Pa. man runs toward another JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon

November 20, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

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

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- After Jim Becker ran his first JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon in 1987, it took him three years to work up the gumption to attempt the event for a second time.

Now, it's tough to keep the 66-year-old Greencastle resident away from the annual race.

Becker will run in his 17th JFK 50 Mile on Saturday when the endurance event is held for the 46th time.

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


"It took me three years to forget the pain of it," said Becker, remembering his first ultramarathon 21 years ago. "I wasn't really in shape, and the wind chill was 17 below. I had a couple people talk me into it, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into."

These days, Becker is quite aware, and fitness won't be an issue. He has stuck to a training regimen that calls for three runs per week -- two 15- to 20-mile jogs and a weekend race -- and an occasional bicycle ride.

Becker used the Baltimore Marathon in October as his last competitive tuneup. He covered the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds to win the men's 65-69 age division.

Becker said he has tapered his routine over the past two weeks. After 16 ultramarathons, he's learned that rested legs are as important as anything else.

"I found out that since I'm retired and in my 60s, I need more rest time in between long runs. I kind of learned by accident that three runs a week works pretty good," Becker said. "To have a good JFK you need three things -- good training, rest and a lot of luck."

Becker's best JFK 50 Mile finish was in 1993, when he covered the course in 8 hours, 3 minutes and 20 seconds. He has come within 15 minutes of that time since, but insists that he will be much closer to nine hours this year.

"It's always very challenging for me, so I usually don't pick a time to finish in. Most of the time, I don't even wear a watch," he said. "When I come in, I come in. That's it."

For Becker, the race gets no better than the first few hours after sunrise -- running on the Appalachian Trail. Things take a sharp turn, though, when he hits what he called the "dreadful" C&O Canal towpath for 26.3 miles.

"I don't know if I have a strength, but I like the mountain run the best," Becker said. "I'm absolutely happy to get away from the C&O Canal. The scenery is all the same."

It's even easier to leave the towpath behind because the end is in sight. And the end is what Becker remembers most about each year.

"The best (memory) I have is getting to the finish line," he said. "I'm just happy to be able to run it and finish."

The Becker file

Name: Jim Becker

Age: 66

Residence: Greencastle, Pa.

Occupation: Retired

Number of JFK finishes: 16

The JFK in one word: "Challenging"

Coming Saturday: Meet Sam Billotti, Bryan Glines, Mark Price and Dave Sanders, members of the Washington County Sheriff's Department who are competing as a team in the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon.

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