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Hage takes time to come of age as JFK's oldest champ

Hage takes time to come of age as JFK's oldest champ

November 25, 2002|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Jim Hage isn't one to leave a job unfinished.

Even if it takes him nearly three decades to get it done.

Hage, 44, of Kensington, Md., won Saturday's 40th annual John F. Kennedy 50-Mile ultramarathon, 28 years after dropping out of his first and only previous attempt at the event in 1974.

He also became the race's oldest champion. No one over 39 had ever won before Saturday.

"It's made-for-TV movie stuff," said JFK director Mike Spinnler.

"It took me almost 30 years to finish the race," said Hage, who covered the mountains, roads and paths from Boonsboro High School to Springfield Middle School in 6 hours, 13 minutes and 10 seconds. "I'd always thought about the race after dropping out. I've been doing marathons for the last 25 years, and I always wanted to come back."

Hage, the Marine Corps Marathon champ in 1988 and 1989 and an eighth-place finisher at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, said winning the JFK ranks right up there on his accomplishment list.

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"I'm really proud. It's a big win," he said. "I've never done an ultra and this is a big ultra."

Actually - as North America's longest standing and most-participated ultramarathon (roughly 1,000 runners competed Saturday) - the JFK's considered huge by most. Spinnler said it compares to the Boston Marathon on the ultra circuit.

"This is definitely a big race," said women's champion Connie Gardner, 38, of Medina, Ohio, the 17th overall finisher in 7:11:47. "I wanted it pretty badly."

Gardner, a JFK first-timer, took control on the C&O Canal Towpath, passing early leader Bethany Hunter, 23, of Lynchburg, Va., between miles 20-25 and never looking back. Hunter finished second in 7:35:22, while 1983 South Hagerstown High graduate and four-time champ Laura Nelson, 37, of Waynesboro, Va., placed third in 7:41:24.

"I'm good at long races," said Gardner, the 2002 national 100-kilometer champ, who was all smiles as she charged across the finish line Saturday.

"I don't feel very good the first 30 or 35 miles," she said, laughing. "It takes me 40 miles to warm up, and then I'm like, 'What? It's ending already?'"

Four-time men's champion Eric Clifton, 44, of Albuquerque, N.M. - who owns the course record of 5:46:22 from his 1994 win - was the runner-up Saturday in 6:19:43. Rounding out the top five were Ian Torrence, 30, of Moab, Utah in 6:27:21, Matt McDonald, 32, of Hagerstown, in 6:32:06 and Serge Arbona, 37, of Baltimore, in 6:33.26.

For the second straight year, McDonald was Washington County's top finisher.

While he achieved his goal of improving on last year's place (eighth) and time (6:36:13), McDonald appeared to have his eyes on an even bigger prize. He led the race, by as much as two minutes at times, from miles 20-29.

"I felt good but I knew it was only half-way through the race," said McDonald, the last runner passed by Hage. "He went by me and looked very relaxed and strong. He ran a real smart race.

"I had a bit of a lapse and was just kind of out of it. I felt like somebody put a refrigerator on my back. But I regained it and then just wanted to finish and improve on (last year)."

When 50 miles stand between the start and finish, nothing is ever taken for granted.

"I really just wanted to go out and see what I could do," said McDonald, a native of Greencastle, Pa., and the 1987 PIAA state cross country champ. "It's a challenging course, physically and mentally, and it's good competition.

"Everyone's a winner here."

Other Washington County runners in the top 25 overall were Williamsport's Terry Artz, 37, who finished 21st in 7:27:59, and Boonsboro's Frank Lum, 37, who was 23rd in 7:30:30.

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