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Coverboy Torrence is ultra stud

November 03, 2003|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

It might not be too late to pick up the November issue of Running Times magazine at your local bookstore. If you don't already have a copy, hurry up and get one.

Coverboy Ian Torrence said he'll autograph it for you at the 41st annual JFK 50-Miler on Nov. 22.

"If someone wants one, I'll do it," said Torrence, 31, of Moab, Utah, during a phone interview Wednesday night. "That would be odd."

What's seemingly even odder, though, is how Torrence - the self-described "middle-of-the-pack" cross country runner during his days at Gaithersburg (Md.) High School and Allegheny (Pa.) College - found his way onto the cover and into a four-page feature story of a national running publication.

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"I have no idea how that happened," he said. But that's not entirely true.

It all started at the 32nd JFK in 1994, when Torrence, then a 22-year-old recent college grad, placed 12th in his first ultramarathon.

Now, nine years and countless miles of races later, Torrence is regarded as one of the world's premiere ultramarathoners. He's amazingly completed 109 ultras, roughly one a month since his debut at the JFK, and has won 42 of them.

"I guess there's a lot to be said for being persistent," Torrence said. "As the distance got longer, I got better."

This will be Torrence's 10th straight JFK. He's cracked the top 10 six times, placing as high as third, which he's done three times, including last year. His course best is 6 hours, 9 minutes, 27 seconds - ranking him 17th on the race's all-time top performers list - from his fourth-place finish in 1999.

Even though he has yet to be crowned king, the JFK is Torrence's homecoming.

"This is my 10th one. I've done it every year since," he said. "I like it for a lot of reasons. It's perfect timing for me to come home and visit family, and I have a special attachment to the Appalachian Trail."

Immediately following his college graduation in 1994, Torrence spent 2 1/2 months on the AT, hiking from Maryland to Maine - a trek, he said, that influenced his decision to give the JFK a try.

Torrence, who works as a vegetation manager for four national parks in southeast Utah, has been hot on the ultra trail ever since. In 1999, he won 12 of the 16 ultras he ran. In the summer of 2002, he ran the Grand Slam of Ultramarathons - a series of four of the country's most challenging 100-milers, all in a 10-week span - in a combined record time of 78 hours, 22 minutes.

"One kind of gets you ready for the next," he said.

Next stop: JFK. Goal: Victory?

"The JFK's always very competitive. There's always a ringer," Torrence said. "I think I'm in decent shape. I'll be ready to run well. I've been trying to improve my turnover, so when I hit the canal I can clip along.

"I'd like to be top 10 and under 6:30, and I have maybe some higher expectations, too. We'll see what happens in the next month."

Listening to the seemingly laid-back and free-spirited Torrence talk, this ultra stuff actually sounds pretty cool.

"It's so cool," he said. "The people are cool. You go to cool places. And I do well at it."

Appearing on the cover of Running Times is pretty cool, too.

"I wouldn't want to be on Sports Illustrated or Runner's World," Torrence said, "because they'd probably make me take my shirt off and shave my chest."




Andy Mason is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His running column appears every other Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com

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