50 mile jfk race

5 Mental Toughness Lessons From 50 Mile JFK Ultra

The funny thing about racing and competition is that running a 50-mile ultra, the test comes first and then the lessons come afterward. Such is life… Here are the five epic mental toughness lessons that I learned from my 50-mile run. 

Race Breakdown:

The race started in the town of Boonsboro, Md at 6:30 on a chilly morning. It was perfect for running actually. The route went straight uphill for 2.5 miles to the Appalachian Trail and we were on the AT for 15.5 miles. This section was rocky; there was no sightseeing at all because one small misstep and you would be down. I saw two people bite it hard (yes, I stopped). After the AT, we descended onto the C&O canal for 26 miles. The final stretch was 8 miles of rolling hills on the road to complete the 50 mile JFK race.

1. Process > Product
2. Mindset.
3. Everyone Runs Their Own Race.
4. NO ONE Gets There ALONE. 
5. Sub 10:00 hour Race. 


1. Process> Product

We are all going to train, prepare, and practice way more than we actually race or perform. This is true in life! So, how we prepare is the most crucial piece.

I am not a special snowflake. If I can do it, then so can you. I KNOW that if someone has the will to do a race like this, then they can. It just takes mastering the base of Mental Toughness which is Motivation. 

I followed Maggie Guterl’s advice from my podcast,  “If your heart is not in the training, then it’s probably not good training.” I made sure I stayed committed to my preparation.

2. “Why” Mindset

Before signing up, I asked myself if not now, then when? If not you, then who? My “why” for doing this race was the challenge and it was a similar motivation as doing the Ironman last year as well.

I love pushing myself and doing things that I didn’t think were possible. At first, I thought 50 miles was a long way to run. And it is, but what the mind believes, it will achieve. 

But, the biggest motivator was for my kids. I want them knowing that anything is possible! And doing crazy shit is cool.

Living on the sidelines of life talking about other people doing great stuff is not living. 

One of the added motivators, however, was that one of my golfers, Tyler Duncan posted a 61 the day before at the RSM classic. I thought about many of my athletes, but knowing he was in the mix, made me push as well. He ended up winning his first PGA Tour event the following day! 

3. Everyone Runs Their Own Race

Between twenty and forty miles, I’d see the same people frequently.  People stop at the aid stations or stop with their SAG ( support & gear). There were run/walkers whose strategy is to run 9 minutes, then walk one minute. This allowed them to run a bit faster. In these packs of seeing the same people, it’s important to encourage and support one another.

With the brief friendships that are formed, you actually get to know details about people’s lives. For instance, I shared with a few people when we passed exactly where I fell off an 80-foot cliff in college. I got choked up. 

But, no matter what, everyone still has to run their own race, especially in the 50 mile JFK ultra. Some speed up and get stronger, while others struggle and drop off the pace. You root for these people and encourage and challenge them, but you still have to focus on what you’re doing.

4. NO ONE Gets There ALONE

lessons from 50 miler

(Mile 38 and I’m catching one last stretch listening to Porter’s motivational tip before moving on.)

NO ONE Gets There ALONE is a grand title for a book! 

I love this picture because it shows everyone’s involvement and role. Everyone had a job for these quick rest stops. There were 3 total stops; At miles 15.5, 28, and 38. My crew was dialed in and each stop averaged about 3 minutes each.

We practiced these stops as well, refueling the Tailwind in the bottle and my  33 Fuel gel packs, getting gum and ginger mints, and changing my shirt if needed. The stops were so precise that if just 2 minutes were added to each stop, then I would not have broken 10 hrs. 

We practiced worse case scenarios and we made certain that no talk was ever mentioned about how many miles were left or not finishing. No matter how bad off that I was when they saw me, there would have been no talk of quit at all. 

5. The Sub 10:00 Hour 

The race got really hard at mile forty-two because when we hit the road of rolling hills, the focus changed.

Instead of a focus of one mile at a time, I started counting down the miles…

Whenever our focus changes to the results or the outcome, there is fear. Fear lives in the outcome! 

I saw the time with 8 miles remaining and tried to do the math on what it would take to get sub 10hrs. I knew it was going to be close. But, I also wanted to walk some of the uphills.  I made the decision and told myself, instead of listening to myself, that I was NOT GOING TO WALK.

If I made it, great, but it would have far worse to finish having walked and missed a goal. It was the pain of discipline rather than the pain of regret. 

There was no walking, and frankly, when asked, I was most proud of this feat in the 50 mile JFK race.


dr rob bell speakerDr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. DRB & associates coach executives and professional athletes. Some clients have included three different winners on the PGA Tour, Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. 

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