JFK Preview on This Week In Running (Week of 11/21 & 11/22)

In our last installment of TWIR before Thanksgiving (yes, we will be so busy preparing the turkey next Wednesday that we won’t be able to grace you with a Thanksgiving edition of TWIR), we could fill you in about the Cardiac Endurance Trail Run (50 mile, 50k and 25k) in Warda, Texas. Or, we could detail the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Run (50k, 30k, 18k and 9k) taking place in La Jolla Canyon, Malibu, California. Better yet, we could highlight the NYRR Knickerbocker 60k in Central Park, New York. No, we won’t tough any of those. Instead, this week’s edition of TWIR will take a look at one race, and one race alone. The largest ultra event in North America. The 47th Annual John F. Kennedy 50 Mile.

Alright, Tony, go enjoy some turkey and a trail run. It’s Bryon Powell, aka Trail Goat, here to fill you in on this year’s JFK 50 mile. To start off, this year’s JFK 50 mile is once again a Montrail Ultra Cup race. As such and given the fact that it’s a 50 mile race, both the top two men and top two women will earn spots in next year’s Western States 100. All competitors that finish will receive points toward the overall MUC rankings. (Read iRF’s discussion of the MUC.) Below, I’ll direct you to some JFK 50 resources, throw out some names of folks who are running it, and share some advice on JFK that I sent out yesterday.

Best of luck to everyone running the JFK 50 Mile! Leave a comment if you are running the race or would like to send a racer well wishes.

JFK Resources
JFK 50 mile run

The Contenders
Rather than putting together a resume for each “contender,” I’m simply going to let you know who some of the big dogs are on this 1,000+ entrant list! I’ve surely missed some top runners among the hordes, so throw out any that I missed in a comment. Also, feel free to handicap the top runners… it’s going to be quite a race. The only non-race is the open team competition, which goes to Ian Torrence et al, but more on that later.


  • Meghan Arbogast
  • Annette Bednosky
  • Francesca Conte
  • Devon Crosby-Helms
  • Justine Morrison
  • Monica Ochs
  • Jill Perry
  • Jennifer Vanallen


  • Todd Braje
  • Pete Brenckinridge
  • Josh Brimhall
  • Eric Clifton
  • Gregory Crowther
  • Chris Farley
  • David James
  • Scott Jurek
  • Hal Koerner
  • Oz Pearlman
  • Ian Torrence

I’ll indulge with a bit on Ian. He’s has been a member of all but one JFK team champion. This year he’s joined on the Rogue Valley Runners team by the likes of Brimhall, Clifton, Jurek, and Koerner.

Advice on Running the JFK 50
I wasn’t planning on sharing any thoughts about running JFK in this post, but this afternoon I ended up writing the following advice to a woman running her first JFK on Saturday. The advice is tailored for an experienced marathoner who may or may not have run an ultra before. It, however, is not tailored for folks trying to break 8 hours at JFK.

* * * * *

As for Saturday, you won’t have to worry about not having run technical trails of late. Supposedly the first 15ish miles are trail. That’s only partially true. There are a couple road miles out of the gate and then another section of paved bike path on the “trail.” To be sure, there are miles of rocky trail on the AT – especially the final descent! Take it easy – there will be plenty of roadies to keep you company. You will make the early cutoffs even if you walk chunks of the technical trail. Just keep the rubber side down.

If you’re waffling over trail versus road shoe, I think that even more trail runners wear road shoes. If you can be careful early, you’ll be thankful for the road shoe feel later! That said, some hybrid trail shoes like the Brooks Cascadia or Asics GT-2140 Trail would be fine choices, as well.

Once you get down to the tow path, the easiest of run-walks would keep you ahead of cutoffs. At most 50 milers, I’d advise people to walk the places where the terrain suggests that you do so. That could be ruinous at JFK, as you’ve got a pancake flat marathon following a 15 mile trail run. If you’re in it to finish, take walk breaks on a schedule. If you’ve got some solid marathon or ultra credentials, you shouldn’t have to set up a 5-1 or 10-1 walk ratio. Instead, grab what you need in the aid stations (i.e., get your hydration supply topped off, drink some fluids, and grab some snacks, if so inclined) and then walk out of the aid station. You can keep eating and drink, but (1) you keep moving and (2) get a nice walk break.

As the tow path drags on, consider scheduling a one or two minute long walking break between aid stations that are spaced farther apart. If you’ve prescheduled the breaks, you won’t feel defeated and 2 minutes of walking after half an hour of running won’t slow your time down by much.

A quick word on aid stations, as I suggested above, walk out of them if you are concerned with time. Go in with a purpose and don’t get overwhelmed by the choices or coaxed into letting someone cook something for you. Grab and go! :-) Lots of time can be wasted this way.

Given than the weather is cooling off, don’t overload yourself by
carrying 60 ounces of water. You’ll be fine with the equivalent of one handheld bottle that you can refill at stations. Sometimes I even run right through an aid station without topping off if I figure I have enough fluids to get me to the next one. One way to help nurse the water you carry is when you do stop at an aid station to get a bottle filled and someone else is filling it (they often do), take the time to drink two cups of fluid.

There are 8 comments

  1. Bryon Powell

    Thanks, Mark. While I don't know Johan, I certainly learned that Jason Bryant is quite the runner while covering the La Sportiva Mountain Cup this summer and Wynn Davis, a speedy (and interesting) ultra guy.

  2. saschasdad

    Johan is South African. He holds the world record for 3 marathons in 3 consecutive days, set at the Tahoe Triple in 2006. He's also a perennial top finisher at Comrades. Last year at JFK he went out hard, then I think finished 4th. He's a good guy. And fast.

  3. Speedgoat Karl

    It's gonna be a burner! Oosthuizen may surprise some of the US folks. That's the beauty of JFK, so many guys out there that can run 6hours, they just have to nail it. I ran on the towpath along the AT for a bit last year. Damn it's flat! We'll all be watching.

  4. Mark Lundblad

    Johan last year took it out hard on the trail, then the 20 mph headwind and 20 degrees temps on that towpath caught up with him and everyone else. I bet he will be thinking about that this year. The trick to JFK is to put yourself in a position off the AT section whereas you have not killed yourself trying to stay near the front nor do you want to relax and fall too far out the back and out of contention. Good technical trail runners run the AT section with ease whereas other runners have to work harder to get through it. This race takes extra discipline more so because it is a fast course, there are 3 types of terrain and there are so many fast runners every year who take it out hard (easy to get caught up in that). The elite women run smarter, usually the case in most ultra races. The AT section is often a set up for how your day will go..IMO.

  5. Bryon Powell

    Karl, you're right about that tow path – mind-numbingly, leg-deadingly flat! Still, the race is surprisingly "fun" to run.Mark, I agree with all your points, especially about the elite women running smart. That's why a wear a "Run like a girl" hat in big races… to remind myself to run smart and tough.

  6. Bryon Powell

    A regular iRunFar reader emailed me asking for some last minute advice on sneaking in under 8 hours at JFK. Here are the thoughts I shared:I think you should keep two things in mind in trying to break 8 hours and something not to worry about.First, don't waste time. Go into aid stations with a plan. Have the top of your bottle off when you get in to the aid station, drink some cups while they're filling your bottle, and then be out of there as they give you the bottle back. Gotta pee? Hold it for a while. You could save a minute or two by reducing the number of potty stops. Trust me, these will be tempting during the non-stop run of the tow path.Second, commit yourself to running pretty much all of the tow path and all of the road, except its very steepest of hills. Don't go out hard on the first climb to the AT and don't work too hard on the trail. You need to have your legs under you when you hit the tow path. Keep the effort under control when you do hit the tow path. An easy pace at mile 18 will be a huge ass effort at mile 41… if you can even do it!Don't be too worried about the splits. I didn't at all. Go out controlled, get into a steady easy rhythm on the tow path, stay tough the latter half of the tow path, and then dig deep those last 8 miles!

Post Your Thoughts