JFK runners put their feet to grueling feat

November 21, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

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    WILLIAMSPORT -- Among the 1,000 runners in this year's JFK 50 Mile race were first-time ultramarathoners and some for whom the grueling trek is an annual feat.

    Geremy House, 35, of Maugansville, had never run in an organized race before, but finished Saturday's race in about 11 hours, 26 minutes.

    "I didn't think he'd do it," said his wife, Mandy.

    For Kimball Byron, 54, of Owings Mills, Md., the JFK 50 Mile is old hat. When he finished Saturday, it was the 41st time. No one has topped that.

    This was the 47th running of the ultramarathon, the nation's oldest.

    Emotions came out at the finish line. Family and friends cheered. Music blared. Announcers called out finishers' names and welcomed them to the JFK 50 Mile club.


Some runners needed help walking when they were done. Others looked unusually at ease. One woman took pictures of herself as she ran the final stretch.

As daylight disappeared and the lights were turned on, clapping crowds saluted every last weary runner.

Several runners commented on the unusually balmy weather -- in the 50s -- a welcome change from last year's cold.

"I'm a warm weather guy," said Jim Becker, 67, of Greencastle, Pa., recalling it was about 9 degrees when last year's race started.

Becker's time this year was about 9 hours, 30 minutes. It was the 18th time he's finished. He was happy to reach 10 consecutive finishes, which admits runners to a club with a double entendre name.

"They call you a streaker," Becker said with a smile.

The JFK 50 Mile course -- along paved roads, the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal towpath, from Boonsboro to Williamsport -- grows familiar for repeat finishers.

"I know almost every tree on the route," Byron said.

He said his goal was to finish during daylight. He did -- in around 10 hours, 54 minutes, or 90 minutes quicker than last year.

As Byron headed toward the finish line, his wife, Hannah Lee Byron, and their tri-colored Basset hound, Bo, hurried to greet him.

Becky Walter, 29, of Middletown, Md., a Boonsboro cross-country and track coach, ran the race in 9 hours, 52 minutes, shaving 21 minutes from her previous best time.

She was thankful for the mild weather. She also credited three people who helped pace her, colleagues from the Frederick Area Trail Running Ultra Marathon Plodding Simpletons -- FATRUMPS, for short.

She said her favorite spot on the course was the Gapland aid station, which was staffed by Boonsboro cross-country and track runners.

First-time finisher Bradley Scott, 17, of Frederick, Md., was flat on his back after the race, inside Springfield Middle School. He was getting a massage from Deborah Gore of Glenville, Pa., a member of the Maryland Professional Sports Massage Team.

Bradley said he felt great on the Appalachian Trail and as he left the towpath. With eight miles to go, he felt pain in his right foot and his entire left leg cramped.

"I thought I'd power it in ... (but) everything started seizing up," he said.

Geremy House was following in the footsteps, as it were, of his uncles.

One uncle, Ed House, 59, was running in his seventh JFK 50 Mile race. He said he took a 30-year break after running a few times in the 1970s.

Ed's brother, Mike House, 49, finished for the fourth time this year.

He said the family finishers will twist arms and legs and try to get other nephews to enter in 2010.

Asked if finishing the race was worth the effort, Geremy House said it was -- "in a sick, twisted, demented kind of way."

Spectators anticipate finish, too

Some runners say the first step is the hardest.

For family and friends, the waiting is hard, too.

Traci Cooper of Apex, N.C., sat with her four children -- C.J., 14; Dylan, 12; Ryan, 7 1/2; and Abby, 5 -- in the back of their GMC in the Springfield Middle School parking lot.

They were waiting for Traci's husband, Chad Cooper, to arrive. They could see the JFK 50 Mile finish line in front of them, but they didn't see him -- yet.

Traci said she tried to meet Chad at points along the way, but got lost on winding roads, so the family reconnected just once, at mile 38.

Finian Brennan's co-workers at Kaiser Permanente sat on the grass, ready for his arrival, when they would hold up their signs and cut loose.

The colleagues -- Gretchen Caplinger of Falls Church, Va.; Kim Lycette of Bowie, Md.; and Jeanine Graham of Chevy Chase, Md. -- said they only had known Brennan a short time, but were amazed at his undertaking and wanted to cheer him on.

Graham said when Brennan announced he was running in a 50-mile race, she asked, "Over how many days?"

Sena McKissack of Washington, D.C., stood with her 3-year-old son, Aiden, in his stroller and with friends. She had her eye out for her husband, Jeremy, who was trying his first ultramarathon after running several marathons.

Asked if her husband felt ready for the longer distance, Sena said, "I was more nervous."

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