Three Old Guys, Finishers at the 2009 JFK 50 Mile Run
JFK 50 Mile Hike/Run : 1979 – 2009
After completing my 10th JFK 50 in 2008 there was no intention to return for an 11th. But 2009 started out badly with a DNF after completing 100K of the 71 mile Reverse Ring (RR) on Massanutten Mountain the last weekend in February.
I made it to about mile 53 of the RR in relatively good shape and then proceeded poorly until 62.4 miles. Balance problems, falling down a lot, having to stop when I ate a gel, having to rest excessively and even lay down at times, and taking 10:22 to go from 46.1 to 62.4 miles convinced me it was time to quit rather than risk the consequences of another 9 miles.
A lower back injury showed up several weeks later. Recovery from the injury was slow with running almost impossible. With the help of my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Joseph White, and physical therapy from ultrarunner Dr. Farouk Elkassed, I was able to start running again. I decided to try the JFK 50 once more to see if another ultra was possible. Running on the AT and walking on the tow path were important aspects of my training.
Training went well in August and September with 23.6 miles of SMUT in October showing good progress towards finishing JFK in November. Based on the 2008 JFK, I knew that I needed to get to the tow path at about 4:15 and not spend more than 7 hours on the tow path. That would provide enough time to walk the last 8.4 miles and finish under 14 hours.
That’s pretty much how it went. Being fresh and rested I enjoyed the AT and ran the trails better than many of the early runners. My favorite part of the AT is the Weverton Cliffs. I can run them reasonably fast and must have passed more than 60 runners on the way down.
I was on the tow path at 4:21 and off at 11:21 with 8 miles to go at 11:30. It was very satisfying to know that I would finish once I got off the tow path. My regimen on the tow path was to walk for 7 to 8 minutes and then run to the next mile post. I was doing about 15 minute miles for the most part the entire 26 miles. It was imperative that I maintain my running regimen because my walking wasn’t fast enough to finish. I did the running and even ran down hills when I got to the road. Little time was spent at aid stations, only enough to get food and drink. I did need to treat my feet at 27.1 miles to keep blister free. Also took medication a couple times at aid stations to cope with pain in my left arm.
There sure were a lot of runners passing me on the ending road section. They seemed to run easily while I found it difficult. But I did some running and checked my progress every mile thanks to the mile markers. I was moving fast enough and even passed by one aid station accidentally.
There was a runner receiving aid with 1.5 miles to go, a terrible time to need first aid with only a few minutes before the 14 hour time limit. Race support provided first aid and an escort to a successful finish. It turned out to be VHTRC’s Mike McCumber who was subsequently wheeled away from the gym for stitches to treat a cut suffered from a fall while stepping on a curb.
Another factor in my finish was having crew support. My wife Rosalie met me at Gathland Gap (9.3 miles) to relieve me of my flashlight and at Antietam Aqueduct (27.1 miles) to provide me with needed treatment for my feet. Rosalie was crew in 1979 along with our daughter Lisa, age 15 at that time.
Another issue developed at the finish, this one related to the aging process over the past 30 years. Rosalie now has difficulty walking any distance. She ended up parking a long way from the gym, so long that it took her an hour to get from the car to the gym. Unfortunately she wasn’t there when I finished. Fortunately Ed Cacciapaglia was there to provide support and get the rescue service involved. Rosalie showed up about the time the rescue service located the car in the parking lot. Everyone was relieved.
Unlike 1979 we were among the last to leave Williamsport. The rescue service drove the car to a spot just outside the gym while I showered and provided a police escort to US 81.
Before Rosalie showed up I had a chance to visit with Art Moore, center, and Paul Dwyer, right, who provided the picture. Art is a mega marathoner (566 marathons) from Ohio and Paul is US Air Force (ret) from Reston. Art, age 72, had a time of 13:23 while Paul, age 70, had a time of 13:50. There were 9 finishers age 70 or over out of 12 starters. My time was 13:39:52. I finished 1,007 of 1,026 finishers and about 1,135 starters.
The JFK 50 illustrates ultrarunner progress over the years. For example, from 1969 to 1972 the finishing percentage ranged from 26 to 29%. By the late 70s the finishing rate got up to 77%, then a persistent 80% or more in the 80s and finally in the 90% realm starting in 1994. The 14 hour time limit makes finishing a reasonably easy task for almost everyone, but then it was designed so that you could walk the entire way and finish under the time limit.
By 1979 the oldest finisher was age 68. More recently, Leo Lightner did the JFK 50 every year starting at age 69 through 80 in 2008, but only made it to mile 38 this year. In my age group I was 6/12 and the oldest finisher.
My first JFK 50, and first 50 mile run, was November 17, 1979 after doing a Hains Point 50K in the spring, the Old Dominion 100 in June, and three marathons including the Marine Corps Marathon in 3:27 on November 4.
After finishing the OD 100 the JFK 50 looked easy (and it was) but the comparison was with a 100 mile race. Most ultras were road races but JFK had a section on the Appalachian Trail as well as being the oldest ultra in the US. I was hoping to finish in less than 10 hours and managed to do so with a JFK PR of 8:51. I got to the tow path in about 3:04 and left the tow path about 7:30. I was 77th of 312 finishers with 405 starters.
In 1979 I was rather unnerved seeing several injuries on the AT section. I’m not sure why there were so many fallen runners but there were including one with a broken leg. I wasn’t sure I wanted to run JFK again and wasn’t back until 1988.
My other finishes were in 1988 (9:18), 1991 (9:41), 1994 (10:07), 1999 (10:36), 2004 (13:12 – was off course for about 45 minutes), 2005 (12:25), 2006 (12:55) 2007 (13:16), and 2008 (13:26). In 1994 I was 4th of 21 runners in their 60s.
My finish times illustrate how much I’ve slowed down over 30 years, from age 45 to 75. Many 70 year old runners are challenged by the 14 hour time limit. But Tony Cerminaro, age 73, had a time of 9:32 for the 2009 JFK 50 and has been by far the fastest 70 year old since turning 70.
What has happened to me is that everyone runs faster, most runners walk faster and it was noticeable during the 2009 JFK 50 that some walkers were walking faster than me when I was running, quite distressing. Considering the early start and my 13:39 finish time, I was passed by more than 1,000 runners, from the speed merchants well before the Weverton Cliffs to a large number over the last 8 miles.
I thought I was through running JFK after a fifth finish in 1999 to claim entry into the 250 mile club. I resumed running JFK in 2004 after a DNF at the San Diego 100. I was very discouraged. Lisa suggested doing JFK before retiring from ultrarunning. It proved to be successful and has kept me running ultras, including JFK annually from 2004-2009.