the food and clothing items I would want. All they had to do was grab the bag and water for each stop. To mentally prepare I broke the race down into three segments, the trail run (15ish miles), the Marathon (on the C&O), and the road race (the 8-mile push into Williamsport).
At 0530 we arrived at the gym in Boonsboro to get ready for the pre-race brief. It was short and simple, we got a few pictures, then started to head towards the starting line. at 0630 the gun went off and 1200 of us headed for the AT trail. I said I wanted to tackle the JFK again, well that was because I attempted it in 2013. I didn’t make the cutoff and fell out at the 31-mile aid station. So I knew what this part entailed, the long climb up to the trail, I had already planned to walk this portion and executed appropriately. One thing different was I took this opportunity to get some nutrition in. Yes at less than two miles in I started eating, it would be a race to stay ahead of my caloric needs. As we crested the top we hopped on the trail and started off. I was making decent time working to keep the pace under 12′. we got to the last five miles and by then my legs were fatigued. The bobbing and weaving through the rocks took its toll on my knees and ankles. For good measure, I went to step on a rock and couldn’t get my foot up. I came down square on my right knee, rolling over the rock, and stopping my self with my arm as my head ever so slightly bumped into a rock. I am so glad I managed to get my arm out, otherwise, it could have been much worse. I got up, shook myself off and kept trucking down the steep trail and into Weaverton where Christina and Keith were waiting. Let me tell you what I heard Keith’s voice over everything else at that point. Now that will put a smile on your face. I changed my shoes, shoveled my face with some food, and exchanged nutrition in the bag and headed off.
As I made it onto the C&O I realized I had some pain in my legs but was well within my pacing goal so I was stoked to be moving with a regular gait again. The next time I would see my support crew would be about mile 27, unfortunately, I would get into my first hole before then. I was reaching mile 21 and began to focus on all of the little pains. I was thinking about the last time and how I needed to find my way to keep going. I started to focus on the runners in front of me and would try to chase them one at a time. This little game helped me leapfrog for a few miles then I finally started to add some walking in. At this point I just needed to get to the aid station so I did whatever I could, no plan just move. Finally, I was there, I even managed to shuffle in. Again, I heard Keith’s voice above the crowd and he led me down to Christina whose smile made me feel great. As I shoved down food, he gave me timing updates and gave me the status of my food and water I had consumed. All he kept saying was drink more and get to mile 38, then with a little chicken broth, he pushed me out.
Now I had a fresh goal, get to mile 38! I broke apart the 10 miles and decided I would walk a quarter and run 3/4. I managed to do this keeping my mile pace under 15′ until mile 35. I just could not get my legs moving, my joints hurt so much. I tried to alternate quarter miles and still nothing. I thought about my daughter struggling in boot camp and how she couldn’t quit. I had to quickly develop a plan. At this point I was still averaging a 13-minute mile, great pace to finish under 12 hours (my original goal was 10). I started doing the math as I was shuffling my feet, trying to walk as fast as I could. Everything hurt and since my pace dropped I started getting cold. It was a few miles more when the math came to me, I could walk and still finish, maybe even close to 12 hours. As I was walking I pulled my phone out and called Christina. Change of plan, get me my jacket and long pants and see you soon. After seven hours I was in another hole, but at least I was thinking through the process. At about nine hours in I waltzed into the final aid stop. I took off my vest and sat down to put on my pants and change shoes. I told them this is it, this is what I got and I will make it work. I took off from the stop with just a bottle of nutrition, I planned to use the race aid stations for the remainder of the event. I was an hour ahead of the cutoff and was determined to cross that line.
At this point there was not much thought to what I was doing, it was simple. Walk as fast as I could. I started whistling and singing and talking to everyone I could. I just kept moving and tried to stay motivated. I neared the 42-mile mark and got my reflective vest. I turned onto the road, but I was a happy clam, keeping a positive attitude and just thinking to myself “just keep moving” (sung like Dori from Finding Nemo). The day called for rain, luckily it was only a drizzle. The sunset and it got colder. I was so proud of myself for deciding to put on my jacket and pants. I just kept walking and noticed a line of walkers. It felt like everyone was in survival mode. What didn’t occur to me was the rollers were slowly eating my time away. I quickly realized this and started to get worried so I was reassessing my situation. I knew I had to do something so I started shuffling down any hill I could. Next thing I knew I even managed a shuffle on a couple of flats. I actually passed a couple of people running and gained back some confidence to push on. Finally the last two miles! The realization I was going to make it one way or another. I picked up my stride and kept moving forward and as I made the last turn I could hear the festivities at the line. I tried with all my might but couldn’t muster the strength. There it was the source of the noise, the lights, the sounds, and the hill. I heard the announcer talking about a 12:30 finish. Tried as I could I just felt the time slipping. Then as before, I heard Keith, over the announcer. I muttered out “how can I hear you over everyone?” “Come on Spurrier” he yelled. I got to him and had never felt so much relief. He took my jacket and my vest and I shuffled with everything I had to look like I was moving across the line. The crowd was awesome and seeing Christina there was everything. I knew I did it! I beat the clock and finished.
The last thing I heard was “Chris Spurrier, Andrews AFB MD, a cyclocross racer finishing an Ultra run!” This brought the biggest smile to my face, not because of what Joe said, but because I beat it. I DNF’d in 2013 and came back to tackle it again. This wasn’t a singular accomplishment, it was because of everyone who believed in me. Thank you, everyone, and especially Christina and Keith. Thank you, Chuck, for the foundation, and thank you all for pushing me to do something bigger.
There are a lot of things I learned during this event. Most of all though was not to take anything for granted. We have to work for every accomplishment and we never do it alone.