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Nearly 1,000 compete in JFK ultramarathon

November 23, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Melanie and John Connor saw their father wrapping up a wrenching and exhilarating run, and they joined in.

Melanie, 13, grabbed one hand. John, 11, grabbed the other.

Mike Connor of Hagerstown lifted his children's arms high along with his, jogging together through the finish chute at the JFK 50-Mile ultramarathon. He had done it. Fifty miles.

Connor, a physician, will be 49 just two more months, which is why he kept his legs churning along Alt. U.S. 40 in Boonsboro, the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath, before finishing the run at Springfield Middle School.

"I wanted to run 50 for my 50th," he said wearily.

Close to 1,000 people signed up to run the JFK, which is nearly double the length of a standard marathon.

Jim Becker, 61, of Greencastle, Pa., who's retired from Mack Trucks, said he ran because "it's local" and he knows race director Mike Spinnler.

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Two U.S. Naval Academy graduates and U.S. Marines - Joe Fagan of Annapolis, and Rich Deguzman of Stafford, Va., both 37 - ran to help Destination Cure, a charity raising money for multiple sclerosis research. Fagan carried an American flag on a pole the whole race.

Many took on the ultramarathon, though, as a powerful test.

Logan Samson, 41, a UPS driver from Louisville, Ky., crossed the chalk finish line, tilted his head back, raised his arms and cried out.

Then, he kissed the medal placed around his neck by a volunteer.

Samson, who drove eight-and-a-half hours with two friends for the race, struggled to find words that could describe what he had done.

His eyes welled; he looked away. He couldn't quite do it. "Because of the challenge," he said.

Samson said he trained and trained, running two marathons this year, to be in the JFK. He loved the experience. The Appalachian Trail was beautiful, but precarious, he said.

As daylight disappeared, a Washington County truck sprayed light onto the finish chute. Spectators applauded and hollered for hardy but fading runners.

An announcer egged on the audience, reminding them, "Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the world's population has ever run a 50-mile race."

The late sprinters were dubbed "high steppers." The exhausted walkers were cheered no less.

They came from Dayton, Ohio; Knoxville, Tenn., Ontario, Canada; Galveston, Texas; and many more places.

After taking a few moments for elusive breaths, many headed inside the school to recharge and refuel. Tables of pizza, chicken, soup, orange slices, half bananas, cookies, pretzels, water, soda, coffee and tea awaited.

To get to the food, they passed a makeshift medical care room. Runners sat or sprawled on rows of beds and stretchers. Karen Lowman, a paramedic with Williamsport Volunteer Ambulance Service, said 33 people had been treated as of 6 p.m.

"At the beginning, we saw a couple of people dehydrated," she said. "Then, there were mostly blisters. ... As the day (went) on, we had general fatigue, dehydration, cramping. It was a really warm day."

"We started five IVs and bandaged six knees," Lowman said.

One emergency service worker said at least three people were taken to the hospital: a runner with a broken leg, another runner who was dehydrated and a spectator who slipped and fell from the C&O Canal Towpath and fell in the Potomac River.

Some runners looked energetic when they finished, smiling and posing for pictures.

Running in his 12th JFK, Becker said he was not in his best shape. His time - 9:41 - was his third worst.

Becker's wife, Ann, said he didn't start running until he was 42, when his daughter took up cross-country.

"I was hard-headed," said first-time runner Curtis Weaver of Williamsport. "I thought I could do it."

Then, he touched on what may have been the truer reason.

"It's that 40-year thing," he said, referring to a recent milestone birthday.

"It was a goal to do it one time," said Weaver, who works for Kane Logistics in Hagerstown. "I don't know if I'll put myself through that again."

Standing amid a proud group gathered to congratulate Weaver, his wife, Dawn, wasn't so sure. "Ask him tomorrow," she said.

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