JFK ultramarathon has law on its side

November 17, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

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

HAGERSTOWN ? As Maryland State Police officers, Sgt. Dave Bowers and Trooper 1st Class Doug Bittinger have logged thousands of miles in their cruisers.

But today, the duo will join retired state trooper David Downin to put mileage on their feet as they become the first team in Maryland State Police history to compete in the JFK 50 Mile.

America's oldest ultramarathon takes participants from Boonsboro to Williamsport along paved roads, the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal towpath.

Bowers and Bittinger, who have combined to finish eight of the grueling endurance events, said they plan to continue relying on Downin's knowledge as a 20-time JFK finisher to help them compete.


"My insanity has led to all this insanity," said Downin, who was profiled as part of last year's Herald-Mail series. "It's a real knuckle dragger."

All three agreed that the hardest part of the race is navigating the Appalachian Trail. It is on this stretch of the course that runners have to jump from rock to rock and over fallen trees, all the while being careful not to fall or twist an ankle.

Bowers and Bittinger said they try to stay together for the first 16 miles or so, but it's too hard to run at the same pace if one of them gets cramps. Their strategy involves walking up the hills and running down them.

To break up the monotony, Bowers said he likes to talk to other runners and recite Bible verses in his head. His favorite is Philippians 4:13, which says, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

"When you hit your lowest point, that's when I feel closest to God," he said.

They said they try to run throughout the year to keep in shape and energize their bodies the night before the race by consuming plenty of fluids and carbohydrates.

"(Downin) has taught us how to prepare," Bowers said. "He's a good inspiration for all of us."

The first of Bittinger's two favorite parts of the race is when his wife and children gather along the route to cheer him on, he said. Their support almost makes it worth the muscle soreness that lasts for the next three or four days.

He said he also enjoys the finish because the soup and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches that the runners are given taste like a steak dinner.

"You get a few extra springs in your step," Bittinger said. "That last 100 yards ... All the pain you went through seems to disappear."

The Bittinger file

Name: Doug Bittinger

Age: 39

Residence: Hagerstown

Occupation: Maryland State Police trooper

Number of JFK 50 finishes: Three

The JFK in one word: "Interesting"

The Bowers file

Name: Dave Bowers

Age: 43

Residence: Clear Spring

Occupation: Maryland State Police sergeant

Number of JFK 50 finishes: Five

The JFK in one word: "Inspirational"

The Downin file

Name: David Downin

Age: 61

Residence: Sharpsburg

Occupation: Maryland State Police civilian radio technician

Number of JFK 50 finishes: 20

The JFK in one word: "Passion"

Coming Sunday: Complete race coverage of the JFK 50 Mile.

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