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Another fast field set to go at JFK 50

November 15, 2012|By ANDREW MASON | andrewm@herald-mail.com
  • David Riddle, of Cincinnati, set the course record at the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon last year. He will be back to defend his title Saturday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Last year’s 49th annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon was one for the ages.

David Riddle passed Michael Wardian late in the race and held on to win in a course-record time of 5 hours, 40 minutes, 45 seconds. Wardian finished second in 5:43:24, also dipping under the previous mark of 5:46:22 set in 1994 by Eric Clifton, whose record once seemed untouchable.

“It was pretty special last year,” Riddle, 31, of Cincinnati, said in a phone interview this week. “Everything just came together perfectly.”

While Wardian is sidelined with an injury, Riddle will be back to defend his title Saturday at the 50th annual JFK 50 Mile, the largest, oldest and arguably most prestigious ultramarathon in the U.S.

“It’s definitely a big year,” Riddle said. “I wish I could have saved my record for the 50th anniversary, but you have to take it when you have the chance.”

The 50.2-mile course, which starts in Boonsboro and ends in Williamsport, traverses the Appalachian Trail, C&O Canal towpath and rolling paved roads. More than 1,000 runners from nearly every state and a half-dozen countries are set to compete.

Riddle, perhaps surprisingly, is not the runner to beat.

That would be Max King, 32, of Bend, Ore.

“I don’t feel any pressure because I don’t see myself as the favorite,” Riddle said. “I see Max as the clear favorite.”

Race director Mike Spinnler said, “Everybody walking to the starting line considers Max King the favorite.”

While King has never run the JFK 50 Mile, he has experience.

The climb up South Mountain shouldn’t be a problem for him. He was the 2011 IAAF World Mountain Running Champion.

It also seems unlikely that he’ll struggle on the rugged Appalachian Trail. He won the title last year at the Xterra Trail Running World Championship.

King also has proved himself at distances greater than 50 miles. He won the Ultra Race of Champions 100K in Virginia earlier this fall.

And he’s more than proved himself at shorter distances, especially this year. He lowered his marathon PR to 2:14:36 at the U.S. Olympic Trials in January, then placed sixth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 8:30.54 at the Olympic track trials in June.

“There are no chinks in his armor,” Spinnler said. “As a race promoter, I’m just thrilled to get a guy like him in his absolute prime, loaded for bear.

“He has the capabilities of running under 5 1/2 hours. I’ve never said that before about anyone running the JFK.”

But he still has to run it.

“Anything can happen on race day, and I’m not going to hand Max the race,” Riddle said. “But I’m not thinking I have to stick on his shoulder. I’m just going to run my race, and if he comes back, like Wardian did last year, then he comes back.”

There will be several other men ready to take their shots.

Brian Dumm, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colo., will try to make it two-for-two at JFK after missing last year’s race. He won in his debut in 2010 in 5:52:02, holding off Riddle by 67 seconds for the victory.

Trent Briney, 34, of Boulder, Colo., also should be in the mix. While this will be the longest race of Briney’s career, no one in the field has run a faster marathon. He placed fourth at the 2004 Olympic Trials in 2:12:34.

Other men’s contenders include Zach Bitter, 26, of Marinette, Wis., who last month won the USA Track & Field national 50-mile title; Ian Sharman, 32, of Bend, Ore., who owns the top 100-mile time in the field (12:44:33); Mike Arnstein, 35, of New York City, who was the 2009 JFK runner-up in 5:50:58; and Jeff Buechler, 38, of Boulder, Colo., who placed third at last year’s JFK in 5:53:25.

“We’re not going to have a lack of talent there if Max King blows up,” Spinnler said. “There are some guys out there sniffing. No one is going to get the winner’s cup based on résumé. You have to do it on the day.”

While it certainly will be exciting to see how that plays out, Spinnler said, “The women’s race might even be better than the men’s.”

The women’s race has all the makings to be an epic battle between Ellie Greenwood, 33, of North Vancouver, British Columbia, and Emily Harrison, 26, of Front Royal, Va., who both will be making their JFK debuts.

Greenwood is the two-time defending champion and course-record holder at the iconic Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run in California, while Harrison is a 2:32 marathoner.

At 50 miles, it might be an even fight.

“I fully expect (Greenwood) to crack the top 10 overall (including among men) Saturday. And I fully expect her to break the current women’s course record (6:29:21, set by Devon Crosby-Helms in 2009),” Spinnler said. “I think she’ll do all those things, and I could still see her getting beat at the same time. Emily Harrison is the very best female marathon runner to ever run the JFK.

“I can’t wait to see those two go at it. Their résumés are so strong that Megan Hovis barely gets mentioned in the conversation.”

Hovis, 30, of Charlotte, N.C., finished 12th in the 2008 Olympic Trials marathon in 2:37:29. This will be her first JFK.

Cassie Scallon, last year’s women’s champ, is not returning.

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