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Trims fat, adds more running flavor

JFK 50

November 19, 2004|by ANDREW MASON

The John F. Kennedy 50 Mile defies most reasonable logic.

"In this day and age, not to give social commentary or anything, but we live in a country where two-thirds of the people are fighting to get under the obese mark," JFK 50 Mile race director Mike Spinnler said. "And that's pretty wild in a country with that state of physical fitness that we can get a thousand people on the starting line for a 50-mile footrace. I'm proud of that. I think Washington County should be proud of that."

The United States should be proud of the JFK 50. It's the oldest, largest (in participation) and perhaps most prestigious event of its kind in North America. And it's right in our own back yard.

The 42nd annual edition of the race will be run Saturday. Between its start in Boonsboro and finish in Williamsport, the course includes stretches of roughly 13 miles on the Appalachian Trail and 26 miles on the C&O Canal Towpath. The race has two start times - 7 a.m. for the majority of the field which plans to finish by the 7 p.m. cutoff time and 5 a.m. for those who want an extra two hours to complete the course.


With 1,000 entrants - representing 37 states, the District of Columbia and eight countries - the JFK is filled to capacity. The individual story lines seemingly are more endless than the miles of the route.

Several men are in contention for rights to the championship story, which usually is told in about 6 hours. While Boulder, Colo.'s Dave Mackey, last year's champ, is not expected to defend his title, Kensington, Md.'s Jim Hage hopes to pick up where he left off in 2002, when he became the JFK's oldest winner at age 44. Hage did not race last year.

"Jim Hage is the man to beat until he gets beat," Spinnler said.

Other title contenders include: Canadian Clark Zealand, 30, the 1999 runner-up; Nevada's Ian Torrence, 32, a perennial top-10 finisher; Baltimore's Serge England-Arbon, 39, who placed fourth last year; and Hagerstown's Matt McDonald, 34, who was sixth last year. There are at least a half-dozen other runners with rsums of potential champions.

"The more and more I'm viewing things, I think Clark Zealand and Ian Torrence are the guys to watch," Spinnler said. "They're both very hungry. They've been close so many times."

Laura Nelson, 39, of Woodstock, Va., appears to be the class of the women's field. Nelson, a South Hagerstown High School graduate, won the JFK in 1991, 1992, 2000 and 2001. While she was the ninth woman to cross the finish line last year, her victory at the USA 50 Mile Road National Championships last month indicates that she's back in top form.

Bethany Hunter and Connie Gardner, the JFK's previous two winners, are not registered to run.

"I think Laura Nelson is easy money if you're betting on her, especially after what she did at the U.S. championships," Spinnler said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's Laura's race to lose."

The Veteran Women's (60-and-over) title appears to be Helga Brandenburg's to lose. Brandenburg, of Cologne, Germany, will be wearing race No. 60 on her 60th birthday Saturday.

"We don't usually highlight the age-group competition, but we expect Helga Brandenburg to just crush the 60-and-over record (10:36:44). She ran in the mid-8s in her 50s," Spinnler said. "She's coming all the way from Germany on her 60th birthday to try to hammer the record."

In the Veteran Men's division, Spinnler said Zeke Zucker, 60, of Jeffersonville, Vt., "has all those 60-and-over guys shaking in their boots." Zucker won the Senior Men's (50-59) division last year in 7:47:48. The Veteran Men's record is 7:55:46.

Of course, the JFK is more of a test of endurance than a race against the clock for most participants.

"The vast majority just want to finish the thing," Spinnler said.

There are a thousand new stories waiting to be told.

"There are a lot of neat stories," Spinnler said, "people coming from all over whose year rotates around this event."

For a course map, complete list of entrants and more race information, visit the JFK's Web site at

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