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The "Dual Start" at the JFK 50 Miler

by Mike Spinnler, JFK RD

[Editor's Note: After the 2004 JFK, I recommended to Mike Spinnler that JFK start everyone at 6 AM rather than the current "dual" system in which some runners start at 5 AM and others at 7 AM. Mike's response included information which is critical in understanding the issue but which is not well known. He suggested that I put his response on this Web site. Consequently, here is an excerpt from the letter that Mike sent me. --Anstr Davidson.]

Unfortunately, a small group of our participants have developed a perception that the early start is somehow 'discriminatory" or that it labels them "second class citizens." This is in no way the intention of the dual start system.

As briefly as I can, let me try to explain some of the reasoning -- and rational -- behind incorporating the "dual start" in 2002. After the 2001 JFK 50 Mile, I was informed by the National Park Service that we would no longer be allowed to have participants on the towpath after dusk, which comes at approximately 5:00 p.m in late November. After 39 years of our participants having access to the towpath in the darkness, I was faced with the dilemma of figuring a way to allow our finishers in the I2-14 time-frame to continue to participate and still appease the wishes of the National Park Service.

Mike Spinnler at JFK 2004After "brainstorming" the situation from every conceivable angle, we felt as though the "wave" start (commonly used in triathlon competitions) was our best "solution" to appeasing the NPS's regulations and not having to eliminate our participants who need 12-14 hours to complete the course. The 6:00 am, start for everyone was investigated, but there are two major drawbacks to this option. First, it simply wouldn't allow the 13-14 hour participants to complete the event. Secondly, it would put the elite front runners well into the AT section of the course -- at a dangerously fast pace -- before dawn. The lack of daylight would also inhibit any potential record attempts, which was another additional factor in "passing" on the single 6:00 am, start.

When Buzz [Sawyer (former JFK Race Director)] "handed the reigns over to me" following the conclusion of the 1992 event, he knew that I had a unique perspective of the event as a participant who had three-times finished the event in the final hour of the time-limit (14:19:23 in 1971, 14:04:46 in 1972, and 14:09:13 in 1973... the JFK 50 Mile had a 15-hour time-limit up through 1973) and twice finished ahead of the pack -- 5:53:05 in 1982 and 6:12:12 in 1983. Buzz felt confident that I would take into consideration the needs and importance of every JFK 50 Mile participant from front to back. I have done my absolute best to take into consideration every JFK 50 Mile participant while dealing with the many outside agencies that I must appease in trying to preserve the future of the JFK 50 Mile.

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Please feel free to put a copy of this letter on your web-site to help others understand the reasoning and necessity of the JFK 50 Mile*s current "dual start" procedure.

Mike Spinnler
JFK 50 Mile Director 1993-present
Cumberland Valley Athletic Club
December 2004

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