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South's heart too tough to beat at JFK 50

November 21, 2004|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Paul South helped heal his broken heart by breaking Ian Torrence's.

South, 31, of Superior, Colo., won the 42nd annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon Saturday, topping a field of roughly 1,000 competitors in 6 hours, 11 minutes, 49 seconds. Torrence, 32, of Boulder City, Nev., finished second in 6:12:50 as the pair staged one of the tightest battles in JFK history.

South's ex-girlfriend can take some of the credit for his successful JFK debut.

"We had a painful breakup in June after 4 1/2 years," South said. "She's a really good ultra runner, and her goal was to come run this thing. And I thought, 'Well, I'll go there and steal her thunder.' That's why I signed up."

She never made the trip, but South said he didn't forget about her.

"Actually, we're friends now," South said. "At the end of the race, I was thinking about all the people I love, and she was one of them."

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The women's race also was narrowly decided. Medina, Ohio's Connie Gardner, 41, who won the JFK in 2002, won it again in a Masters (40 and over) record 7:31:00. Woodstock, Va.'s Laura Nelson, 39, a four-time champ and South Hagerstown High graduate, took second in 7:34:00. Sue Johnston, 38, of Waterford, Vt., the 1999 champ, finished third in 7:40:17.

Beginning the 26-mile stretch on the C&O Canal Towpath, roughly 16 miles into the race, Nelson trailed Gardner by 10 minutes. With four miles left in the race - after both runners had passed early leader Johnston on the towpath - Gardner's lead was four minutes. And that proved to be just enough.

"I didn't see (Nelson) after the starting line, but I knew she was there," said Gardner, who waited until Friday evening to even register to run. "I knew she would come up at the end like that. I know her. I know how she is. She can come at any time and she did."

"I was just trying to get up there, hoping she would crash. You never know," Nelson said. "I was hoping to run a little faster, like maybe a 7:10, but it just didn't happen. But I'm happy. I'm not that disappointed."

Torrence clearly was disappointed. He finished his 11th straight JFK and still is looking for his first victory. He's placed third three times and now second once.

He thought Saturday finally would be his day, especially the way he felt so strong the final eight miles. He passed third-place finisher Martin Tighe (6:14:47), 46, of Providence, R.I., like Tighe was standing still with a little more than one mile left. He then went after South.

"The way they were coming back to me, I thought it was mine," Torrence said.

But he ran out of real estate.

As painful as running 50 miles is, Torrence said he wanted "two more."

"I love this race. I really, really want to win it," said Torrence, who made his ultramarathon debut at the 1994 JFK and has since run 146 ultras, winning 43 of them. "I started crying 100 meters from the finish line."

South led the race from the beginning. Tighe and Torrence each caught him during stretches on the towpath, but South managed to regain his lead each time.

"I was hoping he would just totally bonk or trip or fall in a manhole or something," Torrence jokingly said. "Or maybe someone on a bike would run him over."

But South seemed strong enough to run over a truck.

"He matched strides with whoever caught him and then beat them all. It was amazing," race director Mike Spinnler said. "Every time we thought he was done, he came back.

"You couldn't ask for a better race. It was three fantastic athletes duking it out, and it was still any man's race with a mile to go. I can't say watching guys suffer for 50 miles is entertaining, but it was an entertaining race."

Mark Lundblad, 35, of Asheville, N.C., finished fourth in 6:20:38, and Tim Hewitt, 50, of Greensburg, Pa, took fifth in a Senior (50 and over) record 6:29:30. Jim Hage, 46, of Kensington, Md., who won in 2002, was seventh in 6:37:32.

Hagerstown's Matt McDonald, 34, a three-time top-10 finisher and the area's only title contender, was in about 10th place when he dropped out of the race with four miles remaining. He was in third place at 25 miles and fourth at 40.

"I just stopped and sat down and said, 'This is it,'" McDonald said. "I was mentally and physically drained. I just couldn't go on. To walk the last four miles, to me, would have been pointless.

"It's just disappointing. I feel like I let myself down and let a lot of other people down, too."

The area's top finisher was Kevin Sayers, 45, of Frederick, Md., who was 40th in 7:44:01.

Washington County's top finishers were Williamsport's Scott Draper, 33, who was 52nd in 7:55:43, and Boonsboro's Frank Lum, 39, who was 62nd in 8:04:17.

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