By George Banker

“I learned a lot about myself and my friends during these races.  I learned that I can push myself harder and farther and that after the physical training, it becomes all a mental game.  You have to be 100% mentally prepared and ready for this type of race or it is hard to get successfully through the whole thing. I’ve also learned a lot about myself spiritually and about what I believe in. It is a very quiet time for you to think. Knowing that I have great friends and family supporting me is also awesome!” stated Anne Spillane of Virginia Beach, Va., and a member of the Beach Ultra Moms on the Run.

Spillane was sharing thoughts after the 50th Anniversary running of the JFK 50 Mile on November 17, 2012 in Washington County, Md. Spillane talks of the mental and physical training and one has to have that toughness. To those who have experienced the race (22,790 finishers to date) the race has three distinct parts, the Appalachian Trail (AT), C&O Canal, and the last eight miles on the road. Each part of the race requires a different set of skills. The race pushes the mental, physical, and emotional limits. The best approach is to bring your “A” game and be prepared to make adjustments on the fly. The total finishers were 964

The race is rich in history with many stories locked away with the runners all with different objectives. On the morning of March 30, 1963 four persons (James Ebberts, Steve Costion, Rick Miller, and William “Buzz” Sawyer) completed the 50 mile distance in 13:10.  It was not until 1975 that the race settled into the month of November. After a successful first 30 years the directing of the race was turned over by Buzz Sawyer to Mike Spinnler who has been at the helm for the last 20 years. In 1973 Sawyer saw the finishers swell up to 673. Spinnler saw the number explode to a record 1,079.

“Some like to say that time flies, but it doesn’t. It’s steady and consistent. Sixty seconds to every minute, sixty minutes to every hour, twenty-four hours to every day and 365 (and once every four years like this year, 366) days to the year. Steadiness and consistency is why this grand event is still in existence today. It is the essence of the JFK 50 Mile”, stated Mike Spinnler, race director, two-winner (1982, 1983).

The men’s open event record was set in 2011 (5:40:45) by David Riddle of Cincinnati, Ohio, the women’s record was set in 2009 (6:29:21) by Devon Crosby-Helms of Sausalito, Calif.

Howard Nippert of Fort Union, Va., set the master’s record in 2005 (5:51:28).  The women’s record was set in 2011 (6:35:16) by Meghan Arbogast of Corvallis, Oregon.

The town was quiet and it was a cool clear morning on Main Street in downtown Boonsboro and the field included 1977 (6:04:01) winner, Ed Ayers. Ayers was the founding editor/publisher of Running Times magazine and author of “The Longest Race”, a must read about the JFK 50 Mile race. Eric Clifton, four-time winner (1991-6:06:09, 1994-5:46:22, 1995-6:15:36, 1997- 6:09:16 and two-time master winner in 1998 -6:06:42, and 2001 -6:36:32).

The two-time winner, 1998 (5:58:41), and 2005 (5:51:28) Howard Nippert. The 2010 winner (5:52:02) Captain Brian Dumm, Air Force Academy and two-time winner of the Air Force Marathon (2010 – 2:27:49, 2012 – 2:28:58). The 2011 defending champion and record holder (5:40:45) David Riddle who broke the prior 1994 record (5:46:22) by Clifton.  Riddle made his JFK debut in 2010 (5:53:09) and placed second behind Dumm.

The first 15.5 miles included 13 miles along the Appalachian Trail. The trail was completed in 1937 and is 2,157 mile which stretches from Mt. Katahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia. The mostly narrow foot path has a series of rock covered areas which required utmost respect and caution. The relief arrived coming down the switch backs at Werverton Cliff.

In the stacked field the leading contender was Max King of Bend, Oregon. King was a 2002 graduate of Cornell University and was inducted the Hall of Fame in August for track and field and cross country. King placed sixth (8:30.54) in the 3000 meter steeplechase at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. King was the 2012 USATF Trail Open Men award winner.

The point man going out was Riddle making his third appearance and the knowledge of the course. Staying on the feet along the AT is critical.

So the best description of how I feel about my race is that it felt like a Grind. I never felt particularly good or fast, I just gutted it out and never gave up even though I didn’t feel smooth early. But I am proud of myself for grinding it out. Especially after a DNF at UROC six weeks ago and the ensuing injury that hampered my training since, I really needed a solid race. I knew my training hadn’t been perfect, and I wasn’t quite in the same form as last year, but JFK gave me a chance to learn how strong I am – mentally as much or more than physically,” stated Riddle on his blog.

“Max and I ran relatively close together for a good portion of the Appalachian Trail. I think he was content just to sit a few seconds back, being careful not to make a mistake, and just wait for the towpath. My legs felt relatively good on the AT. I was a minute or so faster hitting the towpath after being slower to the trailhead at the start, so I ran the technical section a good bit faster than last year. It’s fairly apparent where my training has been focused the last six months, and I was very strong on the rocky trail because of that focus,” additional posting from Riddle.

“Being the oldest ultra in the country, it’s got a lot of history and tradition behind it as being one of those races that you just have to do at some point. It’s always been on the radar to do but when Mike Spinnler invited me out this year I figured it was as good a year as any, especially with the 50th anniversary of the race,” stated King.

King adds, “The record was definitely at the back of my mind. With the competitive field assembled I knew that we would be going for it. It was still going to take a really good day by someone to break last year’s record by David Riddle so I wasn’t sure it was going to fall but I figured I might as well try for it.”

King comments on concern about other runners, “Sure, there were a few that I knew I had to watch out for that has run fast 50 milers and marathons. Obviously I was worried about putting enough time on David Riddle that he couldn’t catch me in the last 8 miles when I started to fade a bit. I didn’t count out Trent Briney even though he’d never run 50 before, he’s got a marathon time faster than mine.  I was following Riddle for the whole AT trail. I caught him within a 1/2mile on the canal path.”

King comments about the secret of running the AT, “It is early in the race it’s just saving and conserving as much as you can. Flowing along the trail as effortlessly as possible so that once you hit the canal path you can really start to move. I learned that it still hurts a lot to run a fast 50 miles. I’ve been working on my fueling strategy in longer races too and this was a good confidence builder that I’m close to getting a good handle on my food intake.”

“I was excited that for my first ultra that I would have really great opportunity to take additional calories and drinks along the course in case I was having a tough day or just to stay fueled up. Powerbar sponsored the gels and that was nice, I already use them as they support my training. The first 2 hours of running there where 2-3 places for water and such which was fine for early in the race. After that point, I think the longest amount of miles between aid stations was 3-4 miles so that really relaxed me,” comments Trent Briney of Boulder, Colorado.

Briney adds, “I started about 25th-35th place and gradually moved up to 10-12th by the 2.5 mile trail entry point. By 15.5 miles at the end of the AT I was either 8th or 10th and about 8 minutes or so back. As we ran up the 26 miles of C and O canal I passed the guys in places seven to second and then held my position in second from the 25-30 mile point to the finish. I made up three to five minutes on the leader from where I was coming off the Appalachian Trail,”

“At four points I had doubts. Before the start….thinking 50 miles is a long way especially at a decent pace. At 15.5 miles I doubted that I could catch the leaders and be in the thick of the race. At 30 or so miles after moving into second place, I doubted for short periods on and off about bonking or getting re-passed. I had been focusing on catching others and now I was focused on not-losing my position. And, the last doubts were between 8 and 3-4 miles to go. With it being my first 50 miler, I didn’t know if I was going to hit some mega-wall and have to walk or stop. Doubting the unknown I guess,” adds Briney.

“The  secret to running the AT for me this year was to get through it and enjoy it as you are less than a third through the race and don’t want to be depleted at the 15 mile point. Practice trail running where you have to let your feet do the thinking. That can be explained as landing softly with your heel while your toe is pointed up. If the toe is down you are sure to trip. You foot can many times adjust for rocks and such if you don’t try to overcorrect. Good practice is running in the dark when you can’t see where your feet are landing. The trail itself is very up and down and I just tried to attach to other runners to maintain a good rhythm”, stated  Briney.

“My attraction to the event (JFK 50 Mile) was the history of it being the longest held ultra, this year being the 50th anniversary, and that it would fit well for a road marathon type like myself, doing my first true ultra distance event. After attending Leadville 100 this year, as a pacer, I wanted to be a part of the scene many of my friends enjoy,” Briney continues.

“When I lived in Arizona, and trained with McMillan Elite I started training some with Ian Torrence who is a long time ultra runner. I would get bored of doing the same long runs and loops all the time and wanted to explore. He took me on some great runs with friends like Scott Jurek and Brian Tinder and those bonds helped a lot. Also, a good friend Phil Wharton, who was one of my bodywork specialist and I ran lots of great long runs near Sedona and bonded about just being out on the run in beautiful places. There is energy in both that bonding and the nature that is beyond powerful.”

“My performance this year was about 20 minutes slower than two years ago. My training going into the race was less than I would have liked, and around mile 35 when I felt the crash coming on, I learned that even on the days when things don’t go your way, you have to look around at the surroundings and see their beauty and then you have to look inside yourself and realize that a race is just a race, when it doesn’t go well you have to enjoy the experience,” stated Dumm.

“We put together an Air Force team this year to compete in the military division. The collegiality, camaraderie, and friendly competition fostered by the ultra community and in particular the atmosphere of the JFK 50 miler made the event memorable. No matter how bad things got for me, I didn’t feel in danger of quitting or injury. While disappointed with my finish place and time, I never doubted my ability to enjoy the course, the atmosphere, and the support from those on the course, particularly my family,” Dumm adds.

Eric Clifton commented in 2011, “I’m just proud that it lasted so long after so many serious attempts by so many really talented runners. It was just a matter of time in any case. But now that it has been broken I anticipate it falling again soon. It’s like the dam has finally been breached and now runners will really be pushing. I can foresee a sub-5:30 within the decade. Especially for next year’s 50th running. I think that will bring out an even more competitive field than usual.”

Records are made to be broken. As the dust settled from over the last eight miles Max King was fulfilling a mission of going after the event record. King smashed the record (5:40:45) set by Riddle and replaced it with 5:34:58.  Closing in second and under the old record was Trent Briney with a time of 5:37:56. Riddle finished in third place with 5:45:13. The fourth place went to Ian Sharman of Bend, Oregon with 5:50:46 and fifth was captured by Matthew Lavin of Crystal Lake, Ill., with 5:56:19.  Dumm managed to finish in ninth place with 6:11:31.

The leading master was Paul Scouten of Black Mountain, NC as he reached the AT with a time of 19:16. In second was Michael Dolan of Media, Penna., with a time of 19:08 and third was Ian Torrence of Flagstaff, Ariz., with a time of 20:08.

Scouten held fast entering Werverton with a time of 1:56:26. Torrence managed to edge by Dolan for second place with a time of 2:04:14 to 2:06:58.

The C&O Canal was the opportunity to set up the finish as the runners all held their positions with Scouten reaching the turn off of the Canal with a time of 5:13:45. Torrence was able to hold off Dolan from regaining second place with 5:15:58 to 5:27:20.

Scouten locked in first master with a time of 6:49:16 (18th place and 24th fastest winning time).  Torrence was second with a time of 6:49:32 (20th place) and Dolan locked down third place with 6:59:37 (27th place).


The Women’s Race

The leading contender for the women was Ellie Greenwood of North Vancouver, British Columbia. Greenwood is the two-time winner and record holder of the Western States 100 (2011- 17:55:29, 2012 – 16:47:19). At the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 100K last October first place was captured with 9:04:09.

Making an ultramarathon debut was Emily Harrison of Front Royal, Va., a 2008 graduate of the University of Virginia and a three time All-American. At the 2011 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon (debut) third place was captured with 2:42:27. The time was lowered at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in January with a time of 2:32:55. Harrison has 1500m PR of 4:39.10 and 5000m time of 16:40.74. Also, joining the field was Air Force Captain Elissa Ballas (Ramstein AFB, Germany).  Last June Balls placed as the 16th female at the Western States 100 Mile with a time of 21:56:57 and captured gold at the Marine Corps Marathon with a time of 2:53:51 as the first military female finisher and seventh place female. Ballas finished second in the JFK last year with 7:01:39 (26th place overall).

Harrison showed determination from the start line and was the first to reach the start of the AT with a time of 18:26 and Greenwood trailed in 18:36. After the first mile the course takes a steep winding accent and for most runners they are reduced to walking.

Ballas was third reaching the trail in 20:09 followed by Melanie Bos of Kelowna, British Columbia with a time of 20:13.

Greenwood was able to cover the moves of Harrison and took the lead along the AT and coming into Werverton (15.5 miles) off the trail with a time 1:55:00 and Harrison trailed in 1:57:21. Bos made up some time along the AT and passed Ballas and came off 2:08:20 to 2:10:43.

Harrison not willing to back down closed in on Greenwood and assumed the lead from miles 21 to 31 along the flat C&O Canal. Greenwood was not finished as the move was covered as she regained the lead. At the end of the Canal (41.8 miles) Greenwood was taking the race to another level as she closed 4:51:13 and Harrison was 4:53:32.

Ballas had managed to close the gap established by Bos and reached the end of the Canal with a time of 5:16:17 to 5:17:50.

Over the last 8.5 miles Greenwood extended the lead and closed in rapidly on setting a new record with a time of 6:12:01 which smashed the old record by 17:21. Harrison in a strong showing of determination finished with 6:17:16 well under the old record. Greenwood was 10th place overall and Harrison was 13th.

Ballas held strong for third place with 6:44:45. Bos captured fourth place with 6:47:04. Fifth place and first master was captured by Beverly Anderson-Abbs of Red Bluff, Calif., with a time of 7:14:31 (9th fastest winning time). Anne Spillane of Virginia Beach, Va., was the second master with a time of 7:19:29. Last year she placed third master with a time of 7:55:48.

“I got into ultra running via two sources.  Early on in my running career, my Mom was involved in trail running and ultras, so I was somewhat exposed to it then.  More recently I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona where I had the opportunity to run with several of the local ultra runners, mainly Ian Torrence.  This was my first ultra and my first time running JFK.  I had been to the race a couple times before to support other people running it,” stated Harrison.

Harrison continues, “My Mom has twice completed JFK several years ago, and it is somewhat close to where I grew up.  Talking with my coach, JFK seemed like the ideal race to make my ultra debut.  As you know, the course starts out technical being on the Appalachian Trail, but the racing begins on the C&O Canal.  The Canal is more similar to road racing, which is where my background lies.  JFK is the perfect combination of trail and rhythm running.”

Harrison comments on the AT, “I’m not sure there’s a secret, but definitely some key aspects to running the AT depending on your background.  For example, women’s winner Ellie Greenwood has a strong background in technical trail running and the AT is a strong point for her.  On the other hand, while I’ve done a fair amount of trail running, I had never raced on trails before, so my approach to the AT section was to stay as relaxed as possible and to stay on my feet.  For me, a fall on the trail could easily ruin my race.”

“I learned that I can complete 50 miles!  That aside, I was glad to reassure myself that I am tough and that I am strong willed to keep going when the going gets rough,” Harrison adds about the competition, “I wouldn’t say concern, but awareness.  I was constantly aware of where Ellie Greenwood was and what she was doing.  I still had to execute my own race plan, but when you’re competing for a win you have to be conscience of what your competitors are doing.”

Harrison adds about any doubts during the race, “Of course, I feel that’s one of the biggest battles you have to face during a race.  When I hit a rough stretch and started to slow down, it became an internal battle to keep pushing forward.  Once I started to push the sugars (coke), physically I started to bounce back and then mentally I was able to start counteracting the self doubts that had been creeping in.  I knew I’d be very upset with myself afterwards if I let my doubts win.”

“The support along the course was amazing along the course.  I had family and friends along the course that helped me with my fluids throughout the race, so I didn’t utilize the early aid stations.  However, as the race went on, I started to take advantage of the aid stations.  The people working the aid stations were always positive and enthusiastic, and were on the ready to help you with whatever you needed.  The course is also very well marked, and there are people at any location you might need direction to point you where to go,” comments Harrison.

“My first ultra was JFK in 2011. A teammate of mine from the Air Force Marathon Team, Mark Cucuzzella, suggested that some of us try running the JFK 50 because it’s such a great event. I was intrigued, so figured I would give it a try. JFK was going to be the one and only ultra that I did, but then I qualified for Western States and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So I ran Western States in June this year. The race is a fun ultra on a great course. I love the AT and the towpath. The race is also appealing to me because I’m in the Air Force and it has a military heritage associated with it. This year, we decided to put an Air Force team together for the military team competition,” Ballas added.

“The secret to running the AT is don’t trip and fall. For me, the secret is to take it slow on the down hills and push the up hills a little more. I know that’s probably backwards from what most runners do, but I’m much better at uphill running, so I try to gain some ground there when I can. I usually end up walking most of the down hills so I don’t hurt myself or twist an ankle”, stated Ballas.

Ballas adds, “Every race I do, I’m amazed at what my body can handle. Just when I think I’ve pushed it to the breaking point, everything seems to work out. I had some doubts around mile 14 when I twisted my ankle twice within 1/2 mile. I had to stop and regroup myself before I continued on. I knew that if I could make it off the AT without any serious injuries, I’d be fine the rest of the race, so I just kept that in the back of my mind and it worked!”

“The support on the course was great. A lot of the course is not easy to get to, so any supporters who made their way out there were HUGELY appreciated. Since I ran as part of a team this year, I felt like I had more supporters (since a lot of us had family/friends come out to watch). They did a good job dispersing themselves at various locations. The aid stations were also wonderful and had everything I could have wanted,” Ballas continues.

The legend Kimball Byron of Owings Mills, Md., finished his 44th JFK 50 Mile in 12:25:32. At the age of 12 (1968, 6th JFK 50 Mile)  Kimball ran 15:22:25 and the fastest time was clocked in 1988 (26th JFK) with a time of 8:29:59. In 1984 he was unable to get a military leave and was unable to compete.  The author, Ed Ayres at the age of 71 finished with a time of 11:21:31.

The top Men’s Open Team was captured by Fleet Feet – Huntsville with a combined time of 20:41:02. The members, David Riddle (5:45:13), Victor Ornelas (7:15:12), and Dink Taylor (7:40:37).

The Women’s Open Team was captured by the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club with a total time of 23:34:36. The members, Tina Husted (7:22:44), Laurie Dymond (8:01:25), and Kathleen Luzier (8:10:27).

The top Military Team was the Air Force with a time of 34:46:45. The members, Brian Dumm (6:11:31), Elissa Ballas (6:44:45), Jason Brosseau (6:55:14), Mike Wasson (7:06:28), and Anne Portlock (7:48:47).