By George Banker

Since November 1963 a group of passionate and dedicated runners meet in Washington County, Boonsboro, Maryland to enjoy the 50-mile journey to Williamsport. The town of Boonsboro was founded by George and William Boone the cousins of Daniel Boone. There was a 500-foot climb to reach the 15.5 mile section along the Appalachian Trail, 26.3 miles along the C&O Canal towpath and 8.4 miles along rolling paved roads. On November 21, 2009 the race known as the John F. Kennedy 50 Mile celebrated its 47th running.  The race has history and many stories from each year. The race is a test of stamina and endurance and the will to perform at that level which will lead to success. This ultramarthon is the oldest in the Untied States.

Race Director, Mile Spinnler shares his thoughts, “When people walk away from the finish line of the JFK 50 Mile I want them to feel like –with hard work and persistence – anything is possible. By and large the people who finish the JFK 50 Mile are the same type of individuals achieving excellence in every other avenue of their lives”.

“The Cumberland Valley Athletic Club measures our success in managing the event by the growing number of people who desire to be part of this great American sporting tradition. Also, that after they come and participate, they then go and spread a positive word about the event”, added Spinnler.

To date 19,951 competitors have finished the JFK.  In 1978 the race made history with 1,078 finishers which have been the most finishers in U.S. Ultra history. This year the race had 1,016 finishers (246 females).

The JFK 50-Mile inspires performances and creates legends and at the top of the chart is Kimball Bryon of Owings Mill, Md., he was inducted into the JFK 2,000 Mile Club for completing his 40th JFK 50 Mile at the conclusion of 2008. Bryon is in a class by himself. On March 30, 1968 at the age of 12 Bryon finished in 15:22:25. The best finish was on November 19, 1988 with an 8:29:59.  He ran the event six times with his father Congressman Goodloe Bryon who represented the 6th Congressional district of Maryland for January 3,, 1978 through October 11, 1978 and his personal best was 10:13:10 (1971).

The history continues as Bryon completed number 41 in a time of 10:54:36.

There has been only two runners who have had three consecutive year wins James Ebberts (1963, 1964, and1965) and Buzz Sawyer (1965, 1966, and 1967). Sawyer was the Race Director 1963 through 1992.

There has been six runners who have had two consecutive year wins, Steve Cosition (1963,1964), Elton Horst (1965, 1966), Max White (1973, 1974), Mike Spinnler (1982, 1983), Chris Gibson (1988, 1989 and 1992,1993), and Eric Clifton (1994, 1995).

Gibson was the keynote speaker at the Legends Dinner where prior runners and volunteers were recognized.

Gibson was able to share his thoughts about the JFK, “This group of runners (the audience) is an inspiration. Inspiration is a unique thing all of us have gravitated to the race by someone. I think of the movie “Pay It Forward”. You do something nice without any expectation. As runners it’s our responsibility to “Pay It Forward””.

“In 1989 was my best race (6:16:29) and I never entered a race thinking I would win. At mile 46 the second place (Edward Boggess) was six seconds back. It was do or die. I said, “Now is the time”, in the last four miles. The concept of never thinking the race is over but thinking that you always have something left”, added Gibson.

In closing, Gibson stated, “You have to have goals when you train. If you don’t have them you are not living. We have the potential to inspire others with what we do. We have passion”.

In 2007 coming in10th place was Greg Crowther of Seattle, Washington with a time of 6:41:09. Crowther is a research scientist at the University Of Washington Depratment Of Medicine. Returning to claim a rightful place the tables had turned for Crowther as he recounts, “The JFK is appealing for the long history and that many great ultramarathoners have tested themselves at it over the years, made me want to give it my best shot and see how well I could measure up to others”.

The challenge for Crowther was the Appalachian Trail as he did not consider himself a good trail runner. The preparation for the  race included a mixture of intervals, short races (5K-10Ks),  long runs (25-30 miles at close to race pace), and easy days. The average weekly mileage was 80 leading up to the race.

The race strategy, “I hoped to run the AT section in about 2 hours (15.5 miles), the towpath in about 2:50 (26.3 miles), and the final section in 1:00 (8.4 miles) which I figured was good t win”.  It turned out the splits were about 2:04, 2:50, and 0:55.

Going into the race Crowther had made notes on the runners to watch which included Oz Pearlman, Chad Ricklefs (2001 JFK champion 6:00:47) a fellow World Cup 100K team member, and David James. Taking all into consideration and the weather the primary goal was to run a fast time. Crowther had figured a satisfactory race would be around six hours and good for second or third place.

Crowther made it to the winners circle and pulled the race out in the last 1.5 mile to take the win with 5:50:13 the second fastest winning time in the history of the race. The record was set in 1994 by Eric Clifton with 5:46:22. There have been only 10 winning times under six hours in the race history.

“When I heard that Greg Crowther was coming to the race, I literally sent an e-mail to my training partner and I said “Oh well”, there goes any chance of winning the race. I guess I had ESP because with less than two miles to go suddenly Greg was right behind me! I was in utter shock!” stated runner up Michael Arnstein of New York City.

Arnstein was making a third appearance. In 2006 and being over trained he finished with 8:01:12. In 2008 there was a better focus in 6:24:36 placing fifth. “This year I trained specifically for the race by doing more weekly miles and little speed work. I had a great day, no doubt I performed well, I was surprised myself at how fast I ran”, stated Arnstein finishing with 5:50:58.

“With the huge depth of talent a this years race I really wanted a top 10 finish with a goal of top five and top three being doubtful. Yet, I guess I didn’t give myself enough credit.  I did learn that anything is possible and that I shouldn’t put limits on myself. I guess taking it easy on the trails paid off when I got on the flat/road surface where I put my marathon and track speed to use”, stated Arnstein.

“This race has so much history. It’s like the Boston Marathon of middle distance ultra races. There is such a huge turn out and the course is really “fun” with the different types of running terrain.  This race is going to last for centuries to come – we are still “pioneers” in many way. It’s awesome to get to the starting line and even try it – it takes GUTS to even start an ultra!”, added Arnstein.

“This was my first time running the JFK. The most miles I have ever run was 31. I’m not a fan of mountain races and JFK is a fairly flat course. JFK also peaked my interest because of the history and the amount of competition”, stated Matt Woods of Falls Church, Va., placing third in 5:54:10.

“I started getting coached in April with the Potomac River Running Training Program. I trained for marathons and ultras. At peak training I was running 93 average miles for six weeks.  My goal was to get under six hours. I would have been happy placing in the top 10”, added Woods.

“My strategy was to stay with the guys in the front to get an idea of how to pace for the race. At mile 18 I made a decision that I was ok to run faster than most of the front pack. The other strategy was to let it be known that it was my first 50 mile race. I felt like that opened it up for the other runners to help me with tips for the distance”, stated Woods.

Woods adds, “It seems like the longer the distance I go, the better I do competitively. Also, I did not realize that it was such a rare feat for people to get under six hours for the JFK. This has really been exciting for me. I’ve been running for four years. I started running only to lose weight. I never imagined that I could be at where I am today.”

In 1983 Teri Gerber of Encino, California made history with the record setting time 6:56:12 the first female to run under 7 hours. The following year the time was lowered to 6:50:56.  Twenty-one years later Anne Riddle Lundblad set a new mark with a performance of 6:29:42, the fifth winning time under seven hours.

“I am not a sandbagger, if I feel good going into a race, I own it. If I am feeling on top of my game, I know it. In theory, I think I would love to toe the line feeling like a thoroughbred pressing at the gate. But, alas, I have no idea what that feeling is like”, stated Devon Crosby-Helms of Sausalito, California.

History was to be made, “I turned the corner to the last aid station which was 1.5 miles to the finish line and smiled and choked back tears. I was emotional, overwhelmed by the impending victory and top placing overall. I wouldn’t let myself slow down though or succumb to the emotion. The final stretch seems like a celebratory mile, I dug deep. I looked at my watch and calculated that I would have to run under 10 minutes for the last 1.5 miles”, that above stated on the Crosby-Helms Blog.

The record did fall to 6:29:21 and Crosby-Helms placed 10th overall. “I could hear Mike Spinnler on the microphone encouraging everyone to cheer me to the finish, to the course record. I nearly lost my breath, I nearly cried, I was going to do it”, added Crosby-Helms.

“I have been attracted to this race by its name (big fan of JFK), and by the fact that it has so much fast running surface. What got me there this year was a special invitation by Mike Spinnler. I am a member of the USA 100K Team that competes every year in the World Cup”, stated Meghan Arbogast of Corvallis, Oregon.

Arbogast was well prepared for the race this year, “I had a lot of mileage on my legs for the year. I had run the Western States in June (21:33:36), as well as World Cup 100K (8:04:29), another 100K in August, and a road marathon in October”, Arbogast states.

On the strategy, “I was trying to stay in control during the trail section, and then try to run 7 minute pace once I hit the towpath. On the Appalachian Trial I fell twice, and after that I was feeling very spastic and stiff.  The last 8 miles was a challenge because I bonked pretty badly”, add Arbogast.

Arbogast placed second with 6:56:05 along with being the first master. The master record was set in 2007 (6:42:50) by Anne Riddle Lundblad.

Arbogast adds, “I learned that I need to eat more and drink more. I have been kind of winging it – eat when I get hungry, and drink sometimes. I have been able to get by with that in some of the trail ultras because they are slower and the time spent at the aid stations is generally longer. In these faster running type races, I really have to get a grip on calorie uptake that is consistent and on a schedule based on my weight, and stick to it”

Nailing down third place was Annette Bednosky of Jefferson, N.C. with a time of 7:02:52 (PR).  Bednosky ran the JFK in 2008 and was runner up with 7:10:29. The attraction to the JFK, “My reasons for running is the competitive field, the race is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup which I am a participant, and I like the variety of surfaces and challenge’, stated Bednosky.

Bednosky was well prepared for the task at hand, “I had started running again after taking 10 weeks off after the Vermont 100 Miler (21:11:18.3, 1st master and 4th place, July 18-19) due to an injury.  I did run the Mountain Masochist two weeks prior (8:56:46) and used it as a fun run, rather than a race so that helped remind my body of “lots of time on the feet””.

“My strategy was to run how I felt, making a plan based on my in 2007 and not to “compete” until at least mile 40. Somewhere around miles 36-39ish I felt like maybe I started out too fast-running a pace I hadn’t train for. So, it became a head game for those miles to remember I simply wanted to sustain my reasonable pace and that wouldn’t hurt me-and if I slowed, it wouldn’t make things get easier-just slower!”, stated Bednosky.

“My friend and Montrail teammate Jill Perry (8:25:40) took a hard fall on the Weverton switchbacks. She limped in with a hurt knee-yet battling injury I think she and I would have really pushed one another. I was concerned for her injury…usually  I don’t get concerned around fast women-because although I may miss out “placing”-fast girls always help me run my best races!”, stated Bednosky.

“I chose the JFK because it was not a total “road” race but it was also not a total “trail” race. I liked the mixture and it was also not too far from home. I read several blogs and stuff on the web that advised people to take it easy on the AT so that is what I did. Once I hit the towpath, I just settled into a pace that I thought I could run all day” stated Riva Johnson of Carlisle, Penna., placing sixth in 7:38:24

Johnson states, “My goal was just to finish the race. My second goal was to try and beat the time a friend of mine did several years ago which was 8:27.  I really enjoyed running the race and couldn’t have asked for a better day. Believe it or not, this was my first 50 miler. I have been a competitive runner since high school and have raced everything up to a marathon but decided to take it a little further this year”.

In order to stay focused Johnson had a plan, “I came up with an idea of having each mile dedicated to someone. I made a list of 50 people who had special meaning to me. Some were world class women runners who I have admired, some were kids that I have coached over the years, others were family members who have always been supportive, and people that have had to deal painful medical conditions but have shown a positive attitude no matter what.  I put five names on a little sheet of paper and pinned them all to my number. As each set of five miles passed, I would remove the top list and see the next five names. I would think of the inspiring people and my pain was so small compared the others”.

“The toughest part of the race for me was the last two miles on the towpath and the first four miles on the roads. The rolling hills on the road were hard since my legs were tired so you couldn’t even enjoy the downhill parts”. Johnson continues, “I was so thrilled with both my place and time…it was definitely better than I had expected or could have hoped for”.

“I think that I learned that I can accomplish just about whatever I set my mind to as long as I prepare in the correct manner. I could never have accomplished this without the help of my coach, Howard Nippert (JFK 50 Mile champion 1998, 2005), who prepared my workout schedule and gave me invaluable information and support during the months leading up to the race”, adds Johnson.

“I ran my first JFK in 2006 (1st Master and 5th place 6:25:01). I chose the JFK because I wanted to do another 50 and I wanted to do it before I find 100 miler. The course (AT, canal path, and pavement) offers some good diversity. This year has been my best time. I prepared by running trails in the Smoky Mountains (Knoxville, TN) each Saturday”, stated Jim Lawler, second master and 9th place with 6:24:20.

The top men open team was Team NYC with 18:36:37 with members Michael Arnstein (5:50:58), Oz Pearlman (6:09:39), David James (6:36:00), and Michael Oliva (7:46:44) the top three count for scoring.

The top women open team was Reston Babes with 27:29:37, team members Deedee Loughran (8:37:24), Mary Klaff (9:22:35), Ana Bradford (9:28:38), and Ellen Mannion (10:05:56).

The top military team was USNA Outrageous Fun with a score of 40:46:16 (top five score) with members of J.D. Connor (7:44:43), Tony Guy (7:50:43), Tim Fitzgerald (7:58:53), Joseph Sheffield (8:20:21), Mike McMonagle (8:51:36), ad Luke Finney (10:01:33).

The JFK continues to be a success with the support of the sponsors, federal and local agencies, and the citizens and volunteers of Washington County.