Teen runner setting fast pace

January 03, 1997


Staff Writer

Liz Wood's drive to her job at McDonald's on Sharpsburg Pike normally takes five minutes. On Saturday, it took her a little longer to get to work.

First, she ran 50 miles at a record-setting pace in the 34th Annual JFK Ultramarathon.

The South Hagerstown High junior shattered a 23-year-old record for junior runners 19 and under with a time of 8 hours, 56 minutes and nine seconds, 53:49 under the previous record. Then she worked the closing shift at the restaurant.

Her co-workers "all thought I was strange," said Wood, 16. "They were all calling me Forrest Gump. I couldn't walk well. My feet hurt and my head hurt. They put me on the back drive-thru all night."


Wood could have used a break that day, but it wouldn't have fit into her schedule.

Most days, Wood balances school and work with cross country and track practice. She might have outdone herself in planning for the JFK.

"I made time for this," Wood said. "I knew (the race) was coming up all year 'round. If I had to run another 50 miles tomorrow, I wouldn't be ready. I was mentally prepared."

It was Wood's third JFK. Her time was 2:03:44 faster than her time last year, her previous best. She was the first of 19 juniors to cross the finish line, and the 12th woman and the 147th overall finisher.

Wood's preparation started when JFK race director Mike Spinnler gave her a list of past junior finishers. The previous record, 9:49:58, was set in 1973 by Valerie Harden of Frederick County, Md.

"Mike said he thought I could get under nine hours," Wood said. "I was shooting for nine hours. I sat down and figured out I would have to average 11-minute miles for the entire race to finish in nine hours."

Even with her plan in place, Wood was literally running on borrowed time.

"I lost my watch, so I wore my friend's," said Wood, the daughter of Chip and Marilyn Wood of Hagerstown. "She didn't know. She had left it over at my house a long time ago and it was in my dresser."

Wearing the borrowed watch, she began the race at Boonsboro High School.

"I kept running and I kept hitting 11-minute miles," Wood said. "Then I started missing by a couple of seconds. By the end, I thought I had to run the final six miles at 10-minute splits."

She said the beginning of the race, along the rocky Appalachian Trail, was her favorite part. But she started to labor mentally and physically on the C&O Towpath - the 26.2-mile marathon within the ultramarathon - before reaching the finish at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport.

"I started to tell myself I had two more years to beat the record," she said. "At one point, I was right on the button for nine hours. Then I started to tell myself I can't quit now. It's all painful now, but if I get the record, it will all be worth it. The hurt will go away, but it would have hurt more if I would have quit."

Then Wood found out why her friend might have left the watch behind - it ran fast. So did Wood.

"I was getting to the finish line and I couldn't see the clock. I thought I heard someone say I had 40 seconds to spare, but after I crossed the finish line, I found out the watch was four minutes fast," she said.

The quick pace worked out perfectly. It gave Wood time to recover and enjoy some of the hoopla that accompanied the record, including a standing ovation from the 600 runners and spectators at the race's awards ceremony.

"They wanted me to stay around to talk...but I couldn't because I had to get to work," she said.

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