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Runners traverse 'highs and lows' of fastest ever JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon

November 17, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • Lead man Max King on the Appalachian Trail near Reno Monument Road in Boonsboro during the 2012 JFK 50 Mile Run.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Ultramarathon runner Dink Taylor’s time of 7 hours, 40 minutes in the 50th annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon on Saturday was 41 minutes slower than his performance in last year’s event.

Pretty remarkable considering that just three months ago, he was fighting for his life.

The 47-year-old from Huntsville, Ala., came down with a severe headache Aug. 29 and it landed him in the hospital for 10 days.

While there, doctors told Taylor that he had suffered a stroke and had a 40 percent chance of death or paralysis, and a 70 percent chance of death if he experienced any further brain hemorrhaging.

“They didn’t know if I was going to live or die,” Taylor said.

In the two months that followed, Taylor was restricted to walking and he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to make it to Washington County for the race. Doctors cautioned him to take it easy when he started running again about a month ago.

With only a pair of 11-mile runs and a half-marathon under his belt prior to Saturday, Taylor didn’t know how his body would hold up when he began the grueling 50.2-mile course.

As remarkably as his speedy recovery, Taylor said he felt better and better as the race went, actually picking up his pace as he entered the second half of the race.

“There was never a question that I was not going all the way. I’m curious to know if anybody has ever done anything like that,” Taylor said afterward. “I’m hooked on it. Evidently, I just can’t stay away from it.”

Taylor was one of 1,000 runners from all over the country and beyond who started the JFK 50, which led participants along portions of more than 10 miles of paved roads over rolling hills, rugged and steep terrain through a 13-mile segment on the Appalachian Trail and a 26-mile stretch on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal tow path.

Race director Mike Spinnler said the field of runners included representatives from every branch of military service and numerous world-class runners from around the globe. New individual course records were set in both the men’s and women’s races, making this year the fastest JFK 50 ever, he said.

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Spinnler said.

Starting on Main Street in Boonsboro and finishing at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, the event has gained national and international notoriety through the past five decades. Spinnler said race officials had to reject between 8,000 and 10,000 applications to enter the race because of permit and course constraints.

Several runners touted the event as “the best 50 there is.”

With temperatures in the 50s most of the day and sunny skies above, Anna Piskorska, of Blandon, Pa., said the weather was better than any of the other four times she has run it.

“We had the best conditions, considering it was a little chilly in the morning,” she said. “The sun came out. It was just very, very comfortable. The (running) surface was not too slippery.”

Piskorska, who has competed in 24-hour races before, said she prepares for the race by running on hilly trails, much like those that runners encounter along the AT segment that ends in Weverton.

“You have to concentrate so much,” she said. “... But I was lucky to come out in one piece.”

Local runner Becky Orndorff, 42, of Hagerstown, looked both exhausted and joyous as she posed for photos with friends and family after finishing her fifth JFK 50. She said she enjoyed running along the AT, but the tow path was difficult.

“It hurts all the way,” she said laughing. “But when you cross the finish line, you get that adrenaline rush. Right now everything feels all right, but maybe half-hour from now then you’ll feel crappy again.”

Orndorff, who recorded her best finish yet, said this would be her final running of the race. But, Orndorff admitted, she said the same thing last year.

Finishing 10th overall in the women’s field with a 7:32, Jacqueline Palmer, who is originally from the Boonsboro area, said she was pleasantly surprised with her performance. She said the course takes runners through various “highs and lows” along the way.

“I was feeling good on the trail. I love the downhill trail,” she said. “Then you get to the canal and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got a long way to go on this section.’ There’s a lot of highs and lows."

“The hardest part is the last part of the canal,” she added. “You’ve still got 10 miles to go on the canal. Everything looks the same. There’s mile markers every tenth of a mile reminding you how slow you’re running.”

As the tow path segment comes to an end, Palmer said a hill led runners back up to paved roads.

“It’s the first hill you see in like 27 miles, and I’ve never been so happy to see a hill,” she said. “I actually like that part.”

Volunteers manned 14 aid stations with water, sports drinks and snacks at various distances, like the one at the 46-mile mark near the intersection of Downsville Pike and Spielman Road in the final stages of the course.

About 100 feet away from the aid station stood Jocelyn Camacho of New York City and her parents from Bel Air, Md., who were there to support Camacho’s husband, Vincent, a marathoner who was running in his first ultramarathon.

“It’s a great turnout,” Camacho said, taking a break from cheering on runners as she waited for her husband to trot by. “It’s impressive what the runners are doing and it’s quite impressive to have all of the volunteers out here to help with this.”

Piskorska also spoke very highly of race organizers and the volunteers who are instrumental in putting on the event each year.

“The volunteers were tremendous,” she said. “They were so helpful and they were just so encouraging. I can’t say enough.”

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