Stars align for JFK 50 Mile
By ANDREW MASON firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Crowther of Seattle; Dave Mackey of Boulder, Colo.; Mark Lundblad of Swannanoa, N.C.; Pete Breckinridge of Norfolk, Va.; Michael Wardian of Arlington, Va.; Ian Torrence of Ashland, Ore.; Zach Miller of Ann Arbor, Mich.
The list of stars set to compete Saturday in the 45th annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon in Washington County doesn’t even come close to stopping there.
“It’s the best men’s field ever, without a doubt,” race director Mike Spinnler said. “As far as overall depth, it’s just very, very impressive.
“We could see five guys break 6 hours, even a new course record possibly. That’s why Greg Crowther’s coming, to take a crack at it. His backup goal is to break 6 hours.”
Only 12 men have cracked 6 hours in the history of the event. The course record of 5:46:22 was set by Eric Clifton in 1994.
“One record I feel confident will go is the number of athletes under 7 hours,” Spinnler said. “We’ll probably have at least 30 this year.”
A record 19 runners broke 7 hours last year, when the JFK set a U.S. mark for the number of overall finishers in an ultramarathon with 1,017.
Last year’s race had 1,138 starters. Spinnler said he’s expecting at least 1,200 Saturday morning in Boonsboro.
“If Mother Nature cooperates and participants are ready to suffer for six, eight, 10, 12 hours – whatever it takes – we could have another 1,000-plus finishers,” he said.
But who will be the first to cross the finish line in Williamsport?
Last year it was Breckinridge, who won by nearly 8 minutes in 6:04:40 in his ultramarathon debut. He was in 14th place, several minutes behind the leaders, coming off the grueling Appalachian Trail segment of the race at 15.5 miles. Then he went to work on the C&O Canal towpath, which covers the next 26.3 miles. By the time he hit the rolling paved roads for the final 8.4 miles, he had a commanding lead.
“My approach is not going to be that much different than last year,” Breckinridge said. “I’m going to try to run a little faster over the (Appalachian Trail) because that’s the area of the race where I have room for improvement. I just don’t want to be so far behind the leaders that I burn myself out chasing after them. The quality of runners in front of me this year will make it that much more difficult.”
Mackey also took the title in his only JFK appearance. He won in 2003 in 5:55:30 – tied for the fourth-best performance all-time.
Breckinridge said that if he had to pick Saturday’s winner, it would be either Mackey or Crowther. Crowther, who will be making his JFK debut, placed 11th at the 100K World Cup in the Netherlands two months ago.
“Winning the race last year only elevates my status from unknown to dark horse,” Breckinridge said. “I speak of my chances pessimistically, but that’s not going to affect my effort one bit. I’m going to give it everything. When I’m done, I’m not going to have anything left.”
It will be interesting to see how much Wardian has left Saturday. Two weeks ago, he ran in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials – a race he led early before fading to a 2:30:54 finish. This past weekend, he won the Outer Banks Marathon in 2:24:16. It was his 13th marathon of 2007 and fourth win.
“He’s a physiological freak,” Spinnler said.
Then there are Mr. and Mrs. Lundblad – Mark and Anne – the reigning men’s and women’s U.S. 50-mile road champions.
“If we could ever find some kind of couple-teams ultra, that would be pretty cool,” Anne said with a laugh.
Anne Lundblad, 41, won the 2005 JFK in 6:29:42, shattering the women’s course record by more than 20 minutes.
“That is a grand record,” Spinnler said. “That puts you on the podium some years in the men’s race.”
Lundblad said she’s hoping to break the record again Saturday.
“That’s a pretty ambitious thing to say, but you always want to run faster than you did before,” she said. “I just hope age hasn’t caught up with me too much.”
Other women’s contenders include Carol O’Hear of Brookline, Mass.; Annette Bednosky of Jefferson, N.C.; Bethany Patterson of Richmond, Va.; Sue Johnston of Oxnard, Calif.; and Hillary Biscay of Tuscon, Ariz.
Patterson was the 2003 JFK champ and Johnston won the race in 1999. Biscay, a professional triathlete, will be making her ultramarathon debut.
“The main person I’m running against is myself from two years ago,” Lundblad said. “The ghost of myself.”
Scott Draper of Williamsport and Mary Zielinski of Boonsboro – Washington County’s top male and female performers last year – are both entered again this year. Zielinski, however, isn’t expected to run because of a foot injury.
Mark Cucuzzella of Shepherdstown, W.Va. – the Tri-State area’s top marathon runner – is set to give the JFK a second try. He was in second place halfway through last year’s race, but dropped out around Mile 38.
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