JFK 50 and How Training is not Overrated

Stefan reached out to me when he was having a hard time finishing strong in longer races. He's a very talented runner and knew he could go faster but needed help in making that happen. The first thing we did was integrate the concept of going slow to race fast. We also began polarizing workouts so the easy were very easy and hard were pretty close to all-out sufferfests. We then dove into changing his racing approach. Below Stefan shares his thoughts and experience with the JFK 50 Miler where he ran a smoking fast 7:39! Congrats Stefan!

Stefan sporting the flash on his way to a great jfk 50 mile finish

Why 50 miles? What was your motivation for this race?
Distance in itself is a challenge and I felt I had not executed a 50 mile race well yet.  JFK was attractive because a friend asked me if I wanted to run it with her (training motivation) and it was an opportunity to run somewhere I have never run before and in a race that has a rich history as the oldest ultra in the US. 

Did you have any rough patches during the race?
Around mile 34 fatigue in my core set in.  At this stage I had completed the technical trail section and about 20 miles of the pancake flat tow path.  I felt pain and fatigue in my abdominal muscles, lower back and in my glutes.  I could feel a distinct slowdown and increased sense of plodding instead of cruising; a really heavy feeling in my running gait.  A trail angel offered me ibuprofen and I accepted the unsolicited contraband and boy, it made the world of difference - within a mile or two the spring was back in my step and my pace recovered to what I had been running before the rough patch.

What were some key workouts you did that helped you go fast during the 50 miles?
I think confidence is key and any workout that provides confidence in the build up is useful, but specifically confidence building workouts in the last month or so before the race are important.  Running fast for long stretches in training helps me feel comfortable with speed in a race because it feels easy.  

Did you have any on-the-course nutrition issues or did everything go smoothly? 
I did not start with any nutrition on me and the race did not have any aid stations until more than 15 miles in.  Even there the best I could find were Oreos, so I grabbed three and slowly got them in me, but that was very unusual for me at a start of a race.  After mile 15, the aid stations had lots of variety and I had whatever looked good at that moment of browsing.  

What's your favorite memory from race day?
Hitting the road section at mile 42 and knowing that the race was in the bag, I knew I could make my goal time and could just enjoy the miles in to the finish.

At any point did you feel like dropping?
I always question why I chose to voluntary inflict the pain on myself during a race, but I never considered quitting in this race because things went very well.  I have given up before and I know how awful that feels the next day.  In this race my pain never reached a threshold to consider swapping instant relief for more intense pain the next day.

There was some weather that came in on race day, did you get caught in any of that?
Fortunately not.  I had strong headwinds during the last 8 miles as the front blew in, but that was a minor inconvenience compared to the sleet that followed after my finish.

What advice can you provide to others who want to race a fast 50 miler?
Training is not over-rated!  Everyone responds to training differently, but key for me in this build up was that I never felt like training was a drag.  My weekly mileage was manageable and mixing in cycling workouts were useful in providing breaks from running.  Monitoring fitness levels in Training Peaks was a first for me and it was very motivational to see the fitness chart in a upward trajectory.

Did you wear a sweet running outfit or did you just stick to the basics?
Basics.  Some would consider my short shorts flash.

How much beer did you drink post-race?
I actually had more beer the night before the race than after.  The night after we had a wonderful group dinner with lots of red wine at a friend’s house.

Thanks for the post race recap Stefan!
Happy training,