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Teen runner readies to participate in her first JFK 50

November 12, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

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.

TRI-STATE - There will be no last-minute training for Mackenzie Riford. If she's worried, she doesn't show it.

Her cross-country season at Mercersburg Academy in Franklin County, Pa., ended Nov. 7, giving her about 10 days to prepare for her first JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon.

Her plan was to take it easy instead.

"I already know I can do it," said Mackenzie, who will turn 14 on Nov. 28.

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

Mackenzie, a freshman, is unquestionably a runner.

On Oct. 27, she finished seventh out of 89 runners in the Pennsylvania independent schools state championship.


In May, she was the youngest person to finish the Frederick (Md.) Marathon, in a time of 4 hours, 37 minutes and 50 seconds.

At just 4-foot-8 and about 80 pounds, Mackenzie has taken big strides to progress from novice to long-distance athlete.

She started running about three years ago. Mackenzie said she grew to love the sport right away.

In August 2006, after running a 5K (3.1 miles) race in Frederick in the morning, she rode to New Jersey with her mother, Maria Rubeling of Cearfoss, who was running in a 10-mile race. On a whim, Mackenzie ran, too, finishing with her mom in 1:34.49.

Mackenzie also ran a half-marathon in Philadelphia in September 2006.

Rubeling ran the JFK 50 Mile for the first time last year. She said Mackenzie, living in the moment, ran with her for about 15 miles on the towpath. Mackenzie liked the experience and wanted to run a marathon, her mother said.

They trained together for the Frederick Marathon, but only on weekends, because Mackenzie played soccer during the week. They started their training runs at 10 miles, then went to 12 miles, then 15 miles.

"Every week, she had no trouble ...," Rubeling said. "Some people just can run long distances."

"Mackenzie is a person who has a strong personal commitment in succeeding," said her father, Tom Riford of Mercersburg, Pa., the president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He said his daughter has built a mental toughness that lets her run through difficulty. For inspiration, she thinks of her late grandmother's battle with cancer, he said.

Mackenzie wouldn't be the youngest to finish the JFK 50. Race director Mike Spinnler said children as young as 10 used to run many years ago, before liability became more of a concern. He finished the race at age 12.

Now, 13 is the minimum age.

"She'll do fine," Spinnler said, "as long as she has the proper frame of mind."

"She's at peace with it, too. There's not even an inkling of doubt in her mind (about finishing) ...," Rubeling said. "Mackenzie's a pretty spiritual person. She gets a lot of strength from God.

"Her point is, 'I want to do it now. What if I don't want to in five years?'"

The Riford file

Name: Mackenzie Riford

Age: 13

Residence: Cearfoss and Mercersburg, Pa.

Occupation: Freshman at Mercersburg Academy

Number of JFK finishes: First attempt

The JFK in one word: "Fun"

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