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Hard habit to break

Wood comes home for 12th straight ultramarathon

Wood comes home for 12th straight ultramarathon

November 19, 2005|By KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

SUPERIOR, COLO. - After she finished the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon in record time, 16-year-old Liz Wood went to work.

Clocking in at an area McDonald's restaurant after a day of running was no big deal, she said.

Nine years later, the junior women's record-holder is returning to Washington County to compete for the 12th straight time.

The JFK 50 Mile is America's oldest ultramarathon. Today's event takes participants from Boonsboro to Williamsport along paved roads, the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal towpath.

To gain speed for the race, Wood runs marathons. Last year, she began hitting the gym to improve her strength.

"I'm not a disciplined, steady, by-the-book kind of person. I'm kind of all over the place," Wood, 25, said between runs and work commitments in Superior.

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The 1998 South Hagerstown High School graduate has three jobs and recently completed her master's degree.

Wood ran her first JFK 50 as a 14-year-old in 1994, two weeks after South High cross-country coach Bob Hornbecker told his team about the grueling ultramarathon.

"When I was a freshman, we thought we were all big and bad for running six miles in our long training runs," Wood said.

Hornbecker, a veteran JFK 50 competitor, told Wood and her teammates he was planning to run the race.

"After I did it the first time, it seems like cake now," Wood said. "It doesn't seem like that big a deal."

Wood set the junior women's record of 8 hours, 56 minutes, 6 seconds in 1996. A sense of accomplishment keeps her going, she said.

She ran her first 100-mile race in 24 hours, 24 minutes in North Carolina in April.

Wood said she enjoys the pace of long races, which she said demand more mental strength than lung capacity.

"I think it's 90 percent in your head," Wood said. "You have to know in your head that you're going to be out there all day, and it's going to go on and on and on."

Wood said she tells friends who are suffering from self-doubt or low self-esteem to try running.

"'You know what?'" Wood said she tells them. "'Don't do a 50. Come out and do a marathon with me, then you'll think other things are not so hard.'"

Wood, who substitute teaches, waits tables and cares for a handicapped woman to make ends meet, is considering whether to follow her boyfriend to Austin, Texas, or look for work elsewhere in the country. She said she enjoys living in Colorado, where she has joined a large group of hard-core long-distance runners.

Last year, just after she moved to Superior, a man from the town - Paul South - won the JFK 50, she said.

"People in my group are amazing," Wood said of ultramarathoners. "I mean, I'm honored to be in my group,"

Wood, who goes through a pair of shoes every three months, said training often was not a priority while she juggled school and work,

"I've been doing races here and there, but I haven't been doing the daily homework," said Wood, who would like to run six days a week. "A lot of people have a 30-mile or a 20-mile wall, but no, I don't have that. I've never wanted to quit."

And while the finish line is what Wood will have in her sights today, there's an even bigger goal for the 11-time finisher.

"There's a woman (Carolyn Showalter) who has 22 (finishes) in a row, and I can get that by the time I'm 34," Wood said.

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