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Treadmill trained Hagerstown woman for JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon

November 19, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

Editor's note: This is the fourth 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 -- The first time Misti Teets ran the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon, she remembers other runners asking her how many marathons she had run as they chugged up hills and over rocky terrain.

Her answer must have come as a surprise.

Not only had Teets never run a marathon before attempting the endurance feat in 2006, she never had run more than five miles at a time, and her training consisted primarily of running on a treadmill at the local YMCA.

Yet Teets, then Misti Jesson, crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 38 minutes. Last year, she was the first female finisher from Washington County in 10 hours and 6 minutes.


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

This year, the 23-year-old newlywed from Hagerstown is preparing to try for a personal best, with a whole team of inspired running buddies cheering for her.

Teets, a 2003 South Hagerstown High School graduate, said she played soccer in high school, but didn't start running until her freshman year of college, when she stepped on a treadmill in an attempt to avoid the "freshman 15 (pounds)."

"Even then, running a mile was such a big thing to me," Teets said.

By 2006, she had improved enough that she decided to enter a 5K race (3.1 miles) and discovered the thrill of crossing the finish line of an organized event. Her friend, Dan Dabbondanza, always had wanted to enter the JFK 50 Mile, and Teets began thinking about entering with him.

Before they ever got the chance, Dabbondanza died that May of a cardiovascular problem. Teets thought that was the end of her ultramarathon ambitions, but her friends encouraged her to run the race in his memory. They made T-shirts bearing his face, and Teets began running five miles per day on the treadmill to prepare.

Her family thought she was crazy to attempt an ultramarathon with so little endurance experience, but Teets was confident she could handle it.

"Personally, I don't think it's such a big deal," she said. "It's just a run."

By the time Teets hit the C&O Canal towpath at mile 15.5, she wasn't so sure about that.

"At one point in time, I was like, 'Man, what in the world am I doing?'" she said.

She finished the race with blisters and feet so swollen she couldn't put on shoes, but she knew she wanted to do it again.

In her second JFK, Teets avoided the swelling, but broke the big toe on her left foot within the first four miles. She kept going anyway, and by the time she hit the towpath, she couldn't feel the pain anymore.

"I just pray, 'You pick my feet up, I'll put 'em down,' and that just carries me through it," she said.

Another source of motivation is the people who cheer her on at each stop, Teets said.

"Seeing everybody, especially at the finish line, it's so inspiring," she said. "It makes you feel so much bigger."

The Teets file

Name: Misti (Jesson) Teets

Age: 23

Residence: Hagerstown

Occupation: Student and emergency department technician

Number of JFK finishes: Two

The JFK in one word: "Challenging"

Coming Friday: Meet Jim Becker, a 66-year-old Greencastle, Pa., man who is running the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon for the 17th time.

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