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Saturday's JFK 'could be a spectacular race'

November 20, 2009|By ANDREW MASON

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    The two most prestigious ultramarathons in the United States are the JFK 50 Mile and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.

    While it would be tough to argue that, the debate over which of the two is more renowned could go on forever.

    But this much is true: No one has ever won both races.

    "Hopefully, someone will make that happen," Scott Jurek said. "We'll see what happens race day. I'm going to go and give it a whirl."

    Jurek, 36, of Seattle, might be the most famous ultrarunner in America. Among his countless victories are seven straight wins at the Western States 100, held annually in June in California. He swept the titles from 1999 to 2005 and set the course record in 2004.

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On Saturday in Washington County, Jurek will make his JFK debut in the 47th annual edition of the race.

"It's a great honor to have Scott Jurek in the field," JFK director Mike Spinnler said. "He might be the most recognizable name in ultrarunning."

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

"I have wanted to do JFK for a while," Jurek said. "It's just such a classic."

Hal Koerner, 33, of Ashland, Ore., champion of the last two Western States 100s, will be running the JFK for the third time Saturday, trying to capture his first win. His best finish was in 2006, when he placed third in 6:19:52.

"It would be right up there if I could pull it out," Koerner said. "It'd be huge."

Jurek and Koerner are just two of many contenders in this year's loaded field.

"It could be a spectacular race," Spinnler said. "It's neat that it's going to be right here in Washington County. You go to sleep in your bedroom and then wake up and see world-class athletes duking it out in our own backyard."

Eight of the top 10 men from last year are back, led by Oz Pearlman, 27, of New York City, who placed second last year in 6:13:18. He lowered his 50-mile personal record to 5:25:26 earlier this fall in Chicago.

"Last year, I was shocked that I got second," he said. "It was one of my worst races ever."

But even if he were to have one of his best races, Pearlman said 36-year-old South African Johan Oosthuizen is still the man to beat Saturday.

Oosthuizen, a perennial frontrunner at the legendary Comrades ultramarathon in his country, finished fourth last year in his JFK debut. He led early and faded late.

"He learned his lesson and he's going to kick some butt this year," Pearlman said.

That's how Spinnler sees it, too.

"(Oosthuizen) is not over here sight-seeing," Spinnler said. "He hoped to get it one-and-done last year, but it didn't happen in one swing. He's going to have to come up to the plate one more time, and I like his chances."

Eric Clifton's course record of 5:46:22 is still the time to beat.

"I see (Oosthuizen) chasing the clock and second place a substantial distance behind him," Spinnler said. "But who knows? I don't have a crystal ball. Fifty miles, anything can happen."

The men's field has another foreign standout in Kostyantyn Zhelezov, 40, of the Ukraine.

"No non-U.S. citizen has ever won this event," Spinnler said. "One of them could make some history."

Other top contenders include:

*Bob Adams, 29, of Knoxville, Tenn.

*Michael Arnstein, 32, of New York City

*Josh Brimhall, 34, of Henderson, Nev.

*Jason Bryant, 37, of Elkin, N.C.

*Greg Crowther, 36, of Seattle

*Wynn Davis, 28, of River Falls, Wis.

*David James, 31, of Somers, N.Y.

*Matt Lavine, 35, of Crystal Lake, Ill.

*Chad Ricklefs, 42, of Boulder, Colo.

*Jim Sweeney, 28, of Albany, N.Y.

*Ian Torrence, 37, of Ashland, Ore.

"There's a lot of fast guys," Koerner said. "I'm just happy to be in the mix."

Top local runners include Andy Mason, 37, of Hagerstown, who was ninth in 2007 and 10th last year; Matt McDonald, 39, of Greencastle, Pa., who has placed as high as fourth (2002); and Mark Cucuzzella, 43, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., who was the Masters (40-and-older) champ last year and 11th overall.

The women's field is headlined by U.S. stars Devon Crosby-Helms, 27, of Sausalito, Calif., and Meghan Arbogast, 48, of Corvallis, Ore. They finished fourth and fifth, respectively, at the World Cup 100K in Belgium in June.

"They're for real," Spinnler said. "I see it as a two-filly race. I think they've scared away some other contenders."

Annette Bednosky, 42, of Jefferson, N.C., also could be in the mix. She was the Western States women's champ in 2005 and the JFK runner-up in 2007.

"She's one of the all-time best, but I think she's running for bronze," Spinnler said. "But that's why we're going to shoot a gun in downtown Boonsboro and let them race instead of just sitting here talking about it."

Other top contenders include Jill Perry, 38, of Manlius, N.Y.; Monica Ochs, 40, of Anacortes, Wash.; and Jennifer Van Allen, 35, of Bryn Mawr, Pa.

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