Greencastle man hopes to complete fifth JFK 50

Few have covered the course as quickly as Matt McDonald

Few have covered the course as quickly as Matt McDonald

November 18, 2009|By ANDREW MASON

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.

o Couple plans to finish third JFK ultramarathon together

o Midshipman to compete in her first JFK 50 Mile

o Rhoderick takes challenges in stride during JFK 50

o For Kitchen, the JFK 50 is grueling and special

  • View the JFK 2009 slideshow!
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    GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Much like he eats and sleeps, Matt McDonald also runs.

    "It's a lifestyle," he said. "It's just part of my routine."

    McDonald, 39, of Greencastle, Pa., routinely runs ultramarathons. He has completed 21 of them, ranging in distance from 50 kilometers (31 miles) to 100 miles.


He hopes his 22nd finish will come Saturday at the 47th annual JFK 50 Mile in Washington County.

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

McDonald has four JFK finishes under his belt.

"The nice thing about living here is that you can go down (to the JFK 50 course) and train on it," he said.

Few have covered the legendary course as quickly as McDonald has.

In 2001, he placed eighth among 818 finishers in 6 hours, 36 minutes, 13 seconds. In 2002, he held first place for about 10 miles in the middle of the race -- the highlight of his ultramarathoning career, he said -- before finishing fourth of 862 in 6:32:06.

In 2003, McDonald placed sixth of 830 in 6:27:19, still his personal-best time. And in 2007, he was 32nd out of 1,078 in 7:23:41.

McDonald -- who lived in Hagerstown during his run of three straight top-10 finishes -- said he has run about 90 miles per week this fall.

"I'd like to finish in under 6 1/2 hours," he said. "But that might be pushing it, to be honest with you. If I can run it faster than two years ago, I'll be happy."

While McDonald said he has dreamed of winning the race, he admitted, "That's in the past. Some things you just have to let go."

McDonald was an accomplished runner long before he began competing in ultramarathons. As a senior at Greencastle-Antrim High School in 1987, he won a Pennsylvania individual state cross country title. He went on to have a standout collegiate running career at Shippensburg (Pa.) University.

His first ultramarathon attempt, however, didn't go so well. He dropped out of the 1994 JFK 50 Mile about halfway through the race.

"I just trained completely wrong for it -- I didn't do enough long runs -- and I went out way too hard," he said. "It was not pretty."

McDonald was much more prepared when he finally gave ultramarathoning a second try at the 2001 JFK 50 Mile. He has finished at least one ultramarathon every year since, and has completed as many as five in a single year (2005).

"I just like to get out and run ultras," he said. "There's just something about being out there on the trails, and there's so much camaraderie."

The McDonald file

Name: Matt McDonald

Age: 39

Residence: Greencastle, Pa.

Occupation: Fifth-grade teacher

Number of JFK finishes: Four

The JFK in one word: "Adventure"

Coming Friday: Meet Duane and Teresa Jensen, a Hancock couple competing for the third time in the JFK 50 Mile.

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