'Slow runner' says she'll start and finish JFK 50 in the dark

November 15, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

KEEDYSVILLE - Martha Carpenter wasn't an athlete in high school.

She started training for distance runs in 2000 to raise money for the Leukemia Society in honor of her mother, who died of blood cancer in 1994.

Then, she started hearing about "this thing called the JFK," she said.

Carpenter, 48, of Keedysville, signed up for the JFK 50 Mile in 2002, but she lost courage before the day of the race and didn't compete in America's oldest ultramarathon that year.

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.


Carpenter finished the past three JFK 50s and is registered to run this year.

Carpenter calls herself a "slow runner" who finished last year's event in about 12 hours and 30 minutes. When she starts the race at 5 a.m., it's dark. And when she finishes more than 12 hours later, the sun has set again.

The race's first 16 miles, most of which are on the Appalachian Trail, are the hardest physically, Carpenter said. Going uphill on the trail, conditions are slippery and wet, she said.

"I always sigh (in) relief when I come off of the trail."

The sun rises while she is running along the mountain's ridge, and "it's inspiring," she said.

Miles 30 to 40 are the hardest psychologically for Carpenter, she said.

"That's still a long distance you have to go."

Running on the towpath is tough because the route is flat and the scenery doesn't change, Carpenter said. Running uphill feels good after the long, flat stretch on the towpath because hills work different muscles, she said.

Dressing for the JFK 50 presents a challenge because it's cold in the morning, warmer in the afternoon and cold again at night. Carpenter plans to buy a few shirts to layer with that she will throw away during the race.

She trains 20 hours a week but said she runs only three or four days a week because running puts too much pressure on her bones and joints.

Carpenter swims and rides a bicycle on the days she doesn't run. She enjoys her time in the pool and on the bicycle so much that she signed up for an Ironman triathlon. That race - which includes swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles - is in June.

In her six-year distance running career, Carpenter has logged almost 600 miles in 22 marathons. She ran the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon in mid-October and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., a week later.

Running marathons back-to-back is the best way to train for an ultramarathon, she said.

Her husband, Andrew Birnbaum, and son, Sam Birnbaum, are supportive, but she does not expect them to watch the whole JFK 50.

"It's a long day for spectators," she said.

Carpenter said she plans to walk or ride a bicycle Sunday. She will run within a week of the event, she said.

"It feels bad if you stop."

The Carpenter file

Name: Martha Carpenter

Age: 48

Residence: Keedysville

Occupation: Psychiatric nurse

Number of JFK 50 Mile finishes: Three

The JFK in one word: "Hope"


Meet Adam Bridendolph, 21, of Williamsport, and Nathan Bridendolph, 29, of Hagerstown, brothers who began training about five months ago for their first JFK 50s.

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