Cucuzzella making ultra debut at JFK 50 Mile

November 12, 2006|by ANDREW MASON

Mark Cucuzzella has run nearly 50 marathons.

If the experience from each one is worth a mile, the 40-year-old Shepherdstown, W.Va., resident will be prepared for his ultramarathon debut at this Saturday's 44th annual JFK 50 Mile.

"If you've been running marathons for years and years, it's in your legs," said Cucuzzella, who grew up in Ellicott City, Md., and ran at the NCAA Division I level for the University of Virginia.

But he's not entirely sure what he'll have left once he steps past 26.2 miles for the first time Saturday.

"This is uncharted territory," he said. "I'm definitely not making any predictions. I just want to go out and have a good time and see what happens.


"It's in my backyard, and I thought it might be a fun thing to do for my 40th birthday."

Shortly after turning 40 last month, Cucuzzella captured the Masters title at the Marine Corps Marathon, finishing 11th overall in 2:32. In September, he won the Air Force Marathon in 2:31.

"My training runs for the JFK have been those two fall marathons," said Cucuzzella, whose personal best for the marathon is 2:24.

That kind of running should put him near the front of the JFK 50 Mile, which hasn't been won by a Tri-State man since Mike Spinnler of Hagerstown repeated as champion in 1983.

"Cucuzzella should be in the mix," said Spinnler, the JFK race director since 1993. "It's hard to pick a guy who's never run a 50-mile race to win, but it's been done before. Based on his credentials as a marathon runner, he has a chance.

"If you can run a big-time marathon in the 2:30 range, you can have success at 50 miles."

Cucuzzella and his family moved to Shepherdstown from Colorado a little more than a year ago. He works as a physician at Harpers Ferry Family Medicine and is an Air Force Reserve flight surgeon.

With limited time to train, Cucuzzella squeezes in about 50 miles per week, significantly less than what most JFK contenders log.

"He's a low-mileage guy, but you have to factor in how quickly he recovers from marathons," Spinnler said. "He's a very intelligent guy, too. He's a doctor. He understands exercise physiology.

"He's a nice mix of brains, guts and experience."

More than 1,000 runners, representing nearly every state of the U.S. and several countries, are set to compete Saturday at the JFK. The route, which begins in Boonsboro and ends in Williamsport, is comprised of the Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal towpath and rolling country roads.

Living in Shepherdstown, Cucuzzella couldn't ignore the challenge.

"It's a great event, a national-type event," he said. "When something like that pretty much goes through your town, you feel like you want to be a part of it."

Cucuzzella will be wearing bib No. 4 and some of his Team Air Force apparel on race day.

The JFK has never been won by an active-duty military runner.

"I don't even want to go there," Cucuzzella said. "If I can play it smart, I should be able to be in the top five. That's as much as I'm going to put on the line.

"I just want to go out and enjoy the leaves on the trail and see how it goes. This is a fun adventure."

Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at

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