Redemption comes with Crowther's JFK victory

November 21, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

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    WILLIAMSPORT -- In the deepest and fastest field in JFK 50 Mile history, Seattle's Gregory Crowther staged a breathtaking rally to beat them all and win Saturday's 47th edition of America's oldest and largest ultramarathon.

    Crowther, 36, passed Michael Arnstein, 32, of New York City, in the second-to-last mile and crossed the finish line in front of Springfield Middle School in 5 hours, 50 minutes, 13 seconds -- the second-fastest time in JFK history.

    "Two years ago, I did poorly and finished 10th in 6:40," said Crowther, whose résumé includes national 50K and 100K titles and a 12th-place finish in the World Cup all in 2007. "I wanted to come back and try to do a better job. This is redemption."

    Arnstein -- last year's fifth-place finisher in 6:24:36 in brutally cold and windy conditions -- came off the Appalachian Trail in a group of runners battling for seventh and found his rhythm on the C&O Canal towpath. Arnstein took the lead between miles 27 and 30 and stretched his lead to just under three minutes at the Taylor's Landing aid station at mile 38.5.


Arnstein appeared in good shape when he turned off the towpath onto Dam 4 Road with 8.4 miles to go.

"At (mile) 42, I was going for the course record," said Arnstein, who finished second in 5:50:58 for the fourth-best time in JFK history. "A mile later, I knew I didn't have it, so I eased off."

Little did he -- or anyone else -- know Crowther was surging. He moved into fourth place at 34.4 miles and was in third at 38.5 miles, 3:16 behind Arnstein and 27 seconds behind Matt Woods, 30, of Falls Church, Va.

Crowther was relentless, catching and passing Woods -- who finished third in 5:54:10 for the seventh-best time in history -- at the end of the towpath section, and reeling in a slowing Arnstein in the final five miles. Arnstein's lead was 2:13 with four miles to go, but two miles later it was down to about 10 seconds, and Crowther made the pass with 5:40:35 on the clock.

"I was seven minutes behind the lead runners off the trail. I knew I'd be behind, but I knew I had 35 miles to catch up," Crowther said. "It's a cliché, but you try to run your own race, and that's what I did. When I passed him, he told me, 'Nice job,' and it was basically a concession."

"I had no idea he was behind me. It was a sneak attack," Arnstein said. "I got lackadaisical. When I saw him behind me, I went from 7:30 (miles) to 6:20. I tried to hold him off, but he's a faster marathoner than me. I had this race locked up and I'm totally flabbergasted he got me. Complacency lost the race."

While the men's record of 5:46:22 by Eric Clifton in 1994 survived the perfect weather conditions, Devon Crosby-Helms, 27, of Sausalito, Calif., broke the women's record at 6:29:21. Crosby-Helms broke the mark of 6:29:42 set by Anne Lundblad in 2005.

"I felt really good the whole time," Crosby-Helms said. "I played it smart. My coach told me not to run too hard on the trail, so I stayed comfortable. Once on the towpath, I was hitting (seven-minute miles) and the point at which you say you should back off never came.

"Trying to do math while running 50 miles is really hard. In the last two miles I started running really hard. When I saw the finish I knew I had to go for it."

Meghan Arbogast, 48, of Corvallis, Ore., finished second in the women's race in 6:56:00, the sixth-fastest women's time in history, and was the Masters champion.

"It was beautiful conditions. The trail was very technical but it wasn't wet so there wasn't as much slipping," Arbogast said. "When got to the towpath I tried to push a hard pace that would be reasonable. I got to mile 35 and started to struggle a little bit, and then it was struggle management."

Chad Ricklefs, 42, of Boulder, Colo., finished fifth overall in the men's race in 6:06:51 to win the Masters title.

Crowther, Arnstein and Woods tied the record of three finishers under 6 hours set in 1996. In all 25 runners finished in under 7 hours, breaking the record of 18. Eleven women finished in under 8 hours to set another record.

"Great conditions. ... The field had great depth, " race director Mike Spinnler said. "On the women's side, it was the fastest race ever. It was great stuff."

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