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'The JFK's the one'

November 17, 2006|by ANDREW MASON

Ian Torrence has run about as many miles at the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon as he travels each year to get to the race, it almost seems.

Maybe one of these years, he'll reach his destination - the winner's circle in Williamsport.

"I'd love to win the race," said Torrence, 34, of Flagstaff, Ariz. "I want to win this race."

Torrence, one of more than 1,000 competitors entered in Saturday's 44th annual JFK 50 Mile, will be running the race for the 13th straight year - still searching for his first victory. The perennial top-10 finisher was the runner-up each of the last two years. His best time is 6 hours, 9 minutes and 27 seconds from his fourth-place finish in 1999.

"I'm eventually going to get it right," he said.

Torrence is one of the most prolific - and recognizable - ultrarunners in the U.S. He's won 48 of the 142 ultramarathons he's finished and has appeared in countless magazines, including once on the cover of Running Times.

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"It's always an honor when Ian Torrence is at your starting line, not just at the JFK, but any ultra around the country," JFK director Mike Spinnler said. "When Ian Torrence is in your race, your race is better because of it. His resume is just phenomenal."

Torrence might cash all of it in for a victory at the JFK, America's oldest ultramarathon.

"The JFK's the one. Nothing else means the same to me," said Torrence, who grew up in Gaithersburg, Md. "I just fell in love with the JFK. It was my first ultra, it's close to home and it's just a great race with the quality of competition, the diversity of the course and the large number of competitors and spectators. And it's so well run."

None of the men's champions from the last seven years are entered for Saturday's race from Boonsboro to Williamsport - a route comprised of the Appalachian Trail, C&O Canal towpath and rolling paved roads.

"This year is a wide-open race," Torrence said. "There are a lot of fast guys, but no one ringer. It's going to be a great race, and it's going to be up for grabs.

"I'm just going to run as hard as I can, and I'm going to have fun doing it."

Other contenders

Torrence said if he had to pick a winner, it would be his close friend and Montrail teammate Hal Koerner, 30, of Ashland, Ore., last year's USATF 50-mile national trail champion.

"In many guys' eyes, Koerner is the favorite," Spinnler said. "He's as well-known in the ultra circuit as Barry Bonds is in major league baseball. He's a big-timer.

"I'm sure he sees the JFK as something missing from his resume as well."

It's two Masters runners making their ultramarathon debuts, however, who have Spinnler especially excited.

Mark Cucuzzella, 40, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., and John Piggott, 41, of Williamsburg, Va., are veteran road racers who have each run a pair of marathons in the low 2:30s this fall in preparation.

"It's always exciting for me when someone who isn't part of the ultra circuit steps in and sees where they measure up," Spinnler said. "If you can run 26 miles faster than them, chances are you can run 50 miles faster than them. But it's a different type of suffering."

Cucuzzella, an Air Force Reserve flight surgeon, could become the first Tri-State man to win the JFK since Spinnler, of Hagerstown, repeated as champion in 1983, and the first active-duty military runner to ever win.

No non-U.S. citizen has ever won the race, either. That also could change this year with Canadian Glen Redpath and Peter Kotland of the Czech Republic in the field for the first time.

Redpath, 41, ran 5:56 for 50 miles last year. The average winning JFK time over the last 10 years is 6:01.

Kotland, 34, ran 5:33 in a double-marathon (52.4 miles) in 1997.

"If he's even remotely close to that fitness, this Kotland fellow will be a dangerous guy," Spinnler said.

Spinnler, though, still seems to favor the pure marathoners.

"I can see the fast marathoners, Piggott and Cucuzzella, shadowing the trail specialists, Torrence and Koerner, across the mountains (through the first 15 miles on the Appalachian Trail) and then watching the race materialize on the towpath (over the next 26)," he said. "I can see a lot of lead changes."

That's why Torrence attacks early on the rocky trail.

"I run it like it's a 15-mile race," he said, laughing. "And then maybe those fast guys with the small ankles will twist their ankles trying to keep up."

First ladies

Last year, Anne Lundblad, of Asheville, N.C., shattered the women's course record by more than 21 minutes, winning in 6:29:42.

However, she's not back this year. Neither are any former champions or even anyone from last year's top five.

"There's nobody really of note this year. It's up for grabs," Spinnler said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see this being one of those years when 7:40 or 7:50 wins the race."

That could play into the hands of 50-year-old Barry Salisbury of Middletown, Md., who placed third three years ago in 7:57:08.

"She told me then that she was going to come back when she was 50 and take a shot at the 50-and-over record (8:13:30)," Spinnler said. "She's back for that, and she might get more than that."

In the end

Anything can happen in a 50-mile race.

"Some years, guys who aren't on anyone's short list, or long list, win the race," Spinnler said. "We'll see. That's why we line them up and run them.

"Fifty miles is a long way. It boils down to who has the best ability to suffer."

"I never know how I'm going to do until I'm running down that street in Williamsport," Torrence said.

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