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Jamming to records at the JFK 50 Mile

November 28, 2004|by ANDY MASON

Ultrarunners aren't like your everyday, suit-and-tie 5K racers.

They're more like Deadheads pulling together the last of their resources for gas money to the next show.

The tour stopped in Williamsport on Nov. 20. And while hopping a ride in a VW bus might have seemed a more preferable choice at the start in Boonsboro, reaching Springfield Middle School by foot is what turned these Vaseline-lubed, PowerBar-munching endurance freaks into rock stars for at least a day at the 42nd annual JFK 50 Mile.

With 1,026 entrants, it was a sold-out show. With 876 official finishers - representing 44 states, the District of Columbia and six countries - the JFK 50 Mile also set "the all-time U.S. record for finishers in an ultramarathon footrace," race director Mike Spinnler said. "We were all high-fiving at the finish line when the last finisher crossed the line."

The previous mark of 862 finishers was set in 2002 at the JFK, which obviously is much more than your average footrace. From the first finisher to the last, no one has it easy covering 50 miles. That's what unifies this motley crew and fuels its collective mission.


"The camaraderie out there is special," Spinnler said. "It might sound corny, but when you see that, you get goose pimples. You get everybody pulling for everybody. It's human beings really reaching for something extraordinary."

Even Colorado's Paul South, who won the men's title in 6 hours, 11 minutes, 49 seconds, said he couldn't have done it without Ian Torrence and Martin Tighe, who repeatedly challenged him.

"You feed off each other," South said. "You give them their energy and they give you yours. That's the way ultrarunners are."

From start to finish, front to back, everybody captured a piece of the spotlight.

"Not too many people can walk into the office Monday and say, 'I helped set an American record over the weekend,'" Spinnler said. "It's a pretty remarkable testament, not just to the elite athletes but to those in the middle and the back of the pack."

It all happened in our back yard.

"I just really think that Washington County should see this as the gem that it is," Spinnler said. "Is there any other sporting event in Washington County that draws them from this far and wide? If there is, I'm missing it."

· The number of finishers probably wasn't even the most impressive record set at last Saturday's race.

Tim Hewitt, 50, of Greensburg, Pa., placed fifth overall in 6:29:30, knocking more than 12 minutes off the Senior (50 and over) men's mark, set by Frank Bozanich in 1994.

"That mark that Tim Hewitt beat was one of the hallowed marks of the JFK," Spinnler said. "People thought that mark would stand for a long time, and then Hewitt comes and smashes it by 12 minutes. It's mind-boggling."

Both Veteran (60 and over) records also fell. Germany's Helga Brandenburg, a cancer survivor, celebrated her 60th birthday by obliterating the women's mark by a full hour, finishing in 9:36:36. Zeke Zucker, 60, of Jeffersonville, Vt., crossed the line in 7:53:10, trimming two minutes off the previous record.

"It's just so inspiring to see these people doing this stuff," Spinnler said. "They're constantly rewriting what is possible for older athletes."

Women's champion Connie Gardner, 41, of Medina, Ohio, also ran her way into the record book. Her winning time of 7:31:00 was 10 minutes better than Sue Medaglia's 25-year-old mark.

· Encore: Greencastle, Pa.'s Jim Becker, 62, completed his 13th JFK in 9:37:37. Five days later, he won the 60-69 age-group title at the Greencastle-Antrim Turkey Trot 5K in 21:23.

Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. He can be reached by e-mail at

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