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Running the 57th Annual JFK 50-Mile Endurance Race

Some races have a loyal following because of the unique and challenging terrain on which the course is run. Some races establish a strong culture based on the community of runners who return year after year. Some races build their reputation from the history of the event. The JFK 50-Mile Endurance Run has it all.

The JFK 50 runs along a horseshoe-shaped “point to point” course covering three very distinctive landscapes. From the town center of Boonsboro, Maryland the historic route covers 15.5-miles along the Appalachian Trail, 26.3-miles on the C&O canal towpath and 8.4-miles of rolling country roads leading runners to the final destination and the finish line in front of Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, Maryland.

(My Strava data, start to C&O and C&O to finish)

Along the Appalachian Trail runners transverse over asphalte roadways, and single track trails infested with gnarly rocks while climbing 2,461 feet of total gain reaching the top of South Mountain, the highest spot on the course, at 1,795ft. At around 14.5-miles the course takes a rapid descent via staggering switchbacks at the Weverton cliffs. Surviving the AT runners take on the 26.3-miles of the C&O canal towpath. Although seemingly flat the towpath climbs over 300 feet. At approx. 42-miles hopeful finishers depart the towpath at Dam#4 and begin the 8.4-mile run to the finish. With the finish line in sight and with nearly 8-miles of rolling country roads behind them finishers have to climb one last hill .25-miles from the finish. The JFK course offers something for everyone. This historic race will test all those who want the coveted finishers medal.

For some finishing, the JFK 50 is a rite of passage. For others running the oldest UltraMarathon in the nation is a yearly tradition. The finishers’ “clubs” start with 10-years with a handle full of legends having completed over 1500-miles on the course with a leader having finished 49 JFK races.

The JFK 50 Mile Endurance Run was first held in the spring of 1963.  It was one of numerous such 50-mile events held around the country as part of President John F. Kennedy’s push to bring the country back to physical fitness. Held for 57 consecutive years the memorial run is a benchmark of East Coast endurance events.

The 57th edition was my 4th running of this great event. Not that I am an elite athlete or would ever threaten to win this event, but I do have some secrets to success I would like to share. Race reports 2014, 2015, and 2016 (PR)).

Secrets to finishing the JFK 50-mile Endurance Run

  1. Without burning out your legs, advance during the early road miles.
  2. Always move w/purpose, when not running hike at a fast pace.
  3. When on the “non-rocky sections” of the AT make up ground. Run when you can, and pass when you can pass.
  4. When on the “rocky sections” land your footfall light and quick.
  5. Have a plan for the C&O…I choose to use an interval approach, 5/1 run/fast hike.
  6. Don’t allow the C&O to put you to sleep…make the run parts of your interval count.
  7. Concentrate on the mile you’re in.
  8. Make the pit stops short & make them count, drink/eat before you’re thirsty/hungry.
  9. Power hike the climb off the C&O and then run everything that is downhill or flat.
  10. Be ready for that final push.

    And most importantly breath in your victory and finish.

Running and Writing – Why I do it

Both gifts came later in life.

Running was something that did not come naturally. At a young age, I had some speed, I was a quick little kid but lacked the discipline to build endurance. When it got hard, when I ran out of gas and I gave up.

Writing was something I enjoyed early on but I lacked the skills and knowledge to format my stories correctly. Inturn my English teachers tore up my papers with flaming red critiques and destroyed my desire to take further abuse.

Running later in life opened new doors. I conquered the lack of self-confidence and endurance. I found I had the ability to run the long and hard-fought miles. I found I enjoyed the challenge of pushing my limits during the long run. Each new distance, each race held a story within its self. New terrain, new challenges inspired me to try and capture the memories. In running I may have found the true me, and I found a voice.

I’ve been asked why I write… It’s obvious that I’m not an English major, The comas may be misplaced and my sentence structure could be off.

I write to entertain and to tell a story that may inspire. To encourage others to look at life from another perspective. I write to uncover the drama of life and the epic ultramarathons. I write so that others may find strength in relationships and running.

UNFINISHED will take the reader along another journey of the human spirit and along the racecourse of the JFK 50 mile endurance race.

“the magic of the JFK 50 Mile, Brian Burk “gets it” and catches the true flavor of the JFK 50 Mile in his novel “Unfinished.”
Enjoy the journey!

Mike Spinnler (JFK50 Race Director and Champion)

Available on Amazon and the JFK race expo…

In the meantime check out my first novel Running to Leadville.

More than a running story.  The tale takes the reader from finding love, experiencing loss, while finding oneself at 12,600 ft on the top of Hope Pass. Available on Amazon

Signed copies of all my books available here

Ultra Marathon – 6 Weeks to a 100-Mile Finish

6-weeks to a 100-mile finish (I do not recommend this training plan to anyone…)

All was going well until Feb, 2019 when during a run I caught a root/rock with the toe of my shoe.  The result was an impact to my left knee on the very sharp edge of a rock.

Feb 2, 2019…I ran 18.5 miles after this fall

Long story short…no permanent damage, but significate trauma to the point where the patella tendon mounts to the tibia.  The result of this misstep kicked off a series of injuries.  Being a bit stubborn, I ran two marathons (Wrightsville Beach and Cleveland) and a 24-hour race where I logged 101.250 miles while in quite a bit of pain and on a compromised gait.  The result was my left knee became unstable, I developed sciatica pain in my right hip and my right insole was stressed to the point that I could not take a step without being in pain. With Leadville and redemption on the horizon, I tried to power through it.

The Start of the Cape Fear 24-Hour Endurance Run
Oct 12, 2019, The Start of the Cape Fear 24-hour Endurance Run

By the second week of June…I could not stand running in pain anymore.  I thought for sure my running career was over.  I visited my DR, and a sports chiropractor. I took anti-inflammatories and stretched, but nothing worked. Desperate the only thing I could think of as my next step was a “hard reset.”  I had one hope…to shut it down.  Would taking the summer off reset my normal running gait and heal the trauma?

For 8 weeks I cross-trained in an effort to maintain some form of fitness.  5 days a week I pedaled a stationary bike, rode the elliptical and slowly worked in brisk paced walking.  3 weeks before the Morgantown Marathon I started running again and a funny thing happened.

My knee responded while the sciatic and insole pain stayed at bay.  I had hope. With a bit of nervous anticipation, I toed the line in Morgantown prepared to put my body to the test.  26.2 miles later I crossed the finish line tired, physically wore out by the hills and challenged from an abnormally hot day, but I finished. I had hope.

Approximately 20 days, 22 hours, 38 minutes and 38 seconds later I crossed the finish line at the Cape Fear 24-Hour Endurance Run in Lillington, NC having completed my 6th 100-mile run. I finished 6th overall and 4th male.

100.6 miles later…22hours 38 minutes and 38 seconds after starting, I’m Back.

During my summer running vacation, I thought I was done.  At one point I felt like a part of myself disappeared, and a connection to the running community was gone. At times I felt lost.

Finishers buckle…this one is extra special. Thank you Michele for being there…you made my come back possible. Love ya, more….

What did I learn?

You’re always a runner.  Being a runner is as much a state of mind as it is an action.

Our bodies need to heal.

Never lose faith in you… (I recommend this to everyone)


Morgantown Marathon – Yes It’s Hilly

A marathon with a bit of a punch.  With social media hashtags like #yesitshilly and #conqurethiscourse I suspected I was in for a challenge.

Whether you run the Marathon, the Half Marathon or the Mountain Mama 8k you’re in for a tough and challenging race.  For your efforts, you’ll receive support that rivals or surpasses any big city marathon.  I ran the marathon on a warm Sunday morning and found the support around the race very helpful and welcoming.


The packet pickup was located at a Dicks Sporting Goods superstore that was easy to locate.  To be honest, I missed the feel of a true race expo.  As runners, we suffer in training and on race day…the expo is a time to enjoy our journey to the starting line, make new friends and to celebrate.  The volunteers were very helpful. I was in and out in no time with my race gear in hand.

The start of the race and finish of the race was held at the West Virginia University Coliseum and for logistics reasoning, the event restricted parking at this location.  Offsite parking with a free shuttle service was provided for racers, family and spectators alike.  This service went off like a well-timed military operation.  I arrived just after 5:45 and by 6 a.m. I was at the starting line without delay.

Race day morning support included late registration, packet pick up and dry bag drop off.  All the pre-race activities and announcements went off without overdue fanfare.  Some races tend to drag out their opening remarks thanking every corporate sponsor and elected official.  The Morgantown Race Director kept it simple, patriotic and to the point.  Thanks to this “Just the facts” approach the race started dead on time.


With any city-based marathon there tends to be a lot of twists and turns as you navigate, residential streets, greenways, waterfronts, and commercial zones.  This course was well laid out and easy to navigate. As someone who finds it easy to get lost…I never questioned which way the Morgantown Marathon route traveled.  Every turn was well marked with signs at the intersections and yellow arrows painted on the road surface.  Where the street crossings may have gotten congested with traffic, numerous course marshals were on hand to direct traffic, ensure the safety of the field and encourage the runners.  I never once felt like I could make a wrong turn nor in danger from the traffic.  “Thank you to all the Volunteers…..”

At each mile marker along the course, there were “Hero Mile” signs dedicated to honoring our military heroes.  A major benefactor of the race is the nonprofit Operation Welcome Home, an organization dedicated to helping veterans and their families overcome barriers to employment.

The web site promised water stations every 2-miles…well, they may have over-delivered. On a sweltering day, I’m sure that was a survivor for some.  The aid station volunteers were very helpful having water and Gatorade at the ready.  A bonus was the high energy support the volunteers provided in the latter stages of the race when an encouraging word or upbeat attitude can help renew someone’s race vigor.

Looking to find that extra edge during your next marathon or any race for that matter?  Check out my book 26.2 Tips to run your best MARATHON (or any race for that matter) available on Amazon and this blog.

#Yesitshilly  When I got home I reviewed my Strava data and surprisingly found that the analytics for the race only reflected 1572 feet of gain.  With legs still reeling from the days’ effort, I thought for sure the elevation profile would have reflected more vertical.

From the start, the race features numerous rolling hills leading up to a sustained climb starting around mile 6 which builds up to a rapid and quad killing downhill at mile 9.  From here to the halfway point were more rolling hills and another rapid downhill into the 13.1 benchmark.  Surviving this opening act the in middle miles featured a “relatively” flat section that allowed for some upbeat running. 

A laughingly but not funny 20th mile aka “The Wall” appeared right at the entrance to a cemetery.  I considered making it my “final pitstop” but I had fought too hard to get to this point I wasn’t going to be laid to rest just yet.  At another round of rolling hills from miles, 17 to 22 led up to the last challenge of the day. 

The Morgantown Marathon course builds up to a final crescendo when you face perhaps the hardest closing mile of all the 65 races of marathon plus distance I’ve run.  After the flattest section of the day, mile-25 features a gut-wrenching trek uphill.  Not your cookie-cutter course this race has character, this course has spirit and this course proves that until the bitter end.

#Conquerthiscourse  This race will challenge you.  This race will challenge if not with its pure vertical, then with the unrelenting fact that it’s not flat.

#RunMotown  The rolling terrain takes a toll on your legs. lungs and authors a marathon story worth telling.


Stumbling through the finishers chute I was very relieved to be finished, fini, complete, finito, done and very happy to be greeted by a cold drink, wonderful finisher medal and unlimited slices of pizza!  The finish line featured a mini beer garden, food tent and some local vendors.  Just like my morning shuttle experience, transportation back to my car was quick and easy.  Stepping off the bus I put a stamp on my Morgantown Marathon Day!

I would recommend this race for anyone looking for a challenge, to anyone looking for a race with some character, or someone looking to break out of the cookie-cutter marathon experience.  If you’re looking for a BQ or your next PR…dial in your fitness, get your legs in shape and you could post an epic time on a challenging course.

Do you want to run Morgantown in 2020, connect with them on the Web, on Facebook and Instagram and you find some great travel information about the area at Tour Morgantown.

In full disclosure, I ran this race as a Race Ambassador, I received a free entry into the race for my honest review of my race day experience.  This did not influence my review.

Not Running and what I’m learning

Some honest facts about my time off from running.

Some background to my time off. Feb 2, 2019, I went to the Uwharrie Mountains to get in some training miles and to chase some vertical in preparation for my return to Leadville Aug 2019. Uwharrie is a great place to run but the trails do offer some rocky foot placements. About 1.5 miles into a beautiful Saturday morning with a 20-mile adventure planned I caught my foot on an unseen rock. The next thing I knew I was on the ground and my left leg making an impact with the jagged edge of a rock. My knee caught the rock where your patella tendon mounts to the shin bone. After seeing stars and figuring out that nothing was terminal, I noted how much that impact hurt. After a few painful moments, I was able to get back on my feet and continued on. 18.5 miles later my knee was bloody and sore knee but I figured I was no worse for wear.

Fast forward…through two marathons (Wrightsville Beach in March and Cleveland in May), and a 101.25-mile effort during a 24-hour race (VA 24-hour ultra run against cancer in April) I had been fighting off all sorts of injuries (knee pain, sciatica, and some tendonitis in my right foot). In June I finally had enough. Running had become so painful that I knew I had to take some time away. I shut it down on the 20th of June in hopes of resetting my body and starting a fall race calendar.

Worst of it all, I had to defer my Leadville entry. Mentally it was crushing, depressing and confidence breaking. It felt like I had failed at Leadville all over again.

I’ll be honest, although I continue to workout, riding the stationary bike five days a week, copying my run training, I’m learning a lot about life and myself but I feel I’m also losing ground.

Life, in fact, does continue. As much as I miss my daily miles…the sun still comes up, the birds still sing and the days are still filled with good times.

My butt may not have been made for biking….ha ha ha but is any butt really made for those seats?

Truthfully, I’ve enjoyed my newfound “weekend” hours to embrace my other passions.

Check out my custom medal/buckle display http://bri

I still feel connected to the running community, but I fear its slipping.

I embrace the victories of friends as they continue on the running path.

Thursday (1 Aug) will mark six weeks…the longest I have been off from running in 19 years.

I wonder if…..

Wish me luck to make it until the end of Aug, my self imposed hiatus.

Run if you can…it’s inspiring the rest of us (ME).

Running your first race or your next one

How to ensure your first race is a successful one!

It’s a benchmark and a rite of passage for every runner.  Almost as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, if you started running you’ll run a race.  Even if you started running purely for fitness or weight loss alone, you eventually sign up for a race whether it’s by your own motivation or peer pressure.  Surely I say unto you….sooner or later you’ll enter a race.

My thrid race but the first that I have a finishing picture

So how can you ensure a successful result.

#1  Win the day.  Notice I did not say win the race. Truth is few of us will ever be fast enough or gifted enough to break the ribbon at the finish line, but all of us can win the day. 

#2  Say hi to another runner, smile, wave and embrace the people around you.

#3  High five the kids along the route, soak in their energy.

#4  Thank a volunteer who gave of their time to support your endeavor.  Soak in the realization that each one of them wants to see you succeed.

#5  Believe in you. Their is no more powerful force.

#6  Have a clear goal within the race.  Whether it be a certain time result or simply running the hills, have a goal within the race that you can celebrate.

#7  Enjoy the views.  Most races take you to new parts of a city, town or trail.  Enjoy the views, get lost among the new surroundings, take in the mystery of a new course.

#8  View success on your own scale.  Do not judge your results compared to others.  At the end of the day, it’s your race.

#9  Remember there will be hard times…accept it and take it on.

#10  Live in the victory of finishing what you set out to do.

There is nothing like your first race and or your next race.  You can ensure it’s a success by understanding you can do anything you “believe” you can.

Running is… Marathon – Ultramarathon – Running – Fitness

Running is…

Runners come to this lifestyle from different paths.  We all eventually pick up a pair of shoes, slide our feet in them and lace them up distinct reasons with varying goals and expectations.  For most the destination of our run becomes more than simply the miles we log or the trails we explore.  Our true destination may not be known for many miles or seasons down the road and in turn each one of us will define what running is.

(At the start of Eastern Divide 50K)

Running is an adventure –  More so than a single workout, standalone miles or a collection of miles that becomes a race.  Running is an opportunity to explore new worlds, new trails, new environments and to seek out and find new parts of yourself that may lie unexposed otherwise.  There is nothing more “alive” than exploring our world on foot whether it be the deserts of the South West, the mountains of the Rockies, or the big cities along the East Coast.  Running opens new doors to the marvels of the very world we live in.

 (Among the sand-dunes of the Graveyard 100-Miler)

Running has taken me to locations I only previously saw on postcards or if in person from the worn-out vantage points of tourist.  Running has taken me on adventures to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the top of the Rockies, the City Center of Miami, along the sandy coastline of the Outer Banks and a perimeter run around Key West just to name a few.

[Tweet “Brian, @cledawgs explains what RUNNING is to him. Come join the conversation, what is RUNNING to you?”]

Running is a community –  Few things are more powerful than a group of like-minded people.  A solo sport by nature but performed within a larger community that is welcoming, and encouraging.  One doesn’t have to look long before you’ll find a running club, a workout or racing group that is looking to link up with you.  Runners more so than any other community want to connect, lift up, encourage and help you succeed.  In the day to day world, it easy to get caught up in the solidity of your own run, but when you look around you’ll see an entire community that your part of once you go for a run.

 (Taking on the JFK 50-Miler)

I started my running life as a lone-wolf, and that lasted until I wasn’t.  My running journey started on a cold dark morning, logging miles alone before I went to work.  It stayed that way for a few years until I choose to look beyond my miles, my goals and my next race.  With a view beyond my run, my running world slowly grew into a collection of new friends, clubs, and social circles that became my running world, and my community of like-minded people.  A single lonely mile transformed into relay teams, training partnerships, run clubs, race teams, and community relationships all built on the same desires and passions.

Running is inspiring –  The winner standing on the podium, the first finisher to break the tape or the one who travels the furthest distance are often propelled by the accomplishments of others.  At times, it’s hard to see the future while locked in the very personal struggle of trying to overcome doubt, limits or misconceptions the world has placed on you.  Through examples of others, one can see that goals can be reached, barriers can be removed and desired results achieved.

 (1st 100-mile finish with Blake Norwood at Umstead 100)

Standing among the finishing crowd at an awards ceremony I’ve often thought, if that person could do it, there is no reason that I can’t.  Granted for some world-class performance goals it may come down to genetics or God-given talent, but through the victory of others, I have been able to see that I am capable of some much more.

What is Running to you…...(post a comment below)

Running – Racing – Marathons – Ultramarathons

They say the first step of running recovery is to admit you have a racing problem.  I guess you must believe you have a problem to begin with.  Most runners I know do not see a issue with running a race nearly every month, two times a month or just about every weekend.  Whether you’re a hard-core racer, part-timer or just dipping your toe into the racing pool you’ll fall into the five stages of looking for a race sooner or later.

1.  Look at all those pretty races.  At times, I feel like a squirrel in the middle of the road facing a slew of oncoming traffic.  Which way do I go?  Which way do I run?  Oh, crap look at that big truck with its Ultra Signup license plate on the front.  Everywhere I look there are all these races to run, marathons, 5ks, Ultramarathons and oh WOW over there…a 100-miler in a little mountain town called Leadville.

[Tweet “Brian, @cledawgs outlines the five stages of looking for a race, either 5k, 10k, Marathon or Ultramarathon”]

2.  The bling, oh the bling…I’ve got to have the B L I N G.  There is a reason the awards are shiny, filled with pretty colors and rhinestones.  Race directors understand the addiction, they feed the addiction and they use the bling addiction to lure you in.  And I love it…  I’m looking for the race that features an operational Light Saber, keys to the Millennium Falcon or a pet Yoda.  Whether it be a live dragon or a medal the size of a hubcap I’m signing up for that bad boy!

3.  Is that a hill, oh I don’t want to run on a course with hills.  Soon to be followed by, where are the hills, I need me some vert…vert. Vert. Vert.  Vertical…give me the mountains, Leadville, Hardrock…Western States!  In my early days once I found a race that fit into my schedule, was close to home and at a distance that I could run.  I would scour the course maps, elevation profile and race reports looking for any signs of a vertical challenge.  If I found more than a small bump in the road that race was out.  Flat as a pancake was high on my race selection criteria.  Then I must have hit my head, finally suffered from the effects of the lack of oxygen to the brain or the after effect of too many Mikes Hard Lemonades kicked in.  Vert baby…give me the vert.

4.  The Info Superhighway with sites like Ultra signup and I’ve lost all control.  I’ve found over the years it has gotten so much easier to sign up for a race.  Gone are the days of collecting race flyers, handwritten entry forms, licking stamps and trips to the local USPS office.  Today, it’s almost too easy.  With a few scrolls and multiple clicks of my mouse and I’m signed up to race in three new venues at distances varying from 10k, marathon, and a 50-miler…Oh honey, pls don’t look at the credit card.

5.  This was a good idea 6-months ago.  The excitement of signing up for a race is just about as powerful as the adrenaline rush of crossing the finish line.  The in-between time…well, sometimes that gets scary.  The commitment of race day keeps me training, motivated and gets me to the starting line.  But I’ll admit…sometimes I think I’m better at signing up for races then actually running them.

I’ve been at this racing game for 19+ years…and I’ve figured how to run a faster race without running any faster.  I share all my racing tips with you in my book 26.2 Tips to Run Your Best Marathon (or any race for that matter) available on Amazon and my blog.

You don’t have to be a racer, to be a runner.  Some folks have long and satisfying running careers without ever running a race.  I had conversations with some serious runners who question why I pay an entry fee to run 26.2 miles when I could do it on my own for free.  Whatever you choose to race or not if you run you’re a runner.  If you do decide to try your hand on the racing stage enjoy the ride, embrace the moment and remember why you’re standing there…to race yourself or maybe others, to collect all the pretty medals, to conquer the hills, to run on a new stage and to meet the commitment you set so many months ago.

Let me know do you race?  If so how often and what is your favorite distance?  Drop a comment below.

Umstead 100 – Ultra-Marathon – Running, Pacing and Volunteering

Ultra-Marathon – Umstead 100

I wanted to get into the race.  I wanted a third buckle after all the Umstead 100 is right in my backyard, home to my first 100-mile finish and a place I frequently train at.  The internet server forces were not on my side that fateful Saturday in Sept when the entry opened up.  For reasons of server buffering, world international clock time and slow refresh fingers I could not secure one of the coveted race day slots.  I was crushed…

Licking my wounds, I found out a friend of mine got into the race.  I had a plan B.  I would help Jason reach his 100-mile goal.  Injuries forced him to drop from the race in early January.  All seemed lost when a new friend from NYC came to my Ultra Crazy New Years Training Run,  and mentioned that she, aka Claire, needed a pacer.

I went from being on the outside looking in, to having two places within the race.  I found myself with a volunteer gig ( at the Jenn and Tonic Stop from 10:30 pm – 2:00 am) and a pacing gig.  It was an awesome experience.

(Congratulations. Claire on your 1st 100-mile finish)

Ten things I learned working at an Aid Station during a 100-mile race.

10. There are no words for the strength it takes to go back out into the dark at mile 87.5 of 100…..

[Tweet “@cledawgs uncovers Ten Things he learned working an aid station during a 100-mile race”]

9. Coffee and Ice cream during an Ultra….who knew?

8. I feel better knowing I’m not the only one who has no idea what I want when you ask me “How can I help you?”

(My view from Aid Station #1)

7. I found out what Lentil soup is (I had no idea)

6. Those hydration pack bladders are hard to fill

5. 9 out of 10 people will run the other way once someone starts barfing (Holly B. you are a hero!)

Do you want to uncover all the drama behind a 100-mile race?  Read Running to Leadville.  A story that could only be told by a runner.  A captivating account about a lost soul, a small mining town and a 100-mile trail race that changes lives.  Amazon reviewer “immediately hooked from beginning to end.”

4. Just keep moving…..little steps add up to big accomplishments

3. A smile can be a game changer

2. Never knew so many people would eat a hamburger or hot dog without the bun

1. Fresh Pizza can change the world

I believe this will become a yearly tradition, either running or pacing/volunteering at the Umstead 100-mile endurance run.  Check out Dave’s thoughts about volunteering at Umstead.

(Congratulations to Jill B. and her awesome crew!)

Congratulations to so many of my running family who met their 100-mile goals.  To some, this came easy, others had to dig deep and many put in a truly valiant effort.  For those who the winds of fate did not work out so well…there is always next year.  I’ll be there with you going for buckle #3, or doing my duty giving back as a volunteer or pacer.

Ultra Marathon – Running and Life – Looking at my DNFs

In Ultra-Marathon running and in life there is much to learn by looking back at history.  Would we do the same things if knew the outcome?  What can we improve in the future from our lesson in the past?  In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill said (I paraphrase), “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’

 (Before I wanted to go home at Boogie 50)

I’m not Churchill but I agree, so I’ll look back at my Ultra-Marathon DNFs and see what I can learn.

DNF #1, The Bethel Moonlight Boogie 50-miler, June 2016.  A great race run in the heat and humidity of early June in southern North Carolina.  I successfully ran this race for the first time in 2015.  On a whim (since all my friends were running it) I signed up again in 2016.  This time something was different.  I signed up late and not totally committed.  Since all the “cool kids” were signed up, I talked myself into eventually standing on the starting line on a hot and muggy afternoon.  As the gun went off and the pack moved along the country roads for the first of five 10-mile laps, all felt good.  After the excitement of seeing my friends and the rush of the start of the race began to wear off…I simply did not want to be there.  My mind wanted to be anywhere but sweating it out in the middle of the night.  I wanted to be home with my wife.  It was halfway into lap two that I broke.  I called it a day at mile 15.

Lessons Learned:  Two things I believe lead up to my very first DNF.  #1 I was never committed to the race.  You might be able to fake a 10k, half marathon and if you’re good a marathon, but an ultra, you must be bought in 100%.  I was not.  #2 I was coming off an “EPIC” run at the Grand Canyon (R2R2R).  With over 20,000 ft of elevation change, it was a suffer fest to finish and get my butt out of the canyon.  On this night at Boogie, I wasn’t ready to suffer again.

[Tweet “@cledawgs talks about his DNFs and what we can learn by looking back at the past”]

DNF #2, MEDOC Mountain Meltdown 50k plus, Aug 2016.  Being a middle of the pack runner, I normally never have a chance at a podium finish.  On lap three of four (50k+ plus race distance) on a rather hot and humid August afternoon in North Carolina, I rolled into the aid station an overheated mess.  Before I knew what, I was doing I downed nearly a gallon of anything I could find that was cold and wet.  The damage was done.  My stomach was gone.  As I sat on a park bench overheated, with a belly full of liquids to the point of discomfort and feeling sorry for myself the lap counter asked when I was headed out for the final lap.  I told her I was done.  “You can’t drop….you are in the lead pack!”

Lessons Learned:  The heat that day won.  My body was so desperate for fluids and to cool off that I lost control of my actions.

 (Waterlogged and near defeat…)

DNF #3, Seashore Nature Trail 50k, Dec 2017.  One of my favorite races.  On the heels of a very successful fall race season I felt very confident.  I had been running well and posted some great times at the Yeti 100, 7-Bridges Marathon and a sub 4 at OBX Marathon.  The old body held up pretty good, with only some slight tightness in my left IT band.  I’d get that looked at after Seashore.  Or so I thought.  Maybe I went out to fast, maybe I had too many racing miles on my legs so soon after a 100-miler.  As I closed out the first lap, at 16.4 miles…I left knee started to ache, my legs felt dead and I could no longer land with any control.  Fearing further injury, I pulled up and walked it in.  I’ll be honest I was scared I had done some real damage to my knee.

Lessons Learned:  The body needs to recover.  No matter how we feel about ourselves we are not bulletproof.  It’s easy to run these epics races and begin to believe we can do no wrong.  Your body will set you straight.  Listen to that soft voice, that slight discomfort before it becomes something that shuts you down long term.

 (When things felt good at SeaShore 50k)

DNF #4, Leadville Trail 100, Aug 2018.  My goal race.  40 miles into the race everything was going according to plan.  I never doubted a finish.  I could feel the weight of the buckle already resting around my waist.  I just had to get it done.  I arrived at Twin Lakes (outbound) at 8 hours and 30 minutes into the race 1.5 hours ahead of the cut-offs.  Rolling out of Twin Lakes for Hope Pass I knew I had a fight in front of me.  I told one of my crew members, Jeff, “this is hard” as I headed off.  I had no idea.  9 hours and 45 miles later, 20 miles further along the course I ran back into Twin lakes only to be told I missed the cut-off.  Broken and beat I collapsed into the dirt road in front of the fire station and cried.

Lessons Learned:  No amount of education or training could prepare me for what I would face climbing up Hope Pass with 40 racing miles on my legs.  And I made some mistakes.  #1 I relied too heavily on my 100-mile race experience.  Coming from the east coast and sea level I knew I would be fighting the oxygen-thin environment along with the 100-miles.  I figured my experience would help me.  #2 I refueled as I had for all my 100-milers…again on the east coast.  That wasn’t enough.  And #3 I made mistakes that at the time I thought were smart moves, ie. saving my legs for later in the race.  I now look back on these decisions and realize I was taking the easy, the comfortable way out.  Example…  On the back side of Hope Pass, I was happy to stay “in line” and slowly work my way into Winfield (the 50-mile turnaround.)  My brain told me I did not want to be “that guy” who broke from the pack to pass the slower people.  That was my weakness looking for an easy way out.

(Before the trail turned to mush…)

DNF #5, Devil Dog 100, Dec 2018.  I wanted revenge after Leadville.  What I got was a cold, wet and rain filled day.  It rained ALL DAY up and down the east coast on top of weeks of rain prior to the event.  Add in that a cold front moved in and it was just a miserable time to be outside doing anything.  So let’s run 100 miles on an already tough course.  The conditions made it tough but what got me was the nearly falling 100 times during the day on the muddy trails.  Each near fall caused my lower back to get tighter as the miles wore on.  At mile 80 I could not avoid going down.  Being cold, wet, tired and now mud-soaked did not beat me.  I got up and motored another 10 yards where I went down again.  This time I was broken.  And a bit worried that I had lost all ability to avoid further falls on a course, that was very challenging, running over large rocks, tree roots and along swollen creeks.  At 81.25 miles and now behind the clock, I called it a race.

Lessons Learned:  Months removed, I believe I ran a good race.  The most obvious failure on the day was that I should have used my hiking poles.  For some unknown reason, my brain reasoned that since this was not a “mountain 100,” I would not need them.  For 26 hours and 40 minutes, they remained tucked into my running kit, warm and dry.  With my poles, all the near falls would have been mute and I believe I would have felt more confident in the mud to continue.

Things look much clearer in the rearview mirror.  What we need to do is to review our shortcomings, learn from our mistakes and build a better plan for tomorrow.  “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.