The JFK is a timed event — one of the few I’ve ever run. You must meet certain deadlines along the way and finish by 7 p.m. or they take you off the course: Nice try, but no medal. I had hoped to cross the line in 12 or 13 hours, but that was impossible now. I had lost too much time.
But all distance events are exercises in mobile problem-solving, and I’ve run more than a few. When you’re not doing well, you must diagnose the problem and figure out a solution, even as you keep moving. Feeling woozy and weak? Drink more Gatorade and eat more sugar at the next aid station. Muscle cramps? More salt tablets and chicken soup. Busted hand? Gulp all the Tylenol you can find. I was carrying eight pills in a bag in my pocket.
(Richard A. Lipski/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST) - Runner John Kippen, 61,of Frederick, Md., snacks on a cookie at the 30.5 aid station during the JFK 50 Mile run.
The canal path ended at Mile 42, where I donned the Day-Glo orange, reflective “vest of shame,” mandatory for those of us who would finish in darkness on small-town roads. “I know what you’re thinking,” I said to the woman who helped me into the crossing guard’s uniform. “This totally clashes with my [green] fleece. I just didn’t plan ahead.” She told me I was “fashion forward” and sent me on my way.
I had about 21
2 hours to cover eight miles. Exhausted and stopping every once in a while to stretch a cramping hamstring, I was losing precious time. A small group of us, knowing we were right on the edge of failure, began to run together, cheering one another on. Police officers and bystanders at every intersection were telling us we would make it. Soon it was just me and two women I had met on the trail. Then I was alone. Other runners — men, women, young, old, thin, fat — kept passing me. I didn’t care. It was just me against that clock.
The thought of working this hard and coming away empty terrified me. So although I had to walk the uphills, I would break into a sprint on every downhill and flat of the undulating road. I was pumping my legs as hard as I could but getting nowhere, treading water on a sea of asphalt. Cars and trucks flew by in the darkness, their headlights illuminating the endless path to the finish.
The JFK results page proves that I made it with six minutes and 36 seconds to spare, a pace of 16:41 per mile, fourth from last of the 964 runners who crossed the line before 7 p.m. Another medal has joined the collection on a hook in my closet. And I raised $1,755 for Girls on the Run of Montgomery County, my designated charity for the event, with help from members of that nonprofit organization.
Just like I visualized it.
JFK50: A ‘soft American’ accepts the challenge
An insider’s tour of the course
Read past columns by Bernstein and Vicky Hallett