On the Trail to my First Ultra-Marathon: Research

Over the course of the next 328 days, I will be focused on prepping myself for my first ultra-marathon, the JFK 50. Unlike my first personal marathon attempt, I want this event to go smoothly (which it won't because we all know how that goes). The most I can do is properly prepare myself physically and mentally. Prior to my physical training, I am researching every aspect I can about ultra-marathons, trail running, and the JFK 50 race itself.

I have started with reading the book. It provides me with a training schedule that lasts 24 weeks (I would begin training literally 1 week after my marathon...how's that for timing?) and advice on gear, weather conditions, burnout, over-training, cross-training, and so much more! I am also looking into trail running books/guides. You may have heard me in the past talking about "hitting the trail," but don't be mistaken. That "trail" is the C&O Canal.

 It is flat and does not have any jagged rocks or tree roots like the AT does. Yes, I have still managed to trip and severely rip open my knee on this generally flat path, but that's beside the point. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is 100x more technical.

Thanks, Competitor.
I have already started researching the race itself. I am very familiar with the C&O Canal portion of this race, as I run on it at least 2 times a week during the winter months and nearly 5 times a week during the summer.

 I also have run portions of the last 8 miles which are on pavement. The only section of the JFK 50 I have not yet trekked is the AT. I have read several race reports and have watched many YouTube videos from runners who have participated in past races to familiarize myself with what is coming my way (my favorites: JFK 2012 & JFK 50 2013). However, most of the bloggers I am running into are seasoned trail runners, some of which have scoffed at the walkers that could not handle the rocks hidden underneath the fall leaves. Others have detailed their injuries or have witnessed others get severely beat up by falling. To say the least, I got little sleep last night as I visualized myself tip toeing through the rocks that could send me to the hospital.

I've still managed to hurt myself on the canal
I decided that I will need to see the AT for myself. Not just see it, but train on it. Lucky for me, I live less than 20 minutes away from where the JFK 50 turns onto the AT. I see that as an advantage. There are many runners that run the JFK without ever having the opportunity to run the route. I have literally no excuse for not training on this trail. I may not be able to run or explore the route in its entirety, but to understand the difficulty and become comfortable with the danger that's ahead is the best I can do.

Also, I imagine that adjusting to a new terrain will only improve my running and who knows, maybe I will start finding the C&O so incredibly boring that I will just take to the REAL trails from here on out! I don't anticipate on attempting running the AT until I am actually within my 24 weeks of training. The last thing I want is to injure myself prior to my marathon in May. Until then, I may hike it, but I will primarily keep my nose in the books and learn more about ultra-marathon training and trail running.

Are you a trail runner? How did you familiarize yourself with this terrain? How did you feel comfortable, even in dangerous areas?

What is the best advice you can give to a first-time trail runner?

Any book recommendations for first-time ultra runners or trail runners?

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