Friday, May 26, 2023

2022 recap, part 2: "a rebuilding year" and the JFK 50

Note: This was originally written over a month ago!

My iPhone does this thing where it puts together cute videos for you to look back on from all the million photos you take, and recently it put together an "April 13, 2022" video which was pretty much exactly a year ago. (Blogger isn't too video-upload friendly, so just take my word for it.)

This was the day where Ainsley and I were on our first trip to California together. She met so many of my cousins, aunts and uncles in the morning. Then I went for a long run. I think I was aiming for 20 miles. Sneezed on a downhill. Tore my meniscus. Called mom to pick me up (I blogged about this last year). Didn't know I tore my meniscus, but it hurt more than I let on, and later that night met up with my childhood BFF to watch Everything, Everywhere All at Once (which has since become a multi-Oscar winner, woohoo!). I probably should've been on crutches and could barely hobble across the street from our parking spot. She then took me to Dick's Sporting Goods right after the movie (10 minutes before they closed) so I could get a hinged knee brace.

Needless to say, it was an eventful day. 

12 months later, I now look at 2022 as "a rebuilding year". That's what my husband always says about his favorite Philadelphia sports team when it's not their year.  I already did 2022 part 1 with my Waterman's Half race report, so I should probably talk about JFK 50 (almost 5 months late *cringe*). I have a marathon this weekend, so I might as well catch up on last year's race reports before the 2023 season is too much underway!

JFK 50 last year was such a fantastic experience. I didn't realize until after the race that I had scribbled down some notes back in 2019 about putting together an all-Asian-American female running team and call it "Crazy Fit Asians". This was a year after the Crazy RICH Asians movie had come out. It was really just a fantasy brainstorm after starting to seek out and follow other awesome AAPI athletes on Instagram, and was meant for a huge event like the Speed Project.

To have recruited 3 other awesome women, get us cute matching panda tops (and recovery hoodies), and for me to recover from a meniscus tear and knee surgery and make it to the start (and FINISH) line, was a dream come true. We even had a last-minute athlete swap when Clarice Chastang had to do an Ironman instead (she is a pro triathlete, after all). Who were we and how did we know each other?

  • Joanna: an amazing ultrarunner who I befriended in our Team RWB days. We were 2 of maybe 3 or 4 Asian-American women on the team and would get confused for each other even though we look nothing alike. She gravitated to triathlons when I got more into ultramarathons and had her son as a "geriatric mom" 5 years ago. We ended up bonding about being moms. Busy, working moms who missed their athletic identity. She was the first person I reached out to about Crazy Fit Asians!
  • Rose: a newbie triathlete who I also met through Team RWB in the Delaware area. She is an Air Force officer! She did her first sprint tri the same time I did my first postpartum tri. She has run marathons but needed some convincing to step up to the 50-mile distance. Panda running shirts helped.
  • Mikka: was our last minute swap! She crewed our mutual friend Caitlyn--who I call my "inspirASIAN" as she got top 5 at JFK the first year I did it, then qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon, then did JFK while pumping the previous year!!! Caitlyn and I had pandemic babies around the same time. I actually hit up Caitlyn early on, but she was trying for baby #2. When Clarice couldn't make JFK, I realized that Mikka would be running and she was absolutely tickled to be a member of our team.
  • Becci would be our main crew person (for me and Joanna). Another solid friend from the RWB DC days who is an absolutely stellar and delightful support person!

So these are my draft scribbles I put together just a week after the race (November 23rd, I need to get better about this!):

Super crew chief Becci

Becci drove us straight to the start, we parked 2 blocks away and found a "secret bathroom". I then located Mikka, who was in the porta potty line, escorted her to the secret bathroom, and then we all huddled up at the start. We did a huge group hug--I wanted to give a bigger, more inspirational speech about how much it meant to me to have our little team together, but it was so loud, and chaotic, and the clock was counting down, so I just blurted out, "I'm so proud of all of you!!!"

We headed out slowly together, chatting the first 2 miles on pavement, and almost immediately every one of us felt overdressed and started sweating. What else do you do when it's forecasted to be in the low 20's, and "feels like" it's in the teens?! None of us had trained for this kind of weather. The last big training run (30 miles with Rose) just 2 weeks before the race, it was in the freakin' 70's! Mikka glided ahead before we got onto the Appalachian Trail, and Rose, Joanna and I shuffled up together. Rose ended up disappearing ahead for a bit, which I attributed to her early years as a dancer (fancy footwork!). Joanna and I planned to run the whole thing together, and took turns taking the lead--mostly me though. I had a little more trail time living very close to trails (a couple miles from White Clay State Park in Delaware, which is fantastic) and we both had been doing drills with an agility ladder as suggested by pro triathlete and FKT crusher, Alyssa Godesky.

Our primary goal throughout the trail section, as always, was NO CATASTROPHIC FALLS! I was especially concerned about getting through this section because of my meniscus surgery--all this lateral movement was going to test it out. I wore my CW-X Endurance Generator tights for the duration of the race, specifically to give my knees extra support. Whatever would help! I knew if I could survive the trail section, I would make it to the finish line. We did get passed left and right, but didn't stress about it. There were even sections we wondered if we were lost, because there was no one in front of us. (Admittedly, I did lead us off course for about 5 steps and right into a tree--there were A LOT of leaves, OK?!) We found Rose again around mile 13 and ran together a bit before she dropped back.

Mostly we chatted a little bit (when the trail wasn't too technical), complained about how hot and sweaty we were in our overdressed state, and the trail miles went by way quicker than we expected. There are a ton of huge sharp rocks and I really was paranoid about falling and busting our heads on these rocks. I had a couple of stumbles but stayed upright. Joanna ended up going down, but when I looked back, it just looked like she had slowly fallen into a huge pile of leaves, and got right back up! She ended up bruising her hip a little bit, but shook it off and we categorized it as "non-catastrophic" (phew!). We got to the final switchbacks and kept commenting "I don't remember it being this steep and technical!" It was like hiking down huge rocks in some parts. I actually felt like I was doing a bunch of one-legged squats at one point, which made me laugh as I did a ton of one-legged squats in my physical therapy rehab from the knee surgery!

We got off the trail and heard the crowds and cowbells! Becci had her panda hat on and we slid behind the caution tape where we could finally shed some layers. I pulled off my outside warm-up pants, my SmartWool vest, and my long sleeve baselayer, and put on my Coeur zipperless aero top (POCKETS) with my Crazy Fit Asians tank top over the top. I ALMOST ditched my sweater headband, but decided to keep it on (phew). I took off my Hello Kitty ankle gaiters but note to self, leave those on next time as I got a lot of leaves in my shoes from the towpath section. Surprisingly this outfit served me well for the 30deg temps the rest of the race! I kept my mittens on with the handwarmers and my sweater headband. If I got too hot, I got rid of the handwarmers, but kept the mittens on, and could also take my headband off if I needed to (this only happened later on in the final road section, but the very final miles I needed it again). The night before, Joanna had asked "is there any scenario where you think we'll be wearing short sleeves?" and I didn't think so, but added my short sleeve aero top into my race gear box (a small Yeti cooler) as an afterthought and am so glad I did! It was really impressive how I could manage my temperature just by keeping my hands and head warm. I also switched from my Camelbak vest with 50oz bladder to my Orange Mud single bike bottle (24oz) holster. I knew from previous ultras that I start to get lazy about drinking from my Camelbak, and it's very difficult to gauge how much you have had to drink when you rely on a bladder. At least with the 24oz bike bottle, I made a strict schedule about when to refill it (at every crew stop and once in between each), and could chug the bottle if I got to a refill point where I hadn't finished it yet. 

Once we hit the towpath, we just CRUISED. We chatted about all life things (mom life, work life, life before kids and marriage). We had 5 previous JFK 50 finishes between the two of us and neither of us had been back since becoming moms. Joanna's son is 5 and Ainsley is almost 2. Neither of us had trained very much, because life. And my knee surgery. And definitely not as much as we used to. Joanna had a sub-10 goal, and I wasn't too tied to any result. I had initially thought we could go low 9's or 9:30, all depending how the trail section went. We ended up going just a little slower on the trail section, which was totally fine as the main goal was to get through it unscathed!

We stopped to eat at the big aid stations when we were hungry (shout out to the custom cookies at mile 19, the French fries and bacon at the next stop, and Santa Claus and the Christmas aid station later on). We peed behind trees (there were usually lines at the official porta potties) and took short walking breaks when needed, but never for too long and usually to get food stuffed into our faces. I refilled my bike bottle as scheduled and this worked out really well! For the most part, I also took a Huma energy gel every 30 minutes when not having solid food (an Egg McMuffin at crew stop #2, Uncrustables here and there, and the aforementioned cookies and French fries).

That's the end of what I have, that never got finalized into a published post.

Here are our other teammates who did not spend 50 miles attached at the hip with us:

Now about that last 20 miles....

We both felt really good, still cruising. As I said, while I didn't have any real time goals, I knew Joanna wanted to break 10 hours and not have "the vest of shame" (you get a reflective vest off the towpath if they think you'll finish in the dark). Since I had only run up to 30 miles in training (who runs any farther than that for a 50-miler? anybody??) I just hoped my body would hold up. I still had some groin soreness in training when I ran too long, like over 3 hours (it's a postpartum thing). I didn't really want to think too much about it. But when we hit 35, either me or Joanna said "15 miles to go...that's only 3x 5-milers!" and we got excited because we weren't slowing down too much and still making good time. We would periodically look at each other and say "we're doing it!!!" We got off the towpath (8-ish miles to go, so 42 miles in) which is when I started to really struggle. It's back on the road but also becomes rolling hills. I think we had to take some walking breaks. But we would also alternate feeling bad. I felt better shuffling up hills slowly whereas Joanna could power walk the hills and then jog slowly so I could catch up. But I think with 2 miles to go I got a huge surge of energy, then I was the one feeling amazing and pushing the pace!

My GPS had been a mile or so off since getting off the Appalachian trail, so I couldn't quite believe it when we hit the final turn. I heard a lot of noise, and there was a huge finish liner banner. "Is that really it?!" We had both done JFK in previous years when there was less sponsorship money, smaller finish line banners (if ANY), and much less fanfare (this was the 60th edition after all). We both started crying like fools. "We're really doing it!" (Which is really funny when you think about it, as we have both done longer and more epic events previously (including those 5 previous JFK finishes between us), but nothing like that since becoming moms. It just hit different.)

"Are we gonna hold hands across the finish line?" We totally held hands across the finish line!

In the end, it wasn't our fastest JFK (it was in fact my slowest), but it was absolutely the most enjoyable, most memorable, and most meaningful. Mikka had killed it, and we got to cheer in Rose who survived her very first ultra!

As far as the mom part, here's my "real talk ultrarunner mom life" post I wrote on IG (because why not just copy and paste things I wrote in the immediate aftermath): "Ainsley was just FURIOUS at me when she saw me for the first time at mile 27 of the race. She's definitely a mama's girl and had been out in the cold in a big crowd, and oh yeah, it was naptime. She screamed and turned her face away when I tried to kiss her, then of course wailed "MAMAAAAA!!!" as Dad carried her away to calm her down and put her to sleep. So heartbreaking as I yelled "Mama loves you! But Mama has to run some more!"

Dad and Ainsley both looking less grumpy
(obviously not taken during the race)

I was incredibly grateful to run with fellow "old ass mom" Joanna who totally GOT IT--we spent hours bonding about mom guilt, what it's like trying to maintain your athletic identity while also being a great mama, and how hard it was trying to train for such a long race while sacrificing some family time.

By the time Ainsley saw me running towards the finish line, we were both smiling big, then her face fell as I kept running away from her towards the finish line. Then she was mad at me again...but nothing a couple Uncrustables and singing "Wheels on the Bus" 20 million times couldn't cure."

We also got to finally meet Yuna and Caitlyn! Caitlyn was in face 20-something weeks pregnant and we commiserated about how cranky toddler gets during an ultramarathon compared to when they were infants a year ago and could be schlepped almost everywhere without complaining.

And there was another Caitlin who came to cheer for us, the very one who crewed my very first JFK 50 in 2016...back when she was pregnant with their oldest of 3 girls!

And it is NOW, for real, actually over 6 months since JFK 50-miler happened, and this race report is far from perfect in capturing how special and meaningful it was to run as the Crazy Fit Asians. In an attempt to bottle up that feeling in the month afterward, Joanna and I decided to actually buy the URL At first it was to offer the many friends who asked, the opportunity to buy and sport their own Crazy Fit Asians shirt. But we also think it could be something more. So check out the website to get an idea. We are also both pretty busy working moms, so things are slow moving...but the options are limitless!