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McDonald is like fine wine at the JFK 50

November 18, 2004|by ANDY MASON

Another mid-November Thursday and another column by me about Matt McDonald.

And they just seem to get better - or at least McDonald keeps improving.

McDonald, 34, of Hagerstown, once again represents the Tri-State's title hopes at the John F. Kennedy 50 Mile. The 42nd annual edition of the nation's oldest and perhaps most prestigious ultramarathon - which covers 50.2 miles of trails, paths and roads between its start in Boonsboro and finish in Williamsport - will be run Saturday. No area man has won the JFK 50, which attracts runners from across the globe, since Hagerstown's Mike Spinnler, now the race director, defended his title in 1983.

McDonald has come close, though. Last year, he placed sixth in a personal-best time of 6 hours, 27 minutes, 19 seconds. In 2002, he was fourth in 6:32:06. In 2001, he was eighth in 6:36:13.

This year, McDonald has been gunning to run it even faster. During his peak training this fall, he ran as many as 110 miles per week.


"I'd like to go 6:10 or 6:15," McDonald said. "I've been trying to change my training a bit. I've done more longer runs of 40-plus miles, plus track workouts to improve on turnover and I've been going to the mountains a little bit more, too."

It doesn't look like he'll have to contend with Colorado's Dave Mackey, who won last year's JFK in 5:55:30, or Michigan's Zach Miller and Kentucky's Eric Groomsman, who tied for second in 6:10:02. As of Wednesday, none of last year's top three was listed among the roughly 1,000 entrants.

"The men's race is a toss-up," Spinnler said. "It's got to be exciting for a guy like McDonald. He's got a shot. I try to remain totally objective, but how can you not root for him?

"Every once in a while, the winning time is not in the 6-hour-flat range, and it opens the door for someone who otherwise would be fighting for fifth, sixth or seventh place. It's still probably going to take something under 6:20 to win it, but McDonald definitely is on the short list of guys who can stand on the top step."

Of course, that short list still is filled with some of ultramarathoning's biggest names, such as Eric Clifton, who set the JFK course record (5:46:22) in 1994, Jim Hage, the 2002 JFK champ, and Ian Torrence, who's won practically every ultra on the planet except for the JFK.

McDonald also has made a name for himself in the ultrarunning world. He no longer is just the local guy who steps up the distance once a year at the big local race. In June, he gave the Laurel Highlands Ultra, a 70-mile trail race in western Pennsylvania, a try and finished fourth. In September, he placed second at the Great Endurance Run (62.4 miles) in Virginia, and about a month ago, he took fourth at the Mountain Masochist 50-Miler - the Montrail Ultra Cup championship race - also in Virginia.

"At the Mountain Masochist, he showed he can run with those guys," Spinnler said. "He's for real. He's on the circuit. He's a real dude."

Surprisingly, McDonald said running all of those grueling races in such a short period of time has not taken a negative toll on his body. It's just the opposite.

"It's actually helped me with my recovery," he said. "The first time I ever ran the JFK, my legs were obliterated for a week. After this last race last month, I wasn't even sore."

It still is all about the JFK for McDonald, a 1988 Greencastle-Antrim graduate and the 1987 PIAA Class AA state cross country champ.

"It's the one I gear toward. If I'm going to do it, I want to be competitive," McDonald said. "Any race I run, I want to win. But I'd really like to win the JFK. One, it's a personal goal, and two, I'd like (the title) to come back to Washington County, at least for one year."

And if it's not this year, McDonald surely will be back to try again the next - and the next and the next.

"I'm addicted to this," he said.

Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at

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