The Algonquin 50K: After two DNFs, I finally earned another finisher mug

Female runner, bundled up for winter, running on a thin trail.
Here’s a photo of me running the Algonquin 50K. This photo was taken around Mile 3. (Michaela Young photo)

I finished the Algonquin 50K in 2017. Then, after three years of volunteering at the Eastern Shore Running Club aid station, I decided I wanted to run the race again.

The year I decided to return was 2021, the now-infamous year of the snow bombs. It was miserable, the course was covered in water, and I was cut at Mile 15. So, I had to go back the next year. Struggling with plantar fasciitis and coughing-while-running issues, I had another miserable go at the race and my bib was taken at Mile 24.5 when I didn’t meet the cutoff time. There’s an eight-hour cutoff for the race, with aid station cutoff times along the way.

During 2022, I worked on these issues and got a diagnosis for the coughing (irritable larynx syndrome). I also did some work on speed and did some strength training (not much, but more than I was doing). In January 2023, I ran on the Algonquin Cross-County Trail four times as part of a more-than-140-mile month.

After my two DNFs — that’s Did Not Finish — I finally earned my second Algonquin finisher mug at this year’s Algonquin 50K, which was Feb. 4.

Swag set out on a wood floor — black T-shirt with logo, race bib and fanny pack with koozie and magnet in it.
This race always has great swag! (Vanessa Junkin photo)

Runners were met with a bitter cold day, with temperatures at the start in the teens. The Garmin Connect website tracked the starting temperature as 18 degrees — “feels like” 10. I think it got up to 30 degrees, maybe up to 31 or 32.

I run warm, so I was mainly concerned about the cold temperatures because I figured the course may have a lot of cold standing water based on previous years I’d run this race. Thankfully, the course was extremely dry, and because it was so cold, the terrain was also hard. Normally, it’s easy to sink in, but the frozen ground almost made parts of the course like a rooty road.

I wanted to keep my average pace under 15:00 per mile. Because I missed aid station cutoffs in both 2021 and 2022, I also wanted to bank some time early on. It’s not necessarily a great strategy, but I also figured that with the 50K distance, I would be slowing down in the later miles no matter what.

When I ran the Tuckahoe 25K in November, I did a good job of maximizing opportunities with the terrain. I ran during flat stretches and road portions, and I walked up hills. I planned to do the same thing at Algonquin (there aren’t hills, but there are harder and easier stretches), while also following run-walk intervals.

I never wear headphones for races, but I wore my AfterShokz (now Shokz) for this year’s Algonquin. For much of the race, I just listened to the voice of the Intervals Pro app, telling me when to run and walk. I had the intervals set to four minutes of running and one minute of walking. I didn’t want to carry my phone in my hand, and this worked well.

Female runner, bundled up for winter, running on wooded trail.
Here’s a photo of me during the race, I believe from not too long before the Mile 10 aid station (Joe Andrews photo).

I also listened to a little of a book (but it felt weird to listen to a book during a race), an episode of my favorite podcast, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and the start of an episode of “This American Life,” another favorite. During the out-and-backs or other times when I was around a lot of people, I just listened to the interval instructions.

The beginning of the race is the most crowded, and in the midst of others along with the excitement of the race start, the fact that the ground was dry, and the fact that I skipped the walking intervals, I ran the first mile in 12:31. I knew I would slow down, and I knew I needed to slow down, but it was nice to bank two-and-a-half minutes right away.

The first aid station is around the four-mile mark, and although I saw some friendly faces, I decided not to stop, as I didn’t want to lose any time and didn’t feel I needed to stop yet. I was wearing a hydration pack, and the bottle tubes had been frozen from the beginning, but I didn’t think to do much about that till later. If I wanted a drink, I had to take the soft flask out, unscrew the lid and drink from it. Because of these extra steps, I don’t think I drank enough water early on, which probably created more coughing issues for me toward the end.

Early on in the race, Stewart told me how much he liked my blog and that he had read last year’s the night before the race. If you’re reading this, that really meant a lot, and I really appreciate it! I always love to hear from anyone who reads my blog. I also got a photo with Stephanie, who had traveled to the race from New Jersey.

After that first aid station is a dirt road, and then more of the trail. I’d run at Algonquin more than usual leading up to this year’s race, and I knew exactly what was coming. Around Mile 8, there’s usually a huge mud pit (I have some epic photos taken of me from past years). Thankfully, it was completely frozen this year.

Smiling female runner getting helped at aid station.
Here I am getting some assistance at an aid station, I believe the Mile 19 one (Joe Andrews photo).

Along the way, I saw my friend Joe taking photos. He asked if I was warm enough and offered me some hand warmers. I’d purchased some hand warmers the previous day, but of course, I forgot to bring them, so I took him up on his offer. Strangely, I was pretty warm everywhere except my thighs, which felt ice-cold, even though I had on leggings and didn’t have any exposed skin on my legs.

This was worrying me a little bit, and I figured I could use the hand warmers on my thighs (I don’t think that’s recommended, but to me, it was worth a try). I didn’t have a good way to hold them in place in my leggings — they slipped all the way down my legs as I ran — but I ended up putting them in some small front pockets. A few miles or so later, the cold-thigh feeling faded, so I was happy about that.

The Delmarva Moms Run This Town/She Runs This Town aid station is around the Mile 10 point. To this point, I had kept my average well under a 15:00/mile pace, and Karen, who was volunteering there, told me I was well ahead of the cutoff — I think by about 25 minutes. Since I know so many volunteers along the course, it was great to get a nice personal welcome at every aid station.

I think I had a bottle of water refilled here, and I had a cup of ramen. I figured drinking the hot broth might help with the cold thighs.

As I crossed a street after this aid station, an officer ran with me across the street, getting me running again from a walk.

Mile 11 was my first mile that took more than 15:00. I had time to spare at this point, but my pace and confidence started slipping a little bit between the Delmarva Moms station and the Mile 15 aid station, run by the Pemberton Running Club. I think it was because I wasn’t drinking enough water.

This section also includes “the beach,” which had a lot of non-frozen sand to get through. I allowed myself three miles that were over 15:00 before getting back on track. This was also where I started listening to my book — it was starting to get lonely out there. Also in this section was the only place my feet got a little wet.

It was nice to turn from the Furnace Town trail onto the Algonquin Cross-County Trail and start heading directly toward the Mile 15 aid station, seeing the faster runners coming back. When the out-and-back started, I was around Mile 13, and the runners coming back would have been around Mile 21.

Two female runners on dirt road. One is struggling and the other is supporting.
My friend Susan ran me in to the Eastern Shore Running Club aid station, which is a little past Mile 28. (Joe Andrews photo)

I was keeping track of my time and knew I still had a cushion, but after those three miles, I picked up the pace, completing my next miles in 13:12 and 14:24.

When I stopped at the PRC Mile 15 aid station, I mentioned to John, one of the volunteers, that I had to take my bottle out of my pack every time I wanted to drink water because the tubes were frozen. He and another volunteer helped clear out the frozen tube, which made a huge difference. I felt great during the Greenbriar Spur, which is an out-and-back between Miles 15 and 19.

Bundled-up female runner stopped at aid station and smiling.
I took a brief stop at the ESRC aid station (Phil Crouse photo).

I felt like being able to drink from my tube gave me new energy. I made up some time during this section and chatted with someone new for a little bit, with Miles 17, 18 and 19 coming in at 13:15, 14:42 and 14:26. Mile 20, which included another stop at the aid station, was my slowest mile of the day, at 18:09. I had the volunteers try to clear out the other water tube. It didn’t quite work, but I had a bottle refilled and I had the obvious idea later to just switch the top to the other side.

I think had a potato and some chips here. Some of my aid station choices are blending together, but I was leaning toward the saltier choices — even though I normally have a huge sweet tooth and choosing salty foods meant passing up the cake at the aid stations. I also brought some of my UCAN gels and took those throughout my race.

The next aid station to make it to was Midshore at Mile 24.5 — the one I had to end my race at in 2022. As I neared the Midshore aid station, I could tell my pace was slowing, but I kept up my run-walk intervals. Before I made it to the aid station, I read plenty of signs that had been put out on the course, and then, I could hear the music.

I felt like I was beaming as I reached the Midshore aid station with several minutes to go before the cutoff. However, as it was only several minutes, I knew I was starting to cut it closer, and I couldn’t stay long. Mike, one of the volunteers, told me if I got a pierogi from Jenni, I would finish. I made sure to get a pierogi, and I also had a water bottle refilled.

Horses follow the last runner, and I saw two people on horses at the end of the aid station. However, it wasn’t quite time for them yet. I left the aid station at 1:35 p.m., ahead of the 1:40 p.m. cutoff. I did hear “The Final Countdown” around the time I left — not a good sign at a race.

I figured if I made it to Midshore by the cutoff, I could make it to the next aid station — Eastern Shore Running Club, around Mile 28.5-ish — by the 2:45 p.m. cutoff. I had the same amount of time between aid stations as the last time, but I had to go a slightly shorter distance (based on my watch, at least). I also knew that if I were to get to the ESRC aid station at 2:45 p.m., that likely wouldn’t give me enough time to finish under 8:00 at my current pace, so I wanted to be ahead of that. The race began at 7:30 a.m., so eight hours would be 3:30 p.m.

Bundled-up female runner on a trail making a struggling face.
Although Michaela had some encouraging words for me, I was clearly not as joyous here (less than half a mile from the finish) as I was at Mile 3 (Michaela Young photo).

I knew volunteers along the course, but I am the president of the Eastern Shore Running Club. I definitely didn’t want to get pulled at this aid station, or so close to the end. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

Starting with Mile 20, all of my miles had been above a 15:00 pace, but back on the dirt road leading up to the ESRC aid station, I pulled out a 14:14. Susan, one of our members and volunteers, came up to me as I neared the aid station and ran it in with me.

Again, I knew I didn’t have much time. I had a potato and some ramen, which I took with me as I continued. I left the aid station at 2:36 p.m.

Bundled-up female runner running on grass toward finish line.
Here I am making my way toward the finish of the Algonquin 50K (Craig Young photo).

There’s a sign that marks the 45K mark, with 5K to go, but I knew it would be longer than that on my watch. I was skeptical about whether I would be able to make it to the finish line in under eight hours, but I knew it would be close and that I was going to give it a try. On the other hand, there was another part of my brain telling me that I would be able to cross the finish line since I had made it through the last aid station, and it didn’t have to be an official finish.

I had started having some issues with coughing, and it was especially bad in this last portion, as I tried to pick up the pace. I was listening to the intervals, but I was also doing extra walking as needed.

I was looking at the Algonquin Cross-County Trail mile markers, and then the Milburn Landing Hiking Trail mile markers. The Milburn Landing markers counted down how much of the trail was left. I was not feeling good about finishing under 8:00 with the amount I had left, but I tried to convince myself that maybe these mile markers started somewhere else and I actually had less left. Either way, I kept pushing, as I figured there might be a chance to make it to the finish in under eight hours.

I felt like I was trying to sprint at times as I completed the last full mile in 14:04; I did have to walk some because of coughing. I saw Michaela, who was taking photos, right before I crossed the road to make it to the finish line, and she was motivating, telling me I was going to finish, whether it was unofficial or official. I exited the trail, went onto the road and ran on the grass, crossing the finish line after running and walking for eight hours, two minutes and 54 seconds.

Bundled-up female runner holding fist out for a fist bump, with another fist showing to the right.
Here I am getting a fist bump as I’m about to cross the finish line of the Algonquin 50K (Joe Andrews photo).

Although I was just short of an official finish, Race “Dictator” Trent Swanson handed me a beautiful pink finisher mug, created by Amused Studios. I got a fist bump before I crossed the finish line, and my name was announced as I neared the finish. Afterward, I got to see my boyfriend, Mike, and some friends.

I quickly got very cold, and I was also sore, particularly after trying to make up for lost time in that last mile. I finally had a small piece of cake and a beer in my mug, and I slowly ate some other food.

Trail races are not exact and not everyone’s watch distances match, but my watch logged 32.08 miles in an average 15:03 pace.

I said if I finished the race, I was going to go back to volunteering. I still think that’s my plan as of now. However, despite the distance, this race was not miserable for me. I also did not have a point where I felt like I hit the wall or had an exceptional struggle. I slowed down and could not keep up the pace that I had earlier on, but I kept moving and I was happy. I also felt like the time I spent at the aid stations was needed.

I will say that afterward was a different story. My body had a hard time recovering physically, and I needed a ton of sleep, but I am finally feeling back to normal.

Cheers to finally earning that second mug!


Mile 1: 12:31
Mile 2: 13:08
Mile 3: 14:29
Mile 4: 14:00
Mile 5: 12:34
Mile 6: 13:48
Mile 7: 14:31
Mile 8: 14:38
Mile 9: 14:50
Mile 10: 14:45
Mile 11: 16:37
Mile 12: 15:12
Mile 13: 16:11
Mile 14: 13:12
Mile 15: 14:24
Mile 16: 16:46
Mile 17: 13:15
Mile 18: 14:42
Mile 19: 14:26
Mile 20: 18:09
Mile 21: 16:47
Mile 22: 15:47
Mile 23: 16:06
Mile 24: 15:30
Mile 25: 17:17
Mile 26: 15:44
Mile 27: 16:25
Mile 28: 14:14
Mile 29: 15:50
Mile 30: 15:49
Mile 31: 16:11
Mile 32: 14:04
Last bit (watch had .08): 0:48 (9:30 pace)

Total: 8:02:54 on results (8:02:56/15:03 pace on watch)

Check out my BibRave review, and write your own, here.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin holding handmade pink mug.
Here I am with my beautiful finisher mug!

3 thoughts on “The Algonquin 50K: After two DNFs, I finally earned another finisher mug

Comments are closed.