JFK 50 advice from the non-defending champion

November 7, 2010

A fast friend who is headed to the JFK 50 for the first time asked me for advice on the race. Here’s what I told him, more or less:

* Stay patient on the Appalachian Trail. This is especially important for people who can make up time on the roads later. Above all else, you want to avoid tripping and hurting yourself during this section, which will include such hazards as leaf-covered rocks and early starters engrossed in conversation. Last year I came off of the AT seven minutes behind the leaders, and things turned out just fine.

* Ease into a faster pace on the towpath. Upon exiting the AT, it’s easy for us road guys to get overexcited about the smooth footing and the prospect of catching up to the fast starters, and the (pretty accurate) mile markers along the towpath facilitate obsessing about one’s pace. In 2009 I forced myself to run the first few miles of the towpath “by feel,” not worrying about splits right away, and that helped me settle into a pace that was right for me on that particular day. It may take a while to reel in the agile trail guys — I didn’t break into the top ten until mile 25 or so — but they will come back.

* If you’re gunning for the win, get somebody to meet you at the aid stations where outside help is allowed (miles 9.3, 15.0, 27.1, 38.0, and 46.0). Saving a few seconds here and there might be the difference between victory and defeat, as it probably was for me last year.

* Use previous runners’ splits to help you plan how your race should go. Eric Clifton, a notoriously fast starter, set his course record of 5:46:22 in 1994 by running 1:52 for the first 15.5 miles (start to towpath), 2:52 for the 26.3-mile towpath section, and 62 minutes for the final 8.4-mile road section. Howard Nippert’s 5:51:28 in 2005 broke down as splits of 1:58, 2:53, and 60, and current race director Mike Spinnler (like me, a poor trail runner) ran 5:53:05 in 1982 by going 2:06, 2:51, and 56. My splits for these sections in 2009 were about 2:04:30, 2:50:00, and 55:45. In addition, my handler recorded cumulative-time splits for me of 1:09 at 9.3 miles, 2:00 at 15.0, 3:19 at 27.1, 4:32 at 38.4, and 5:24 at 46.0.


  1. Not sure those of us who've seen you at White River would consider you a "poor trail runner". 🙂

  2. Wish I had this list when I ran it back in the 90's. I made every rookie mistake and ended up spending a lot of time resting at aid stations. As bad as I did, though, everyone else seemed to be having the same troubles because I only got passed by a few. Your strategies would have helped us all.

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