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Our Town - Betker runs for health, fellowship

November 22, 2004

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like ...

Paul Betker

Age: 59.

Occupation: Retired from Mack Trucks in 1997 as engine block inspector; works part time as a physical therapy assistant.

Hometown:Grew up in New Brunswick, N.J.; moved to Hagerstown in 1963.

Where would you see Betker? Since 1982, autumn has marked the final stages of training for the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon for Betker. The race covers a challenging course from Boonsboro to Williamsport with portions on the Appalachian Trail and C&O Canal towpath.

Saturday's event was his 23rd consecutive run in the race. His finish times range from 8 hours and 39 minutes to 12 hours and 31 minutes.

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"It takes care of my need to be competitive," Betker said. "I beat the course. The course didn't beat me."

Betker's initial goal was to compete in 10 consecutive JFKs, but the next year was the 25th anniversary, so he felt compelled to run in that one, and didn't stop after that. Now his goal is to do 25 consecutive ultramarathons.

"After that, I'm just not sure. I'll see how the body is going to cooperate," said Betker, who trains year-round for the race.

Over the years, he's run the race in just about everything Mother Nature could dish out - from rain, snow and sleet to temperatures so warm that runners had to pour water over their heads to cool down.

Betker's family moved to Hagerstown in 1963 - the year he graduated from Greencastle-Antrim High School and the year of the first JFK ultramarathon - when his father was transferred with Mack Trucks. Four generations of Betker's family have worked for Mack now that his youngest son recently joined its work force.

Betker has run several marathons - including the Baltimore Marathon in 2002 and 2003 - but said that to do well in the 26.2-mile race, speed is the key. Because he lacks natural speed, Betker said he's better suited to longer runs that depend on endurance.

Betker, who was in and out of the Army after high school, started running at age 26 when he took a course in jogging at Hagerstown Community College to fulfill a physical education requirement.

When Betker started running, his wife, Cathy, took up cycling and often accompanies him on her bike when he runs on the C&O Canal. The couple has been married 33 years and has two sons, Eric and Jason.

Staying healthy - physically and emotionally - is a benefit of running, as are the many friends he's made through the sport, Betker said. He said his wife tolerates his running, which he calls an addiction, because she knows he's in a better mood as long as he gets in his daily run.

Hobbies: Running, swimming and biking are at the top of the list. He played baseball as a Little Leaguer, in high school and in city leagues and still enjoys watching the sport, especially the Baltimore Orioles.

What does Betker like best about Washington County? He likes the rural atmosphere of the county, with the city nearby for going to ballgames and visiting tourist attractions in Washington, D.C.

"You still have access to city things, but you're out of the hectic atmosphere of the city," Betker said. "It's close if you want to go to the city ... yet far enough from the city."

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