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Graham-Gray finishes second in first JFK

November 23, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

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WASHINGTON COUNTY -- It was hard to tell whether the tears that streamed down Susan Graham-Gray's cheeks were of joy or disappointment.

That is, until she explained them.

"It was like, I can't believe this is so hard," she said after finishing the 46th annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon. "It's just an emotional up-and-down and I was taking it all in. It's so overwhelming."

Graham-Gray, 40, of Greencastle, Pa., was the second female to cover the 50.2-mile course Saturday. She finished in 7 hours, 32 minutes, 56 seconds and trailed only Connie Gardner, 45, of Medina, Ohio, who came in at 7:15:16 to win her third JFK in five tries.

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It was the first ultramarathon for Graham-Gray, who is legally blind with 20/500 vision.

"Maybe I was wrong to think I could actually win," Graham-Gray said. "(The Appalachian Trail) wasn't that bad, but there wasn't one point where I could let my guard down. And I got discouraged because I got passed by a lot of people."

Graham-Gray came away from the Appalachian Trail in fifth place, about 20 minutes behind Gardner. Graham-Gray gained three spots over the final 35 1/2 miles on mostly flat ground, but she could pick up no more than three minutes on Gardner.

"It was tough. It definitely was my conceptualization of it being very physically demanding. I just didn't recover from the Appalachian Trail," Graham-Gray said.

Graham-Gray was the top female finisher in the Tri-State, while Andy Mason took that honor for the men. The 36-year-old from Hagerstown finished in 6:40:32, good for 10th-place in his fourth JFK. Mason, The Herald-Mail's assistant sports editor, finished ninth in 6:39:09 in 2007, giving him back-to-back top 10 performances.

"My No. 1 goal was to improve on last year and finish in the top 10 again," Mason said. "Top 10 has been a goal for me for a long time, and now I've done it twice."

Mason struggled for the final three miles of the race as blustery winds gusted into the faces of the runners

"I hit the wall," Mason said. "Had I not been in 10th place, I would have walked."

Mason was in 40th place coming off the Appalachian Trail and had moved to 18th by the 30-mile mark on the C&O Canal Towpath. He passed Mark Cucuzzella, 42, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., with about 10 miles left to move into 10th.

"I went by him hard because I wanted him to have less ambition to want to come back," Mason said.

Cucuzzella finished 11th in 6:45:48 to become Masters champion. The finish is five spots better than 2007 when he finished 16th in 6:57:54.

"I'm completely satisfied," Cucuzzella said. "I fell down a couple of times but luckily I didn't break anything and my family was out there, giving me extra motivation. ... When your kids are watching, you have to keep going."

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