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Harrison wins test of wills

November 23, 1996

By MARK KELLER

Staff Correspondent

WILLIAMSPORT - To hear Michael Harrison tell it, one would think he had just endured a prize fight instead of an ultramarathon.

But then, there aren't many prize fighters who could take the punishment that Harrison experienced on Saturday.

Harrison, a resident of Virginia Beach, Va., won the 34th Annual JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon in his first attempt, finishing in 5 hours, 55 minutes, 46 seconds. It was the fourth fastest time in race history.

Courtney Campbell of Berryville, Va., was runner-up for the second straight year with a time of 5:58:20. Jonathan Strayer of Beaverdale, Pa., crossed the line in 5:59:58. It was the first time that three runners have finished the grueling course in under six hours.

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Bridget Brunnick was the top womens' finisher and 27th overall. Her time was 7:20:03.

Harrison, a two-time competitor in the Olympic marathon trials, had never run a race of more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) before Saturday. He was on a record pace through 35 miles before his legs tightened and his eyes began to get heavy.

"I was getting hungry and I was fighting low sugar for the last 16 miles or so," Harrison said. "Then I couldn't see. My eyes were getting so heavy I felt like somebody was punching me. They just wouldn't open up.

"I got a little beat up coming off the trail, running with an upset stomach. I'm used to running 26 miles. This is too much."

Campbell was thrilled with his time and not at all disappointed that he finished second again.

"Well, I improved by about 24 seconds over last year so I can hardly feel bad about that," said Campbell, who only runs in ultramarathons. "I don't enjoy the towpath. It's too flat for too long, but I'm learning to tolerate it more."

Strayer passed Campbell on the towpath for second place and remained there for several miles before Campbell was able to catch him and regain the position.

"(Strayer) has no idea that he was what drove me through this today," Campbell said.

Strayer got off to a rough start, pulling a tendon in his foot about two miles into the race. He stopped at the 10-mile mark to put an arch support in his shoe and continued on. As he approached the finish line, the small crowd gathered at Springfield Middle School began to cheer him on to the finish.

"I had no idea what a good time was in a race like this," said Strayer, also a marathon runner. "I heard them say I could beat six hours, so I figured I better do that."

Brunnick, who placed second in the womens' field last year, reduced her personal best by three minutes. One factor in her improved time was the beautiful weather on Saturday. She also changed what she ate before the race.

"We had a dinner on base last year the night before the race and they served Moroccan (sp?) food," said Brunnick, a member of the Marine Corps. "It was awful and I felt bad the entire race. This year, I did it right. Just plain pasta."

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