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JFK race brings dedicated runners

November 24, 1996

By Richard F. Belisle

Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - It was a few minutes before 1 p.m. Saturday when Michael Harrison of Virginia Beach, Va., trotted past the New Life Christian Church at 302 S. Artizan St.

Inside the church at that moment Kyle Jonah and Cheri West were standing before Pastor Ken Harris saying their marriage vows.

Harrison, 28, oblivious to his surroundings, was concentrating on the finish line a half-mile up the road. He was heading for first place in the 34th running of the annual JFK 50-mile foot race.

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Just before the finish line, Harrison, along with the other 759 runners who would follow him in the next eight hours, passed by Roy Maas and his camera.

Maas has photographed every JFK Marathon since the first one in 1962. As official race photographer, he takes pictures of each runner and tries to sell them a print of themselves in action.

His business, World of Color, went full time in 1971. Since then, he said, he's photographed nearly 2,200 races and more than 2 million runners.

He said he works just about every weekend. "I photographed the TransAmerica Race, more than 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to Times Square in New York.

They run 50 miles a day for 60 days. They get real blisters on that one," he said.

Mass said he has 45 part-time photographers working across the country.

Two were photographing Saturday's race at the 9 and 30 mile check points, he said.

Maas had nine loaded cameras and rows of film lined up and ready for use on the ground behind his red, 1968 Mercedes Benz sports coupe, one of nine classic cars he said he owns.

"Most runners want pictures of themselves," Maas said. "I wouldn't be standing here all day if it didn't pay. This is how I pay for my cars." Maas began his day Saturday at the start of the race at 7 a.m. in Boonsboro and expected to keep taking pictures until it was over at 9 p.m.

Runners still out after 9 p.m., 14 hours after the start, are pulled off the course by race officials.

As impressive as it looked around 1 p.m., when the first three runners zipped through the finish line - all making it in just under six hours, a record for the first three finishers in the JFK - it was even more impressive after dark. Most of the runners were expected to finish between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., said Robert Hall of Cumberland, a race official at the finish line.

They were coming in one at a time, by twos and some by threes, but they kept coming, out of the darkness, men and women, some young, some middle aged, many in their 50s, 60s and 70s. An unconfirmed report said an 81-year-old man was on the course.

By 7:40 p.m., an hour and 20 minutes before the race was to be called off, 552 runners had crossed the finish line, the most in that time in 20 years, one race official said.

Among them was Joe Cleary, 56, of Ontario, Canada. He's been doing marathons for 14 years. He started out as a way to quit smoking. It took two years worth of running to quit smoking, he said, but he's hasn't stopped running since. He's run marathons in every state but Idaho. Every year he runs one in the Arctic Circle.

"I'll run 'til I die," Cleary said. "I hope to keel over on a run."

Hall, 38, who said he was a marathon runner "50 pounds ago," said runners compete against themselves, not each other. Some have run the JFK 25 or 26 times.

He said 10 percent to 15 percent of those who start don't finish although he expected better results Saturday. "The conditions are great today. There's no wind, no snow and no ice," he said.

Glenda Torrence of Gaithersburg, Md., stood near the finish line around 1 p.m. with dozens of supporters waiting for runners to come in.

Torrence was waiting for her son, Ian Torrence, 24, to finish. "He came in second in a 100-mile race in May," Torrence said. "Running has been the driving force in his life ever since he started in junior high."

A foot away Kathy Fiske and Mary Sayers sat on the grass eating lunch. They had met only a few hours earlier along the race route. Fiske, of Norfolk, Va., was waiting for her husband, Kevin. Sayers was there supporting her boyfriend, Buddy Gadams.

"We just met. We got lost together following the race in Weverton," Fiske said.

Saturday's race was the first 50-miler for both men, the women said. Both men have run in 100-mile events and both regularly run eight to 12 miles a day, they said.

"It's tough on a relationship," Fiske said. "When Kevin is in training for a race all he does is run, eat and sleep."

"They become so intense," said Sayers, whose boyfriend is training for a 150-mile race across the Sahara Desert.

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