A dramatic ending to the JFK 50

November 21, 2009

“Where the hell did you come from?” That was Michael Arnstein’s question as I pulled even with him during the 49th mile of the JFK 50.

Michael’s surprise was understandable, for he had been gliding toward an apparent victory for quite some time while I slowly reeled in the people behind him. After a cautious traverse of the 15.5-mile Appalachian Trail section of the course, I was in about 15th place, seven minutes behind the leaders. It wasn’t until mile 25 or so that I broke into the top ten and mile 35 or so that I entered the top five. I finally overtook 2nd place (Matt Woods, running his first-ever 50-miler) at mile 40 or 41. I was three minutes behind Michael at that point, and when told at mile 44 that I was still three minutes behind him, I gave up on the idea of winning. I was working really hard to run 6:50 miles over rolling country roads, and without a target in sight, I couldn’t go any faster.

Then at mile 46 I was told that the lead was down to 2:11, and the chase was on again. I accelerated, brought Michael into view, accelerated some more, and hunted him down like the cold-blooded killer I can be in such situations. Poor guy. I wound up with the narrowest margin of victory in the 47-year history of the race, 45 seconds, and the second-fastest time in race history, 5:50:13. It was undoubtedly the most exciting ultramarathon finish of my life, and I think the photographic evidence will confirm that I broke the tape with a huge smile on my face.

So how exactly did this happen? To start with, I think my fall training avoided some previous mistakes. For example, I shortened my long-and-hard runs a bit to avoid trashing my legs as much as in the past. I still tried to run near race pace along routes that roughly resembled the race course, but I gave myself more flexibility (in terms of both pace and venue) than before so as to make the training more enjoyable.

As for the race itself, there was a certain amount of luck involved, but I also credit myself for being very, very patient. I knew that I couldn’t stay with the leaders on the rocky Appalachian Trail, so I let them go without getting too stressed out about it. Then when I reached the flat, wide towpath that constitutes the middle 26.3 miles of the race, I resisted the urge to make up lots of ground quickly, instead letting myself ease into the faster pace. I also resisted the urge to check my splits every mile using the towpath’s mile markers, which likewise would have added more stress.

Finally, although it’s obvious that I and all ultrarunners depend on support from spouses, friends, race volunteers, etc., today’s race provided a particularly striking example of this. My friend Henry Wigglesworth, a former Seattle resident now living in Washington DC, served as my handler. At each of the five aid stations where personal handlers were permitted, he had my drinks and food ready so that I didn’t have to fend for myself or convey my needs to the aid station volunteers (who were great, by the way). He probably saved me an average of 12 seconds per aid station. If you recall that my margin of victory was 45 seconds, it is not much of a stretch to say that I won the race because of Henry.


  1. Congrats,Greg! Great race, and great to see you in good form.

  2. Fantastic work, Greg! You've filed some disappointing race reports the past couple years (even though to many, your results would have been anything but disappointing). So this result, an unqualified triumph, must be especially gratifying. I think I speak on behalf of all your readers when I say the following: *you earned it*.

  3. Congrats on a super race!

  4. So Sick!!! Wow Greg that truly was a dream finish.Congrats on running such a smart race and Closing so strong!This is a race that will keep a smile on your face for many many years! Thanks for sharing your story so fast!

  5. Excellent work, just excellent. Congrats!

  6. Way to go Greg!! HL2k!!

  7. "Race Of a Lifetime" status for sure!Don't underestimate the benefits of racing in a black top while running over blacktop- if it had been CNW traffic-cone orange he would have seen you a mile sooner! In all seriousness- great work.

  8. Greg — Thanks for thanking me, but it really was an honor to be there for you. I have long admired your balanced life, speed, and good humor. Thanks for inspiring me and other runners with that exciting finish (wish I had seen it myself).–Henry

  9. Congrats Greg ! Amazing job.

  10. Greg, I wanted to say congrats on coming back to a race that humbled you a few years ago and absolutely conquering it this time around. Superb pacing and execution! You continue to inspire.

  11. Way, way cool! Nice going. And this was a strong field too.

  12. Congrats on a race of a lifetime and making such a fun finish to follow. We don't get your type of finish often enough in Ultras.

  13. Hey Greg,Sounds like a great race. Congrats. Enjoy your Thanksgiving Holiday. Tell Liz and Phil we all said hello.

  14. Congratulations Greg! It was really exciting to hear about your results on Saturday, and man what an amazing race to read about. Thanks for the great recap, and congratulations on an incredible race out there! Rest up and happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Congrats Greg! It sounds like a spectacular race. Happy for you 🙂

  16. Way to go Greg. What a great race! Great blog report also.I'd wondered where Wigglesworth went. Glad he could help you. I always got a great feeling when I was able to help. Vicarious (what a great word) success for him.

  17. Congratulations on the victory! Fantastic job…

  18. Great, great going!

  19. Geez, I neglect to check your blog for a couple of days and look what happens! Allow me to be 19th person on this blog to congratulate you on a terrific run, Doogie. That must've felt *sweet*!

  20. Kick Ass Greg!!!

  21. Awesome, Greg! Wait a minute, not checking splits at every mile? You just might be turning into a trail runner! 🙂

  22. I knew when I saw that you had your own thread on letsrun.com that you must have done something big. Congratulations!!!

  23. Congrats, Greg!I ran into Oz Pearlman on a flight from JFK to Sacramento on Sunday and he told me all about your win. Way to go, you killed it out there.

  24. Greg,Fantastic Race and Finish. I'm glad you had Henry helping out. It's interesting to hear your recounting of the race.

  25. Here's a link to a picture of you just before you finished (either cut or paste, or just click my name below):http://img163.imageshack.us/img163/369/img3850.jpgCongrats on a superb race!

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