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Parasiliti: Limits of love, pain put to test by JFK 50

November 18, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

Sometimes, love hurts.

Max King can attest to that. He was in pain on Saturday and loving every minute of it.

“Wow! That hurt!” he exclaimed as he crossed the finish line of his first JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon, just in front of Williamsport’s Springfield Middle School.

His agony was ecstasy. What wasn’t there to love?

King won the race. It wasn’t just any race, run on just any course to achieve just any accomplishment.

He covered the 50.2-mile course in a record 5 hours, 34 minutes and 58 seconds to win the milestone 50th edition of “America’s Ultramarathon,” the largest, oldest and quite possibly most prestigious such event in the country.

King averaged 6:42 per mile on a rocky course with as many ups and downs as Lindsay Lohan’s career.

And in the completion of the daunting process, King shattered the race record by nearly six minutes. That mark of 5:40:45 was the latest unbeatable mark set by David Riddle just last year, which eclipsed the previously unbeatable mark of 5:46:22 set by Eric Clifton in 1994.

For anyone keeping track, that’s 11 minutes, 24 seconds shaved off the impossible in just two years.

As John Mellencamp says, that’s why it hurt so good.

But with one look around the finishing area, it was easy to see that King’s misery loves company.

The JFK started as a fitness run before evolving into one of distance running’s holy grails.

The notion was born as a health initiative for the military and U.S. citizens by two presidents — first Teddy Roosevelt some 100 years ago as an objective for military officers, before being retooled by John F. Kennedy to promote public fitness in 1963.

It’s now the ultimate test for specialized world-class athletes and Joe Joggers alike.

For some God-forsaken reason, they find pleasure touring the sites between Boonsboro and Williamsport — a 10-mile trip via car — on foot. They would rather climb and descend on the rough terrain known as the Appalachian Trail before running a marathon on the C&O Canal towpath.

Then, it’s topped off by traversing the hilly, paved roadways of Washington County before heading for home — or to school, in this case.

Wow! That hurts!

One by one, runners trickled across the finish line. In the old days, they would find a patch of ground and lay there until the senses they abandoned hours ago caught up with them.

Now, it’s different … much, much different.

Most grab a drink to rehydrate and change clothes to get warm while packing away the mask of pain that etched their faces while in competition. All the top runners hovered around the finish line, turning it into a frat party as they waited to greet and congratulate the next guy home.

It was the running world’s combination of carpe diem — seizing the day — and paying it forward all wrapped together with a participation medal.

And still, there are features that set the JFK — particularly this year’s race — apart.

On the surface, it’s about pride and accomplishment, no matter where you finish.

But down deep, the race offers so much history of the patriotic, American and event variety.

The race pays homage to our military. It remembers that if it wasn’t for the work of our armed forces, this event wouldn’t be the pre-Thanksgiving staple it has become.

In fact, if Roosevelt never demanded his officers to be able to walk 50 miles in 20 hours, this would just a pre-Black Friday weekend.

Americana showed up as descendants of Roosevelt and Kennedy participated in the festivities.

Teddy Roosevelt IV fired the starting pistol to start the daylong rough ride for the participants. He was on hand to greet them at the finish line, starting with King.

“Outstanding job,” Roosevelt said to a seated King, while shaking his hand.

“Thank you. Forgive me for not standing up,” King replied.

“You’re nuts if you do,” Roosevelt shot back. “… This makes us all proud to be Americans.”

On the day that allows the JFK to apply for AARP membership — reaching 50 while offering 2,510 miles of competition over the years — it might have been the most glorious of celebrations. Many runners turned out to be part of it.

King shattered the unbeatable record that beat the unbeatable record, outdistancing Trent Briney — who also bettered the old standard — by three minutes.

Riddle finished third this year and now owns the third and fifth fastest times in race history on a day when five men finished under six hours for the first time ever.

Add to it Ellie Greenwood’s dominant effort of 6:11:59, which crushed Devon Crosby-Helms’ 2009 women’s course record by nearly 18 minutes as she became the first non-American to win a JFK title. Emily Harrison also bettered the old mark by 12 minutes while finishing second.

“(This is) is the most American you can get,” King said. “You have the Kennedys and the Roosevelts here. This is the biggest and oldest ultramarathon and winning it is pretty prestigious. I’m proud of that.”

King’s record time may get beat someday, but he will always be known as the winner of the 50th JFK 50 Mile.

Despite all the pain he endured, he lived up to his name.

Max will always be a King.

So, what’s love have to do with it?

Everything.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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