JFK 50 mile reaches new limit

Posted on October 10, 2007 by


Original storyFIVE YEARS AGO, I decided to sign up for the JFK 50 Mile when the race was but four weeks away. This year, I would have had to sign up before Aug. 28.This year’s race, the 45th annual, reached its new limit of 1,300 runners 82 days before the Nov. 17 race start. Last year, the race reached its limit of 1,100 runners 26 days before the start. In 2005, it filled 15 days before the start.Before that, the race never quite reached its capacity. Race director Mike Spinnler likes to keep the race to just over 1,000 runners. He usually figures about 10 percent attrition rate of registered racers who won’t show because of injury or unforeseen circumstances.What started as a small race in 1963 to promote physical fitness has blossomed into the oldest continuous ultra marathon and one of the most popular in the country. In 1963, 11 runners started and four finished.Organizer Buzz Sawyer kept the race alive for most of those years, until about 15 years ago, when Spinnler took over. Spinnler won the race in 1982 and 1983.Over the years, the course has remained the same. Runners start in Boonsboro on U.S. 40A , but quickly move onto the Appalachian Trail for 11 miles, then 26 miles on the C&O Canal Towpath, with the finish over rolling country roads.In the past few years, the race has attracted some of the elites in the ultramarathon world. This year, women’s course record holder Anne Lundblad, 41, of Asheville, N.C., returns. She set the record of 6:29:42 in 2005. The men’s record stands at 5:46:22, set in 1995 by Eric Clifton.“We’ve got some great runners coming,” Spinnler said. Last year’s women’s winner, Barry Salisbury, of Middletown, set the women’s master’s record of 8:00:31. Salisbury, 51, will not race this year, but she will speak at the pre-race banquet the night before the race. “She’s retired from the event,” Spinnler said. The age of 50 seems to be a magic number.“We get more 50-year-olds than any other demographic,” Spinnler said. There seems to be something magic about turning 50 and running the JFK 50 Mile. Overall, more runners are in their 40s than in any other age group.As runners continue competing into their older years, he expects older runners will register for the JFK in larger numbers. Younger runners are also starting to take notice and compete, he said. He thinks that’s because extreme sports are becoming more popular with young people.Other top women runners Spinnler is expecting include Bethany Hunter, of Lynchburg, Va., who won the 2003 race at the age of 24, and Julie Udchachon. Udchachon, of Eagle River, Alaska, finished second to Anne Lundblad in 2005, with a time of 6:40:53. At the time, she was 35.“It carries some prestige in the running world,” Spinnler said. Male and female winners each get $500, along with $500 to any athlete who sets a course record.Montrail, a manufacturer of trail running shoes, is now the race sponsor. “Montrail is a major sponsor,” Spinnler said. “I was flattered that they came to us.”Runner’s World also noted the race last year, and Spinnler thinks that may be why entries are up this year.Runners on the course will find the aid stations well-stocked with potato chips, pretzels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, M&Ms, and hot soup at a couple of the later aid stations. There is also plenty of food at the finish line, Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, and shuttle service back to the start at Boonsboro High School.There will be 300 runners starting with flashlights and headlamps at the 5 a.m. start, while 850 to 900 runners will start in daylight at 7 a.m.The 5 a.m. start is for runners who think they won’t finish in the 12-hour allotted time. Spinnler says it’s imperative for safety reasons to have all runners off the course by 7 p.m., when it’s quite dark.“The 5 a.m. is for novices and aging athletes, not for somebody who’s got a wedding to get to,” Spinnler said. “It’s a bit of an inconvenience to elite athletes.”He wants to keep the race friendly for locals who can do either the 5 a.m. or 7 a.m. start, and said there are still many local and regional runners. Each year a contingent comes from the Reston (Va.) Runners, along with another contingent from the Annapolis Striders.This year the Goodloe Byron 15K Memorial Run will be at Mount St. Mary’s University Saturday, Oct. 20, starting at 9 a.m. at Echo Field. Entry fees are $20, $15 for students. The race is a fundraiser for the Byron Memorial Scholarship Fund.Registration is the same day from 7:30-8:45 a.m. at the Echo Field Old Gym. That is also the site of the start and finish line. This is a challenging 15K that includes some long ascents and descents.

Posted in: Trail Running, USA