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Running raises pastor's spirits as well as funds for the needy

November 18, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

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

HAGERSTOWN -- For the Rev. Ed Poling, there's a peaceful solitude in running long distances.

"I like feeling fit," he said. "I like going out in the morning. It's part of my spiritual discipline for the day. It makes me feel connected to the world around me and to God."

But, like everyone else who runs the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon, he feels the rigor. Asked for one word to describe the race, Poling replied, "Impossible" -- even though he's completed the event 14 times.

"It's really beyond grueling," he said.

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


Poling, the pastor of Hagerstown Church of the Brethren, is using his run to collect pledges for his church's Good Samaritan Fund, which gives money to people in the neighborhood having trouble paying for utilities, rent, food, medicine or other necessities.

Poling said the fund has distributed about $11,000 to needy people in the past year or so.

He figured he'll raise somewhere between several hundred and a few thousand dollars this year to help replenish the fund. Through his JFK running, he estimated he's raised about $25,000 for church-related causes over the years.

Poling, 61, said he likes the feeling of running to better someone else's life. Even if lactic acid sets in and muscles are weary -- "when you get good and tired," he said -- he thinks, "I better do my part."

By race day, Poling will have run about 1,400 to 1,500 miles in a year. He's been covering about 30 miles a week, including a long run of about 10 miles.

He said he thinks a 30- or 35-mile run is a "critical" part of a JFK competitor's training, but the best he's managed this year is one 26-miler and one 18-miler.

"That's all I have time for," he said.

Poling -- whose best JFK 50 Mile time was 8 hours, 55 minutes, 1 second in 1994 -- said he has several area training routes, including the bicycle path through Hagerstown.

His running partner, Tim Bussard, volunteers during the race. Tim and his wife, Lisa, help at the Taylors Landing aid station, at mile 38.

"They always have soup," Poling said.

Poling said he likes the kinship that develops on the course. He'll call out encouraging words to other runners as they pass him or he passes them.

Sometimes, he runs with strangers long enough to hear their uplifting stories, such as the man from Kansas who once was overweight, but worked himself into shape for a 50-mile race.

"You really feel connected to people," he said.

Poling has promised his congregation a written recap in December about this year's race.

But many will hear from him sooner.

"... I have to preach the next day," he said. "Two services."

The Poling file

Name: The Rev. Ed Poling

Age: 61

Residence: Hagerstown

Occupation: Pastor at Hagerstown Church of the Brethren

Number of JFK finishes: 14

The JFK in one word: "Impossible"

Coming Thursday: Meet Misty Teets, a 23-year-old Hagerstown woman who was the top female finisher from Washington County in last year's JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon.

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