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Runners say race is tough, but addictive

November 23, 2008|By DAN KAUFFMAN

WILLAMSPORT - There was a time, two decades ago, when Dave Downin watched participants in the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon finish and thought, "They are loony!"

"Then I made the mistake of running one, and now I can't quit," Downin said.

Downin, 62, of Sharpsburg, completed his 22nd JFK 50 Mile on Saturday, finishing in 10 hours, 8 minutes. He ran the race for the first time in 1987 - which was the 25th running - and said he wants to keep running until the 50th.

"I got bit by the bug and haven't been able to stop," Downin said. "The first one was a test, and I just fell in love with it."

Saturday's cold and windy conditions made this year's JFK 50 Mile even more punishing than most, but Downin said 1987 was worse.

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"I finished in the snow," he said. "I have the pictures to prove it."

Williamsport resident Bob Hornbecker finished the race for the 12th time Saturday, crossing the line in about 12 hours, 27 minutes.

Hornbecker, 58, called the JFK 50 Mile "a family affair."

"My dad ran in it, I have three brothers who have run in it and I'm trying to get my daughter to run in it one of these years," said Hornbecker, a teacher of psychology and government at South Hagerstown High School. "It's the one event where people cheer everywhere you are, at every aid station. Every runner thanks the cops and the support people. It really is like a family thing."

While Downin and Hornbecker are JFK veterans, Hagerstown's Lonnie Turner, 37, ran the race for the first time Saturday and finished in 10 hours, 20 minutes. He called it "the worst day and the best day of my life."

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done, easily," Turner said. "I fell twice. My knee's all bloody. The Appalachian Trail section is real treacherous and scary. You really have to be cautious."

Even though he sounded like someone who's had enough of the JFK 50 Mile, the truth is, the allure of the event might have hooked another longtime participant.

"I think I'll try it again," Turner said.

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