JFK50 – The Recon Mission

As with the last 50-Miler that I did, I really wanted to get out to the course and see what I was up against. JFK50 has been known to be a great beginner’s 50-Miler, but with the 12-hour cutoff time, I’m worried that I can’t make it. As you recall, I finished my last 50-miler in 12:34:54 seconds. Yeah, I know it’s a different course, but still…I can’t help but worry. So, I hooked up with another runner (Erin) that I met through a friend of a friend via my Facebook page and we headed out to the Appalachian Trails (AT). Erin, who is one of the most organized people I know, planned out the details of both of our recon runs and I’m so glad she did. I didn’t have to lift one brain cell to think about anything at all. I just followed her lead. (THANK YOU ERIN!)

Recon #1 – We decided to take two cars so that we could do a point to point run. We met at the Harper’s Ferry Amtrak Train station and left a car, then drove to Crampton Gap (JFK mile 9.2) and started our run from there. Our goal was to run just past Sandy Hook (JFK mile 18.4) section for about 10 miles.

Course Map

recon day 1 map w arrows

crampton gap gathland state park


All seemed to be going well until a couple of miles just before Weverton Cliffs. Ummm…seriously? What’s with all these ROCKS?!

Behold – the rocks!

sandy on the switch backs

To date, this has been the most technical section that I’ve encountered on any run. And I say “run” loosely because there was no running on this section. Erin and I carefully (and very slowly) made our way through the AT and chatted about “how is this going to work on race day?” I could feel every rock, which were about the size of a softball or larger, through my shoe with every step. And I kept rolling my right foot over and over again. It weird that my ankle did’t take a beating, but the top of my right foot did as that where I ended up when I rolled. Does this happen to any one else? Anyway, we decided to head down to the overlook and take a break and take it all in. It was beautiful and it was worth the trouble to get there.

Weverton cliffs

recon 1b

sandy and erin

After we took some pictures and grabbed some food, we headed back down the rest of the way and hit the switchbacks. Oh boy. Erin had mention that the switchbacks were her main concern and now I know why. The single track does’t leave much room for allowing another to pass you and not to mention the rocks and roots. Yep. This will be a doozey on race day. I don’t want to hold any runner up behind me, but I don’t want to end up flat on my face and break my teeth either. I’m hoping the more experienced runners will be patient with me while I make my way through this section.

The Switchbacks

erin on the switchbacks

Once we got through the switchbacks, the rest was manageable. We made our way off of the AT and onto the towpath, which was a nice break.

erin at the sign

Of course, we stopped and took pictures because that’s what we do and then headed into Harper’s Ferry for lunch. At the end of recon mission #1, I was feeling very anxious about getting back out there and doing it again. I wasn’t comfortable with what I saw and while I had a glimpse of what I was headed for on race day, I wanted to fell better about it. So we set up a second recon date.

Recon #2 – About a month after our first adventure, Erin and I headed back down. We wanted to check out the first couple of miles of the course as there was apparently a couple of steep inclines that were This time we met up with a runner, Pryia, who came down from NY to run the course with us. Once again, Erin was gracious enough to organize where we where going and what we were doing. We decided on another point to point run leaving a car at Harper’s Ferry again as our end point and then driving to the race day parking area at Boonsboro High School. The first 5.5 miles gains 1,172 feet in elevation….this we had to see for ourselves. On our way, Erin mentioned that she read on a blog that the shoulder on the street from the start to the AT was pretty narrow. Well, she was’t kidding. We decided to start at South Mountain Inn and make our way down to Harper’s Ferry.

Amtrak Station at Harper’s Ferry

harpers ferry

Not to soon after we started we trekked up that 1,172 feet in elevation. We made it to the top and then stopped. There were two gates blocking the path. One, which looked like some crazy top secret government hideout place, and the other blocking the entrance of what looked like a trail that we should be on. The three of us decided to head back DOOOOOOOOWN that ginormous paved mountain that we just climbed to see if we missed an opening to the AT. Luckily we were only about a half mile or so down on our decent when we bumped in to a couple folks that told us that the gate to that trail that we saw was the right way to go. UGH! Back up that freaking mountain again. Guess a little extra hill workout never hurts, right? No one told us that you have to squeeze around the gate, then shimmy next to some building along a teeny tiny back to make you way to the AT, but I’m glad we figured it out and we’ll know what to do on race day.

The Gate – Yes, you can Pass Through

the gate

So, how was it the second time around? Better, but not much. I was a smidge quicker getting through the technical section just before Weverton Cliffs, but this time the switchbacks scared the bajeezus out of me. I pray that I make it out of the AT in one piece. Going back for a third recon mission would be great, but I don’t think it would make me feel any better about the AT at all. Besides, I simply cannot fit it into my calendar so I’m going to just say that I’ve seen enough and be done with it until Nov. 22.

Recon #2 Posse

erin sandy pryia overlook

Post Recon Ice Cream

recon icecream

For those who can, especially the beginners, I highly recommend getting out to the AT at least once. After both training runs, I decided that my shoe wasn’t rugged enough for the AT. I hear a lot of people say that you can run it in your road shoes, and if someone said that to me right now, I’d tilt my head to the side like a dog and stare at them like they’re crazy. And I also decided that I’m going to try and run with my hydration vest for this race. I didn’t run with it with my last 50-miler, but even though they have plenty of aid stations on this course, some reason I just feel the need to do so for this one.

I’m glad to have made it out there, but I’m worried that the lack of consistent training this season is going to hurt me. I’m not as strong as I was for the TNFDC-50-miler and I’m not getting all of my mileage in. I’m hoping that by some miracle, I’ll float through the C&O section of the race with wings on my feet so that I can make the cut off. Fingers crossed.

Here are additional pictures taken from the recon missions.


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4 thoughts on “JFK50 – The Recon Mission

  1. You are a smart cookie for feeling things out pre-race. I think it will make your experience so much more enjoyable. I used to like surprises, but I’m getting too old for that 🙂 and the ankle foot roll thing – I was just thinking about that yesterday as I did it twice. I was really surprised my ankle didn’t get hurt and it was all the top of my foot. Good to know I’m not alone in the struggle, although I definitely would rather have a bruised foot than a blown out ankle!

  2. You are much more experienced on the trail and have been getting in runs, the grit will get you through. You lares know you can do a 50 and I do believe you are faster. Smart to do recon, I’ll be cheering you,from here!!! ❤️

  3. Thanks for your recon report. Wondering if the hydration vest proved to be better for you than relying on water at aid stations, rather than carrying your own supply.

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