Man plans to run his 20th consecutive JFK

November 13, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

SHARPSBURG - Editor's note: This is the first story in a six-part series about some of the people who will compete in the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon Saturday in Washington County.

Dave Downin said he wasn't much of a long-distance runner growing up.

"I thought anything more than a quarter of a mile was too much," he said.

Now, the 60-year-old Sharpsburg resident has the chance to become part of an elite group of runners who have completed 20 JFK 50 Mile ultramarathons.

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

If Downin finishes this year's event, he will have completed 1,000 miles over 20 consecutive years in the ultramarathon. That will put him in the company of 27 people who have completed the race at least 20 times.


Downin also can become a member of an even smaller group of 16 people who have at least 20 consecutive finishes.

He said he remembers hearing about the JFK 50 Mile years before he decided to run it, and the distance seemed impossible.

"I just thought they were insane," Downin said of those who attempt the ultramarathon.

He saw people running in the race when he was working for the Maryland State Police. It was shortly after seeing the participants in action that he decided to compete.

Downin's first JFK 50 was in the race's 25th year, and he still has a T-shirt commemorating the anniversary. Downin said he has never worn the shirt, but he wants to wear it when he competes in the ultramarathon's 50th anniversary in 2013.

There is something else that Downin has kept since his first race - a piece of advice that has served him well in 19 finishes.

"Don't run up the inclines, and pace yourself on the Appalachian Trail," he said.

During his first JFK 50, Downin said he never believed that he wouldn't finish, but he had severe leg cramps that left him walking for most of the race.

"I can walk fast, though," said Downin, who holds at least two speedwalking titles. "And by the time I got to Shepherdstown (W.Va.), I decided I can do this better next year."

Downin said he got a book about being a self-coached runner, and he stuck to the time tables given.

His best time in the JFK 50 - 8 hours and 30 minutes - came the year after his slowest time. He was recovering from knee surgery one year and walked the entire course.

"I always do the best that I can do," he said.

Downin has mastered a combination of running and walking that seems to work for him. He runs for four minutes and walks for one minute on the towpath.

"It really gives your legs a chance to rest and do something different," he said. "It really works for me."

Downin said he works on both distance and speed when training, focusing on long runs on the towpath and short sprints at a high school track. He also ran a marathon in October.

"That's really good training," he said.

Downin said he isn't really sure what keeps him coming back.

"It might have something to do with (John F. Kennedy) the president ... the respect I had for him," he said. "Maybe that's the motivator here. I don't know. It just became a habit."

The Downin file

Name: Dave Downin

Age: 60

Residence: Sharpsburg

Occupation: Maryland State Police civilian radio technician

Number of JFK finishes: 19

The JFK in one word: "Habit"


Meet John Rice, 41, and Tracy Rice, 36, a husband and wife from Martinsburg, W.Va., who are entered in their second JFK 50 Mile.

The Herald-Mail Articles