For the past few years, I have been sharing stories from the JFK 50 Mile race because they highlight real-life examples of OM – quieting the noise, digging deep and going for the big dream. Enjoy and reach out if you want to share your story.
Brotherhood of the Trails
July 20, 2018
There are stories that must be repeated because they are difficult to comprehend. Steve Bozeman, Al Montgomery and King Jordan have been sharing these stories for several decades, and they become even more epic with each telling.
Al describes the bond that they share as having ‘low judgement and a high threshold for pain.’
While the underlying foundation is friendship, they never let their friendship get in the way of fierce competition.
Steve Bozeman ran his first marathon in 1983 and he has been participating in the Marine Corps Marathon and JFK 50 Mile for the four decades since then. He jokingly reflects that he perhaps should have been more careful about who he chose as friends.
Over the course of their more than 40-year friendship, they have collectively run more than 300 ultramarathon and marathon races, sharing the majority of those miles.
Individually, over the same time period, they have battled life-threatening illnesses (Al), faced the devastating loss of two children (Steve), and overcome the daily challenge of being deaf in a hearing world (King).
Running together provided the opportunity to get more out of their lives and find freedom from heartbreak and challenges through taking on big adventures together.
King and Al met at a race in Greenbelt, Maryland and as Al related the story King squirmed in his seat. Al ran the majority of the race drafting off of King only to pass him a few hundred yards before reaching the finish line.
King, pink-faced and fuming began signing with his wife, Marcia, as they exchanged post-race sentiments. They have been friends ever since then. As Al wraps up his story, King is quick to fess up, “I am the most competitive among the three of us.”
Steve and Al smile knowingly and shake their heads, silently recalling the miles that they pushed each other over the decades.
King acknowledged that when he started running ultramarathons, he knew nothing about nutrition to maintain sugar in the blood stream and avoid bonking. When he reached mile 42 of the JFK 50 – the infamous turn at Dam #4 going into the final section of the race – he collapsed into a fetal position.
Marcia gave him soda, patted him on the back and told him that he had better get moving because there was no way he was not going to finish what he started. Once he started walking, he felt better and finished with minimal difficulty, although he admits that if he had not finished that first race then he would have never attempted another ultra. He now refers to soda as a ‘magical sugar infuser.’
King’s first JFK 50 Mile was Al’s second and as they left DC, the snow was blinding. They started the race running behind snow plow, although they had to start one hour late they finished in top 100.
As they ran down the marathon-distance of the C&O Canal section, they struggled to stay upright as high winds created a wind tunnel down the towpath, sleet belting them in the face. A car pulled off the road not far off the path and as the door opened, they felt the hot air blasting from the heater and they chuckled simultaneously and shared a brief, knowing glance.
Debbie, Steve’s wife, points out that there were no aid stations in the early days of the JFK 50 Mile, and that it was more difficult to be a spectator. After several attempts to crew her husband, she decided to start running.
Debbie is proud that she never fell on the Appalachian Trail section of the JFK 50 Mile, which is a particularly rocky and heavily-rooted section of the race. Despite the challenges of running at a slower pace, Steve stayed with Debbie and to distract himself he counted the people who passed them, ultimately counting more than 400 runners.
Steve and Debbie went on to finish 10 JFK 50 races together to become the first husband and wife team. Their son, Rick, also finished one JFK to and attempted four. A few years ago, Debbie finished her 100th marathon. She describes running as a lifestyle and says that it would be more difficult for her not to run. She explains that the goal is to finish, there is no good excuse for quitting as it is a matter of pride.
Pride is a common theme throughout all of their races, and the challenges they faced would take down even the toughest runners.
Such as the time that King fell and cut his hand open during his 20th JFK 50 Mile race. Race Director Mike Spinnler saw him bleeding and told one of the volunteers, “That’s King, don’t worry about him, he knows what he’s doing.”
King went on to finish the race, draining his gloves that had filled with blood at the finish line before being taken to the hospital to get stitches, with a finisher’s smile on his face.
Steve had his fair share of brutal race injuries as well – he once busted his nose on the switchbacks coming into Gathland Gap, stumbling over a tree and falling down into the switchback below. He spent the next approximately 35 miles trying to conceal how badly he was wounded so that race officials did not pull him from the race. He even had to bypass the medics who came running to help him. He describes the race now as a ‘horror story.’
King experienced a similar setback when he fell on the rocky section of the Appalachian Trail just before the switchbacks and hit a rock, he had blood gushing out of his forehead. He said a volunteer at the next aid station saved his life. Al drove him to the emergency room at a hospital in West Virginia that was so small that they only had one x-ray machine. He survived to run more miles.
Yet Al has faced the worst health challenges while racing as he has been fighting prostate cancer for 25 years. Although he had to have a colostomy bag, he still signed up for 100-mile training and on race day he brought three pairs of pants that had to be rinsed out in creeks. After the race, he was so incapacitated that Steve had to help him get out of the bathtub because he could not do it alone.
The grit that he learned through running paid off in his recovery. A day after one surgery in particular, he hooked his IV up to a mobile pole and did laps around the hospital. He recalls running races in which he could not feel when his feet touched the ground because of the effects of chemotherapy.
Whenever someone feels sorry for him, it inspires him to push harder to overcome any challenges he may be facing. He is not alone among his friends in his pursuit of wanting more out of life then the circumstances that he has confronted.
When Steve came home after serving two years in Vietnam, he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and needed to find a way to survive. At the time, he had some experience running track but did not exercise regularly. But once he realized the high that could be experienced while running, there was no turning back. For decades, he carried the American flag to honor the veterans who did not make it back.
Although he was cutoff at mile 42 of his 27th attempt at the JFK 50 Mile, he recalls every muscle in his body screaming in pain yet he continued to move forward. The experience brought tears to his eyes because he knew that the feeling of being on a trail in the bleak throes of pain is the reason why he does it – to feel fully human and humbled by the experience.
Despite his competitive spirit, Steve says that his mentors have always been and will always be Al and King. He vividly remembers all the miles that he watched them struggle and deep inside felt awe for being in the presence of men who were truly tough and could gut through any challenge they faced with pride.
Al shares that the JFK 50 Mile is not about the winner or the runner in last place, it is about the community and sharing the race. King remembers seeing the same people each year, and feeling as though he was coming home each time he ran the race.
The races they shared over the decades created a bond that cannot be broken. The miles burned off the emotional pain while inflicting physical pain that gave them the opportunity to prevail and walk away from every challenge with pride.
The opportunity to fill their lives with big adventures and meaningful friendships became the brotherhood that unites them; the brotherhood that helped to define their lives; the brotherhood that will live on in their memories.
This is the JFK-50
November 19, 2017
I had the honor to share the last mile with one of the last runners to cross the line at the 2017 JFK-50 Mile Race.
Robert rolled his ankle at mile 35 and struggled through the last 15 or so miles, ending up as the last runner on the course just in front of the chase vehicle at mile 49. Shortly after I joined him, he found one final kick and impressed and inspired the heck out of me. This was his first 50-mile finish.
Regardless of whether a runner finishes in first place or last place, the medal is just as shiny.
Runners take on a challenge such as the JFK-50 to stop time and find the eternal. Each year at this race, my hope in humanity is renewed as I am able to share a bond with perfect strangers as we drop to the depths and then soar to the greatest heights, together.
This year was special. Not only did I get to witness the triumphs and victories of strangers that I have deep and profound respect for, but I got to join Mike, Maria, Rich, Devan, Deann, Holly, Tim and many others for a behind the scenes look at the JFK-50.
Based on this experience, this is what I know.
The true spirit of this race can be found among the runners who have finished dozens of times, as well as among the runners who dropped or DNF’d because we all know that they can come back faster and stronger.
The true spirit of this race can be found among the people who devote so much of their time, energy, hopes and dreams to this race throughout the entire year, and then exhibit their commitment on race day by doing anything and everything necessary to get as many runners as possible to that finish line in Williamsport.
As Rich Zeger proudly stated, “If there is a puddle on that course, I will throw my body across it and let the runners trample over me.” And I believe him.
From afar, Steve Bozeman and many others who have run this race for decades were there in spirit as they will forever be a part of the history and lore of the race.
At the finish line, Kim Byron had just completed his 49th JFK-50 finish (yes, 49) and was still aglow with stories and the genuine thrill that only 50 miles on the JFK course can deliver.
This race holds a special place in the hearts of so many runners and supporters and volunteers because it is our race, each and every one of us. From the winners to the last place finisher, as well as everyone who drops along the way and those who are shuttling official race vehicles around Boonsboro, Shepherdstown, Williamsport and back again – this is our race.
This is the JFK-50.
Thank you for making yesterday special. Congratulations to all the runners on a beautiful and amazing accomplishment.
Q&A: Adi Serbaroli
November 9, 2017
Adi Serbaroli is an overachiever – not only did she finish the JFK 50 with no training whatsoever, but then she capped off her victory with a life-changing decision at the finish!
Why did you do it?
My friend who has run it twice before assured me that I could run it, with or without training. I thought it would be a unique challenge, so I signed up. However, I did not train for it, and prior to the race itself, had never run more than 15 miles.
What is special about this race?
It’s the oldest 50-mile race in the country and originally created for military officers, and I am currently a military officer.
How important is this race to you?
I’m really glad I put myself to the test to see if I could complete it, and I did.
What is your favorite section and why?
My favorite section was the first 15 miles, along the narrow, elevated trail.
What is your favorite aid station and why?
I loved the aid station around the 26 mile mark – I had just come through having hit a metaphorical wall and feeling overwhelmed, and they were there cheering me and my friend on as we approached. It helped me feel as though I would make it to the finish.
Tell me about your big finish.
About one mile before the finish, I imagined what it would be like if I was actually running 100 miles, and would only be at the halfway point. Needless to say, I was especially thankful to be running the JFK 50 at that moment!
At every viewing point, my sister, brother-in-law, aunt, and then-boyfriend were cheering me on. The signs my then-boyfriend made for me were motivational but also contained clues to his own motivations for my finish. About halfway through the race I picked up on the hints, and my suspicions were correct when he proposed at the finish line!
JFK-50 Legends Light the Way
November 2, 2017
The countdown is on – 15 days until the 55th Annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon!
Many runners have hopped and skipped over those rocky climbs on the AT, shuffled along the C&O towpath, and hobbled through the roller coaster hills toward the finish – and their stories are legendary.
Three runners – Steve Bozeman (26 finishes), King Jordan (20 finishes) and Al Montgomery (20 finishes) – are among the legends of the JFK, and as such they have collected many heartfelt memories along the way.
As friends and running partners for the past four decades, they have shared many miles and many adventures. Exuberant miles, heart-wrenching miles, and all-important uplifting miles – and what they know to be true is that it’s not about the miles. It’s about the lives that they have reclaimed on the roads and the trails. It’s about the stories and experiences that they have shared. No excuses, no regrets, no apologies – only pride.
The stories and experiences behind those miles have given their lives meaning and purpose that cannot be shared through spoken words or written words. They weren’t just chasing down finish lines, they were chasing down dreams and creating miracles.
Steve’s wife, Debbie, shared hundreds of miles with them as well. They shared miles and so much more – they shared adventures; they shared victories; they shared defeats.
The common thread that ties them together with all the miles, races, and big finishes – is a true love for the sport that has helped to shape and define their lives. Their stories are epic, and worthy of sharing and remembering (more to come, soon…).
These stories are what make this race so special. JFK 50 runners come together on the third Saturday in November each year to celebrate, commiserate and touch upon profound truths that bring them closer together.
As race day approaches, honor and remember these JFK 50 legends as they are the true heart and soul of this race – and dig down deep to secure your place in JFK 50 history.
Q&A: Terri Scadron
December 6, 2016
Terri Scadron ran the JFK-50 for the first time this year by scraping through each time cutoff with dreams of a big finish, and along the way she had the best PBJ she has ever tasted at the Weverton Cliffs aid station. Read on…
Why do you do it? I’ve had JFK-50 on my radar screen for many years, and finally decided I wasn’t getting any younger and might as well pull the trigger and give it a go. When I trained for my first marathon in 2008, there was a guy in my program who was training for JFK, and I thought it was amazing that he did double long runs every weekend, when I could barely walk after my single long run. I thought it would be super cool to get to that point. Plus, I deeply coveted the JFK-50 car magnets that a few of my friends had.
What is special about this race? Definitely, the history of this race distinguishes it from the many ultras that have cropped up over the years. I find it fascinating that President John F. Kennedy set up 50 mile races all over the country, and this is the only surviving one. I was a one-year old when the first JFK was run, in 1963. I don’t know of any other races that have lasted so long.
How important is this race to you? I’ve only run JFK once, in 2016, and finishing it felt like a huge accomplishment because I knew it would be a stretch for me, given the strict time cut-offs. It was incredibly tough, harder than I expected. I’m not a strong trail runner, but I did complete three practice runs on the Appalachian Trail to get ready for JFK. And even with that, I was dead last coming off the AT. I know that, because while slowly picking my way down the Weverton Cliffs, I told the guy behind me to feel free to pass, and he responded, “No worries, I’m the race sweep.” I only made the cut-off for the Antietam aid station, mile 27.3, by 8 minutes, and felt completely forlorn because I had trained so hard and didn’t think I had enough in the tank for 23 more miles. But then a friend from my running club, Montgomery County Road Runners (MCRRC), jumped in for a stretch and got my head back in the game. So much of this race is a mental battle, and I almost lost that. Once I started believing, deep down, that I could finish, the race picked up for me. I eventually caught up with some stragglers on the canal path, and saw more runners on the final stretch of road to the finish. But the entire race was a fight to make the cut-offs and keep moving forward.
Tell me about your big finish. I made the 13 hour time limit with exactly 3 ½ minutes to spare, not a big comfort zone there. I was pushing myself as hard as I could on the last mile because I knew I would DNF if I fell off pace, even for a little bit. When the finish line was in sight, one of the volunteers said, “You’re good! Honey, you could walk the rest of the way and get this done.” I was ridiculously happy when I heard that!
What is your favorite section and why? The last mile or two of the canal path was peaceful – I was running alone watching the sunset, and I felt like I was making up some time. But my favorite section was the last nine road miles, because most of the time cut-offs were behind me and I had finally caught up to some other runners. I was also surprised how well my legs were working at that point.
What is your favorite aid station and why? My favorite aid station was the one at Weverton Cliffs, because I had survived the Appalachian Trail without injury. That was the best tasting PBJ sandwich I’ve ever had.
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running JFK-50. Early in the race, I had a lovely chat with an older gentleman who had started JFK 10 times, and finished eight times. He was entertaining – relaxed and telling jokes along the early Appalachian Trail portion. I saw him later on the canal path and he was walking and said he planned to drop out. I hope he didn’t and finished!
Who is your inspiration? My running idol is Michael Wardian because he runs every type of event – insanely tough trail ultras, road marathons, local 10Ks – without a break at an elite level, and seems to have a blast doing it. Plus, he does a great job integrating his family into his running life. I’m also inspired on a daily basis by my many friends with MCRRC who keep me going, year after year. If I didn’t keep training hard, I literally couldn’t keep up with them.
Race Report: A JFK 50 Masterpiece
December 1, 2016
When Steve Prefontaine said that ‘a race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they’re capable of understanding’ – he was referring to performances such as Jim Walmsley’s race at the JFK 50 Mile on November 19.
He shattered the course record by more than 13-minutes with more than a 30-minute lead from the rest of the pack. His splits were awe-inspiring, particularly on the treacherous sections of the Appalachian Trail.
The local trail running community celebrated and praised his victory, as well as the first female finisher – Leah Frost in 6:23. For both runners, this race was significant for very different reasons. For Frost, this was her first 50-mile race. For Walmsley, this race made him the first man to win three years in a row.
The praise and the shared experience of the race is at the heart of why the JFK 50 holds a special place in the hearts of so many runners, supporters and volunteers.
On November 19, we followed in the footsteps of a masterpiece in the making.
Those who truly know and love this race have a story about every section – from the early morning start in Boonsboro to the last few rolling hills toward the final miles in Williamsport.
We know every mile of this race. We know the rocky sections heading into Gathland Gap and then into Weverton Cliffs. We know the feeling of coming off of the switchbacks to a cheering crowd with no falls (if we are lucky) and nearing the C&O section of the race. We know the long flat marathon that awaits us where we can settle deep into the zone surrounded by towering spruce trees and the stillness of the Potomac. We know the sound of the water rushing out of Dam #4 as we make our way to the turn into the quiet farm country that will lead us to the big finish. We know the steady climb up that last final hill, stepping across that line.
The JFK 50 Mile is a shared experience among a great community of runners, we need few words to express how we feel about those moments that make this race special for each of us. Jim Walmsley is one of those runners. Leah Frost is one of those runners.
While their performances were truly mind-blowing, we each know the experience they had coming into each section, every turn, every footstep. We know the aid station volunteers and supporters encouraging us at every turn. The heartfelt words of the many kindred spirits that we have met while in the throes of hard-fought miles. The feeling of crossing that finish line with a big victory and plans to return to the JFK 50 for the chance to create our own masterpiece.
Q&A: Cheryl Crain
November 18, 2016
Cheryl Crain describes herself as a back-of-the-pack runner yet her love for the race and the JFK-50 community captures what makes this race so special. In her own words:
Why do you do it? This is a great race, and the community that surrounds the race make it what it is today. No other race compares. I am a back-of-the-pack runner, and my focus is on finishing each year I do it. My first race in 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the race and also my 50th birthday. My husband Sean crewed for me, that race was very special to me.
What is special about this race? The history and the community make this race truly special. There is a following of people who firmly believe in the history and lore of the race, and we want to carry on what makes this race special. I want to encourage others to believe in themselves and train for this race, because I know that once they commit they have already made significant progress in going after that big finish. Being part of the JFK community makes me feel as though I am part of something big. There is a positive vibe associated with this race, and that I sincerely hope stays. I try to do my part to make sure that the community remains strong and we come back year-after-year.
What was your toughest finish? Last year’s race was very tough for me. I got to Weaverton and felt like I was dying. Everything hurt. I was DONE! I kept hoping they would pull me from the race for not making the cut offs. I kept going, and going and going. I made each time cutoff, although I really wanted to be pulled. That feeling of everything hurting and being overwhelmed stayed with me throughout the remainder of the race. When I got close to the finish, I realized that there was only one person behind me, and he was a 5am starter, which meant that I would be the last 7am starter who officially finished the race. There was a police car behind us, closely following us to the finish. I later found out that my husband was watching the runners emerge from the police cars headlights, hopeful it was me, but each time he realized it wasn’t me – he lost a little bit of hope. Then I came up that hill, popped out of the glare of the headlights and got that finish. He cheered so loudly! And the assistant race director ran me in. It was the toughest but perhaps the best race that I have ever run. My performance represented the race itself – it is about persevering despite any challenge. I persevered and got my official finish.
What is your favorite section? I love the AT but definitely am relieved when I jump on to the C&O. My least favorite part of the race is when it gets dark and I’m on the road – although in 2014 there was a police officer who had all the doors open to his car and he was playing, “Ode to Joy” near the last intersection of the race. That lifted my spirits right at a critical moment and was yet another moment that showed the camaraderie and community feeling of this race.
What is your favorite aid station? I loved the red velvet cake at 38 special. I love Miracle on 34th with the Christmas theme. I love the Steeple Chase stop – with the great music and timer. I always look forward to Gathland Gap because of the potato chips. The aid station near the end with the palm trees is pretty cool as well. I guess you could say that I love them all!
Who is the most interesting person you’ve met? I’ve met so many interesting people – hard to pick just one! Fred Schumacher is at the top of the list, although I didn’t know he was a legend while we were emailing the summer before my first JFK race; he was simply my brother’s neighbor. Plus I’ve met so many others – Shaunte, Richard Zee, Gil Grey, Rich Zeger, Kevin McConnell, and of course Mr. Incredible (Paul).
Would you encourage someone to do it? Yes! I always encourage people to run this race. I was just at the Outer Banks Marathon and encouraged a group of runners to do it, hopefully we’ll see them at a future race.
What would you say to someone who is struggling during the race? Press on, keep going. Let’s run for a little while together until you get through the hard part. Keep at it, you will get there.
What will your JFK legacy be? I want my legacy to be focused on what I contributed to the community and how I encouraged lots of runners to take on this race. I believe this is the greatest race and I want to be a part of it and encourage others to get out there and try their best. It is what the JFK is all about, bringing together the running community.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. I hope that the race stays true to its history, and I hope that there is always a community of runners who support each other and want everyone to do their very best. I hope the race remains open and supports the runners who truly believe in the race, they are the reason that this race is what it is today and we should always remember that they are at the heart and soul of why this is truly a great race.
Q&A: Mike Schroyer
November 15, 2016
Mike Schroyer is a 16-time finisher of the JFK-50 and a member of the 750-mile club. This Saturday, Mike will be going after another finish and another step closer to his goal of joining the 1,000 mile club. As Mike would say, this picture with his daughters at the 2007 race captures his true motivation and represents his story. Here’s his story, in his own words…
Why do you do it? Years ago I thought about the race but never thought I could accomplish such a feat, but after doing it the first time and getting hooked, coming back year-after-year is like a family reunion of sorts. I see some of the guys and gals who run it every year while I am training or just getting together to socialize. Others I only see once a year at the JFK and I truly look forward to seeing everyone that I haven’t seen in awhile. I can honestly say I have met some of the best people and I am proud to call them my friends because of this race. For that reason alone, I am glad I started doing this and it is why I continue to run this race. When I first started doing this race I felt like I needed a goal every year to keep me motivated throughout the year so I would continue to run, stay in shape, and hopefully stay healthy enough to train hard and possibly set a new PR, so why not pick a race such as this one where so many people come together and try to accomplish something that very people in the world have done. I guess we all have different reasons or motivators for coming back year-after-year but for me, it’s the goal of finishing another one, and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Anyone who has ever finished this race even once certainly knows the feeling of doing so. For me, it is one of the best feelings you can have to cross the finish line with your family waiting there to embrace you. I look forward to that moment every year.
What is special about this race? It has to be the friends I have met along the way and the sense of accomplishment crossing that finish line every year, and being proud of something very few people have done.
How important is this race to you/your life? I was fascinated with this race, years before I ever ran it. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who actually won the race one year – Leo Henry – we ran together on occasion, mostly on the towpath. He would tell me stories about the JFK and about some of the people who ran it. I would eventually get to meet and run with the founder of the race – Buzz Sawyer. I was intrigued, but not enough to do it. Years later, I started running for recreation and entered some 5k and 10k races, and even though I thought about the JFK for years, I always thought it was just too far and it seemed impossible. I then met someone who actually encouraged me to think about trying it, and she kept pushing me to do it so I finally said to myself, ‘why not?’ So I started training seriously in the summer of 1997 and kept upping my mileage and submitted my application and ran the race. I ended up meeting a few friends I knew along the race course and we actually stayed together the last 30 miles and all finished together. I finished with a not so great 12 hours and 27 minutes but I completed it. I said right afterwards that I would never do another one because I hurt so much during the race and afterwards. But a week or two went by and I quickly changed my mind. I knew that I could do better the next year, and I was hooked like a lot of other people are after doing their first one. I now have 16 finishes and will be attempting to get number 17 on November 19th. Hopefully God willing, I will reach my goal of 20 finishes in November 2019, to get in to the much smaller 1,000 mile club.
Tell me about your best JFK-50. My best time was in 2005 in 9 hours and 39 minutes.I was in pretty good condition that year and did a lot of 30 mile runs prior to the race, and for once I stayed healthy throughout the training. I felt like I did a lot of things right that year, and had a lot of good advice from another fellow JFK 50-Mile veteran 34-time finisher Paul Betker who gave me tips and encouragement along the way, and I was so happy when I finally broke 10 hours for the first time. Knowing he was proud of my accomplishment, it certainly made me proud of all the hard work it took to get me to the finish line that year. One of my fondest memories of the JFK was in 2012, I had the privilege of carrying my 9-month-old twin grand babies across the finish line – that was one of my proudest moments and one that I will always cherish and remember.
Tell me about your strongest finish. My strongest finish by far was in 2011, even though it wasn’t my best time. I trained hard that year pushing myself beyond limits that I thought I could ever come close to, but I found a way. I trained hard all year, lost a good bit of weight and was in great condition to set a new PR but unfortunately I injured my calf muscle six weeks out and had to do a lot of cross training to make up for the lost time that I would normally be running. I finished well in the race, especially the last 8.4 miles I worked my tail off getting to that finish line. I had 1 hour and 37 minutes to go to get under 10 hours and I was able to do the road section in 1 hour and 28 minutes by far my fastest time on the road section, which gave me a time of 9:51 but I have to wonder what may have been had it not been for the injury six weeks prior.
What is your favorite section and why? My favorite section of the race is the last 5 or 6 miles of the race. I have been out there all day long working hard to get to every mile. After going 40+miles, I have a little time to reflect on the training I did throughout the year and what I could have done differently before and during the race. I am really happy that last mile, knowing it is finally over and my family is waiting for me and the finish line is just the conclusion of another year of training and race I can put behind me and move on to the next year.
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running JFK-50. I have met many interesting people while running the race from all walks of life, but no one in particular that stands out. I can tell you that because of this race, I have met a lot of people whom I now call good friends which a few of us get together to either train together or just hang out. I have met a few of my very best friends that if not for this race I would have never met otherwise, and I am thankful for this race just for that very reason alone.
Who is your inspiration? I would have to say God above all else who gives me the ability to keep me upright and running, and which brings me back again and again. For that reason alone, I am very thankful that I can keep coming back year-after-year.
What would you tell someone who says they’d never be able to do it? I would tell them that it is not impossible if you train for it and you have a willingness to try. The human body is capable of accomplishing great and wonderful things. You just have to get out there set the goal, work hard, and try with everything you have and you will get there. The most important thing I would tell them if they decide to try this race, is train hard, sleep well, and during the race when you feel like giving up, that you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and never ever give up and sooner or later you will be crossing that finish line which is the ultimate goal for everyone who runs this race.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? I would always encourage them, tell them they are doing awesome, just keep moving forward and eventually they will have that medal put around their neck. I also tell them one of my favorite quotes, “Pain is only temporary but pride lasts forever” or “Run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just don’t give up, no matter what”.
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? I would want everyone to remember that nothing is impossible if they just put their mind to it. Keep moving forward and you will accomplish great things!!! As for my legacy, I want my family to be proud of me for the accomplishments, and the goals I have reached during the 16 years I have done this race and for the 54 years I have been here on this earth.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. I would like to think this race is special as it is already and that it will just continue to get better and better every year it is held and hopefully will go on for generations to come. Thank you to Buzz Sawyer for creating such a wonderful race and thanks to Mike Spinnler for keeping it going.
Q&A: Mark Cucuzzella
November 14, 2016
Mark Cucuzzella entered the JFK-50 in 2006 as an ultra running novice and found himself in second place at half way. Although he was unable to finish that day, he made some changes to his race strategy and came back three years later to take 11th place overall and win the Masters Division in 2008 with a time of 6:45. For Mark, the JFK has evolved from a “race” to a celebration of history, community, and promotion of the “vigorous life”.
In Mark’s own words –
Why do you do it? I run this race for the camaraderie and personal challenge. This distance is not my specialty and that makes it all the more interesting. The history of the 50-miles for military fitness is intriguing since I am an officer who actively promotes health and fitness. Being able to cover this distance lends credibility as I try to help others whose goal is fitness for life.
What is special about this race? Grace was born in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy who understood that physical fitness was essential not just for health and happiness but for national security and the sustainability of a healthy nation. The concept of health in our country has deteriorated since the early days of the race.
How important is this race to you? The JFK-50 is an end-of-the-year challenge for me, and not necessarily a race that I need to do each year. I know it is always there and if my body feels well to take it on, then I take it on.
Tell me about your fastest JFK-50. I once ran a 6:45 to come in at 11th place and took first in the masters age group. I felt amazingly well that year and was able to run strong on the roads and finish strong. I have two other finishes under seven hours, all after age 40.
What is your favorite section and why? I love running through Shepherdstown as I live there and see many friends. This is also a difficult spot as it is a mile from my house and 30 miles into the race, so my brain has to make a tough decision about whether to keep going or head to the bar…
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running JFK-50. Kimball Byron by far. He has achieved something no other runner will achieve at least in my lifetime with 45 continuous finishes. His family’s legacy is a story that needs to be shared with runners of my generation. His father was an avid runner who died of a heart attack but left so much for runners in future generations through his contributions to conservation.
Who is your inspiration? My family is my inspiration. I want to stay healthy and be a good example for them as they grow older in a world in which most people become sedentary and sick at a young age.
What would you tell someone who says they’d never be able to do it? They need to look no further than the original 50-mile challenges back when this race started in the early 1960s when scouts and housewives would step up and complete the race.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? Regroup by walking a bit until your mind is in a better place. In an ultramarathon, there will always be bad patches.
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? I don’t see myself as having a JFK legacy specifically, but I want my legacy to be teaching others to reverse disease and maintain a healthy lifestyle and have a long lifespan.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. I hope that the race does not change and the beauty of the course is maintained. I hope that the race always has a hometown feel and the history and origins of the race are remembered and shared over the years.
Check out Mark’s blog post on the history of the JFK-50.
Q&A: Erik Price
November 11, 2016
Erik Price is an accomplished ultra runner and coach. He chose the JFK-50 mile as one of his first ultra races and has fond memories as it was the beginning of something big in his life. With more than 20 ultras completed since he ran the JFK in 2013, he has considerable experience to share with other runners who are interested in reaching their ultra running goals.
Why do you do it? Coming from road races, I had wanted to get into ultras as early as 2011 but still felt like I had unfinished business with the marathon distance. After finally breaking three hours at Chicago and then running Boston the following year I was ready to put road marathons to rest. I had done a few 50km races and the North Face 50-mile to feel out the sport. The JFK-50 mile was the first ultra that I really gave my all, both in terms of training and on race day. Races like this are a great way to push the limits.
What is special about this race? This race is a classic among ultras! It started in the 1960s and is the only remaining 50-mile challenge established to honor JFK’s commitment to fitness. It is unique because it requires skilled technical running for the first section on the Appalachian Trail, a strong mental game for a marathon on the C&O canal towpath, and a quick pace to get the final eight miles done on the road to finish strong. Those latter sections are a true test of fitness!
How important is this race to you? It was a great challenge for me coming from road marathons and transitioning to ultras. I was getting into the longer distances and this race really validated that I was meeting my endurance goals. I was also starting to develop some great friendships in the ultra community.
Tell me about your best JFK-50. I only ran it once – in 2013. It took me roughly eight hours and 10 minutes, which I was happy with. It was tough; people look at the elevation profile and think that it’s not as challenging as mountainous ultras, however the true challenge is to run the entire time, including the monotonous towpath section. I wanted to break eight hours and now that I’m a more accomplished ultra-runner I think sub 7:30 is possible so I may just have to run it again at some point! During my running of JFK, I was ecstatic to make it through the C&O canal towpath in a respectable time. The last road section was deceptively tough; the wind was howling and I was getting cold. The best way to keep warm was running but this was not always easy. The final stretch was invigorating; once I could see the finish, a burst of adrenaline gave me a strong finishing kick and I even did a karate kick over the finish line – hi-ya!
What is your favorite section and why? The first section of the race on the Appalachian trail is by far my favorite; I love the technical single track running. The footing can be difficult so it is advantageous to have this in the morning when the light is bright and you are feeling fresh.
What is your favorite aid station? The one that sticks out is Weaverton at 15.5 miles, right before you get out to the C&O towpath. It’s extra nerve racking because there is even the chance of getting stuck behind a train before the towpath! This has happened to runners in the past, setting them back until the train clears.
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running JFK-50. I’ll give a difficult answer and respond with “myself”. I like to run mostly solo during races, and with a marathon stretch on the towpath you have plenty of time to think. What will go through your head? Personal issues? Professional challenges? Childhood memories? Maybe nothing. Meditation has been described as attempting to function with nothing on your mind and I often find this the case in ultras; I literally think about nothing at all. Just making forward progress.
Who is your inspiration? I love to travel to off the grid places, and I am really inspired by the indigenous populations of less advantaged areas, not necessarily impoverished, but whose daily lives are so much more challenging than our own. People who still farm the land and walk for miles just to get to school or work. As westerners we feel the need to put ourselves through physically exerting challenges (like ultras) just to get satisfaction out of life since our professional jobs and lifestyles are sometimes so bland; that we live and eat so excessively we need to exercise. Meanwhile, many people in the world can’t relate to these fitness pursuits since their daily lives are challenging enough.
What would you tell someone who says they’d never be able to do it? Maybe you can’t now, but obey the three Ps: Patience, Persistence, and Pacing. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you don’t think you can do something, you may be wrong and it does not mean you shouldn’t try. You may not be able to do it tomorrow, but anything is possible with careful planning, dedication, and a good mindset. Even if you set your goal as far as five years out you will have plenty of intermediate goals along the way to encourage you.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? Pain is only temporary; the amazing feeling you have coming in the last 100 meters to the finish will have you feeling on top of the world. Keep pushing, hour by hour, minute by minute. Don’t focus on running 50 miles, just focus on the next few miles to get to an aid station. If you focus on just running those few miles, it will seem manageable. Try to develop mental tactics to make the time pass. Sometimes I come up with lists of stuff in my head; top 10 lists, grocery lists, even lists of lists!
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? The race inspired me not to just complete an ultra, but to train for it, target a specific race, and truly “race” it. Since running the JFK, I have always tried to train toward specific goals and run faster or longer. I once hated running and could only run a mile or two. As my running addiction grew I could feel myself change into a runner. Fast forward 10 years and I am able to run 50 miles!
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. It’s a bit of a time machine, it will be similar to the race that it is today, which is probably similar to the race 10 years ago! I am however concerned that the growing commercialization of ultra running will cause the cost to rise and that the organizers will continue to increase the large field size.
Check out Erik’s JFK recap from 2013 on his blog.
Q&A: Laurie Dymond
November 4, 2016
“I want to be remembered as the woman who never gave up on her sub 8-hour finish. It took me nine attempts to get my time under eight hours and I finally did at 49-years-old.”
Laurie Dymond ran JFK as her first ultra, and she didn’t stop there… she was determined to put up some strong finishes and challenge herself on some tough races in subsequent years. Nine races later, she’s still running strong. Check it out.
Why do you do it? It was my first ultra. I first ran it with my brother, so I keep up the tradition by running it each year in his honor. My brother was a marine. JFK is such a big part of my life now. JFK sort of marks my year, each fall I have the JFK-50 to look forward to. It is engrained in me now.
What is special about this race? It’s a historic event and passes through the Appalachian Trail and many points of interest along the historic C&O Canal. Plus, it’s the people who make the race special. The race is organized by the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club and they put their hearts and souls into the event, plus I meet so many wonderful people along the way and always get strength from them.
How important is this race to you? This race is very important to me. It marks each fall for me, it’s a tradition. I have run it the last nine years in a row. I want to always be able to find the strength to finish it and prove to myself I can still do it. It’s a rite of passage for me.
Tell me about your toughest JFK-50. I’ve had a couple tough JFK races. After all, it’s not easy. Probably one of my more difficult finishes was the 2012 race. It was cold that year. I took a bad fall over the side going down the switchbacks. I remember thinking, “here you go now, brace for the hit” I hit the ground pretty hard over the side, it was steep and I slid down pretty far. I remember lying there and I felt a hand grab my right ankle and I thought, “oh wow, that feels really warm and nice”… sorta funny now. Two men came down and helped me back up. I knew I broke my left ring finger in the fall. My hand was filled with splinters and my finger was twisted. I got myself together and finished. I didn’t start that race to quit, I started it to finish regardless of a broken finger. My left hand was pretty useless after the fall and it made aid stations a bit difficult since I couldn’t use my hand to get food or fluids. I had one hand to do everything including the bathroom, but I did it. When I finished I had to get my wedding bands cut off my hand and go get myself fixed up. I will say though, the medical people at the finish line are the best and they took outstanding care of me. Always very grateful to them.
Tell me about your strongest finish. My strongest finish was the 2015 race. I finished 3rd overall female in a personal best time of 7:27:10. That time was a 34-minute personal record (PR) for me. I never came close to cracking the top 10 and then to get a PR and finish 3rd was unbelievable for me. I usually struggle on the trail, but that year I felt particularly strong on the trail. Then when I got to Weverton aide station (around mile 15), I felt even stronger, and usually by then I’m pretty beat from the trail. After Weverton, I just focused on catching and passing as many women as I could. I caught up to the 4th place female when we exited the canal to the road and I was getting really bad leg cramps. I told myself, “Laurie, if you can tolerate the suffering and push these last eight miles, you’ll live your dream and have that forever.” So I did. It was really painful but I wanted it so badly and figured that I may never get the chance again so I went for it.
What is your favorite section and why? My favorite section is the last eight miles on the road home. I love the farm scenery. I love seeing the final mile markers on the road……8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and I count them down in my head and it empowers me to keep pushing because I made it past 42 miles and I am heading home. I love turning and running up the hill to the finish line and hearing Mike Spinnler (Race Director) greeting all the runners back home. It’s an incredible feeling.
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running JFK-50. The most interesting person I met at the JFK-50 is Shaunte Taswell Brooks. Shaunte was a volunteer at the finish line during my early JFK-50 finishes. She put several medals around my neck. I remember my first finish, I was so tired and stumbling. Shaunte left her post at the finish line to walk me into the school and make sure I was okay. I’ll never forget her for that. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but her kindness has stayed with me all these years and I am most grateful to her. She didn’t have to stay with me but she did. Since then, we have become good friends. I would have never met her if it weren’t for the JFK-50.
Who is your inspiration? My inspiration is my brother Chris Paretti. Chris was a US Marine. I am very proud of him. Chris took me to my first JFK-50, my first Boston Marathon and my first Marine Corps Marathon. I don’t think I would have challenged myself all these years if I didn’t have my brother at my side always cheering me on. Chris was a big support to me as a child. We came from a poor, single parent home and my brother always took care of me, always cheered me on at my high school track and cross country races. Then as we became adults he took me to many of my races. My brother is an accomplished marathon runner himself, clocking 3:02 at the Harrisburg Marathon.
What would you tell someone who says they’d never be able to do it? I would tell them what I’ve told other people. You never know what you can do until you have tried. It’s not easy, you have to put a lot of time into preparing for the race. But that is all part of the JFK journey. You set your goal, you take strength from those around you, you train hours and hours and then on race day it either comes together or it doesn’t. You can only give it your best and do not allow yourself to be defined by a finish time on the clock. It’s really about the journey and finding out who you are and what you are made of at your core.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? I have always told people to keep trying, even if it means walking. Work on hydration and nutrition needs, it makes a difference. I’m a big one for cheering on others while I am running. I think it helps us when we get that little bit of extra motivation from a complete stranger to keep on working. It’s uplifting. I know it helps me.
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? I want to be remembered as the woman who never gave up on her sub 8-hour finish. It took me nine attempts to get my time under eight hours and I finally did at 49-years-old. I think some people thought I was crazy holding onto that dream, but I always thought I could do it if I kept on trying. I would tell my family to be at the finish line at 2:30pm, to see me and they always had to wait until 3pm or later for me. They were always there to cheer me on. Last year I did it though. I still can’t believe I did it. It hasn’t sunk in yet, maybe it never will.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. I hope in 10 years that I am still an active part of the race as a participant or volunteer if I cannot run it anymore. I hope the race continues to be a historic event that traverses the Appalachian Trail and C&O Canal. I hope many more people get to enjoy its beauty and scenery.
Q&A: Tai Fung
October 21, 2016
Tai Fung is no ordinary first-time 50-mile runner… he has a special gift for finding the most appropriate cartoon character for each stage of the race. At times of extreme discontent, he can summon Obi-Wan Kenobi to remind him of the power of the force and enlighten his journey. Everyone who runs this race makes it personal to them, and Tai shares his unique and comical perspective on the meaning behind his miles.
Why do you do it? In 2013, I’d finally reached my marathon bucket list goal of running a sub-4 hour marathon. What’s an Ahab to do after he finally catches his white whale? I’d gone to the JFK site countless times to just read about the race, and the sheer impossibility of it reminded me of how daunting running a marathon in under 4 hours seemed. I was drawn to it.
What is special about this race? To me, it’s that it’s the oldest United States Ultra, and it’s just about the local-est ultra Washington DC has. The race is steeped in DC history, just look at where it got its name and the course route!
How important is this race to you? Working my way back from injury, it’s important enough that it’s back on my bucket list — when I can run this again, I’ll know I’m healed, not just on the outside.
Which section is your favorite and why? By far, by FAR, miles 41 to the finish. You’re off the C&O Towpath, you’ve basically made every cutoff (the times get much more generous by here), and there’s a certain glee to doing this section (haha “glee” at running miles 40-50). It’s a 10-mile trot to glory!
Who is your inspiration? Barton “Kim” Byron. The man is the Cal Ripken Jr. of the JFK.
What would you say to someone who feels they wouldn’t be able to do this race?Honestly, it’s that they might be right. This race is unforgiving, particularly where you have to increase speed after the AT to avoid being swept. But, on the other hand, if you train for this race — really train — back-to-back long runs, time practicing on a trail — then you will be in good shape to handle this course.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? Two things — something I told a friend, “Press On,” that seemed to stick with her, and something I’ve told myself — “ABC; Always Be Churning.”
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? That I did this race with good humor, perseverance, and helped others by trying to push the checkpoint-by-checkpoint pace chart I publicized.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. It’s timeless. It’s still filled with a “local” feel, and hopefully Kim Byron is still running it.
NOTE: Check out Tai’s thoroughly entertaining race report and link to his super helpful checkpoint-by-checkpoint pace chart.
Q&A: Sabrina Zeger
October 7, 2016
The JFK-50 Mile runs deep in the Zeger family, as Sabrina is carrying on her father Rich’s passion for the race. She grew up with the race being a big part of her family life, and her commitment to the race shows the enduring love she has for the JFK-50.
Q&A with Sabrina Zeger, multiple finishes, race supporter: “[When I was young] I told me I told my dad… that when I grew up I wanted to run the JFK and get a JFK-50 Mile tattoo just like he did, to this day that is my favorite piece of art in the world.”
Why do you do it? The JFK has always been a huge part of my life since I was born, with my dad running it 15 years in a row. It’s a way of life and I remember always being so inspired by the runners. It takes a really dedicated person to collapse at the finish line with nothing left in them and say I will run this again next year.
What is special about this race? The history of this race is special enough aside from the people you meet along that 50-mile stretch through the Appalachian Trail and C&O Canal. I have never met someone who has ran this race that wouldn’t stop their own race to pick up a fellow runner and brush them off after they had a hard fall on the trail or hasn’t cheered on a runner they are passing on the C&O Canal saying ‘I’ll see you at the next aid station, keep going you can do it.’ It’s rare to see anything like that in other races.
How important is this race to you/your life? I plan my entire year around the JFK whether I am running the race or volunteering and I do my best to be as much of a part of the race as possible. I told my dad before I ever ran the JFK that when I grew up I wanted to run the JFK and get a JFK-50 Mile tattoo just like he did, to this day that is my favorite piece of art in the world.
Tell me about your toughest/best/fastest JFK-50. My toughest JFK was my third one when I didn’t finish. It’s a feeling you can never forget.
Tell me about your strongest finish. My first JFK I finished with my dad putting the medal around my neck and all I remember from the finish line was tears. My tears weren’t because I had just ran for 12 hours, but tears because I did it! I did this crazy, amazing thing and I wanted to jump and down with joy, but I had to wait about four days before I could actually do that.
What is your favorite section and why? The Appalachian Trail is my favorite part. It’s such a difficult portion of the race whether it be skipping rock to rock or face planting into a tree, it’s so exciting to run through the trail even if it’s exhausting. The runners on this section are so close it feels like a 5k the whole time.
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running the JFK-50. The volunteers who have never ran the race are the most interesting. It’s easy to say you love the JFK after running it, but those that show up to work the aid-stations year after year and help with the traffic and spend countless hours in the freezing cold without a number on their back, those people are awesome!
Who is your inspiration? It might sound pretty cheesy but my inspiration other than my dad of course is every single person who has stepped across the start line of the JFK. Whether they finished the race or didn’t, whether they ran it once or 30 times, it is inspiring that someone has the guts to put their body and mind through such a grueling endeavor.
What would you tell someone who says they’d never be able to do it? One of my favorite runners in the JFK is Fred. And I would point to Fred and say, Fred runs it every year. He has run in the snow and rain and wind. He’s finished time after time, and he also has come back to the race after not finishing and finished again.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? I tell them to remember how great that beer is going to taste at the finish line and how heavy that medal is going to feel around their neck.
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? I plan to finish the JFK as many times as I can. I’ll never start it again without finishing it. I want it to be a race I can pass on to my children when I have a family, something they can forever be proud to be a part of like I am.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. The race in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years is still going to be something I plan my life around. The race volunteers do such an amazing job putting this race together year after year it’s so hard to imagine it not growing and being one of the most popular races in the U.S. for a very long time to come.
Q&A: Rich Zeger
September 23, 2016
Rich Zeger describes himself as just a regular guy, but with 15 JFK-50 finishes, he is far from just a regular guy. Now, he supports the race as part of the volunteer staff and works throughout the year to make sure that each race stays true to its past and is a phenomenal event for runners and supporters to enjoy and appreciate.
Q&A with Rich Zeger, member of the 750-mile club and volunteer race staff: “I’ve never thought of myself as all that exceptional, but when they put that 1500-mile vest on me at the Legends Dinner, I was prouder than a peacock.”
Why do you do it? I fell in love with the race after my first attempt/finish; I was beating my work friends in smaller 5/10k races that we were competing in together and they told me that they had a new race for us to do. They wouldn’t tell me how long the race was or anything about it so I was suspicious and kept saying no. They then started calling me a scared girl so I finally gave in to the peer pressure and agreed to do it, and then find out that it was the JFK-50 Mile. And I beat them. It only took that one finish to fall in love with the race.
What is special about this race? The history, friends you make on the long course, the enjoyment of the day and little pressure due to the race length. The feeling I got when running the race on some of the same paths as soldiers during the civil war marched/hiked. The tough paths they took and the things they went through on those paths made me want to complain less or not at all during race day.
How important is this race to you/your life? Until a week after my first finish, I didn’t feel like it was important. Once I healed and felt better after that, I couldn’t wait to train and do better the next year. I’ve been a part of the race every year since 1991. I ran and finished it 15 years straight and then hung up my running shoes and began to volunteer. I have since been promoted to the race staff and work all year attending JFK-50 meetings and preparing for race day.
Tell me about your toughest/best/fastest JFK-50. My third and fourth finishes I did with no ACL in my right knee due to a rugby injury. After my fourth I knew I had to get ACL surgery at the end of March the next year and recover from that so I didn’t run a day since the end of my fourth finish until November 1st… a mere couple weeks before the race. Running on November 1st hurt my knee so badly that I didn’t attempt to run again until race day when I at least wanted to see how many miles I could handle since I had already paid my registration four months prior- defying doctors recommendations. I finished in about 12hrs 45min that year and it hurt, but I’m glad I kept my streak going.
Tell me about your strongest finish. My fastest finish was in 9hr 31min, I could have finished with a much better time, but decided to relax in a lawn chair for my friends to catch up and show off to them how much farther ahead I had gotten. I had trained a lot that year and was in pretty good shape. However my strongest finish I’d have to say I was reminded of by a guy on a bike who years later saw me out walking on a random day and thanked me for helping him finish a race years back. He was struggling to finish and said that he never would have if I hadn’t slowed my pace and helped him through it.
What is your favorite section and why? I never picked one over another. I like all sections of this race in their own way. The AT is challenging and exciting because of the amount of attention you need to spend on it so that you don’t fall or trip anyone while pushing up a hill or flying down the switchbacks. The canal then is a total change of pace where you can relax and chat with other runners, make friends and memories and try not to go crazy thinking you’ve run past the same tree 50 times. You have to be mentally tough as well as physically during this part. The last leg of the race on the road is always exciting because you think WOW I’m almost done! But during some parts as you run by the rock walls you smile and then past a few you think NOPE why am I doing, why did I pay for this, OW I don’t want to even run one more step how do I have six more miles.
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running JFK-50. Fred Schumacher and Kimball Byron. I would run by them during the race every year and chat. I remember thinking about how awesome it was to see a familiar face on the course and now they both have so many finishes and are inspirations to runners of the race, they are definitely a big part of its history.
Who is your inspiration? I didn’t have one to start, but Carl Llewellyn who finished at 80 years old, I figured if he could finish at that age when I was only 21-years-old I could run for another 60 years as well. To be a role model for my twin daughters who were born the year before I began running the race I never wanted to not finish something that I had started. Every year when I went out on race day I knew I had to finish for myself and them.
What would you tell someone who says they’d never be able to do it? If you’re willing to put the time in for training and you have the heart, then you can definitely do it.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? There are people out here having way worse days than you, you can do it. (Usually, there are at least a few people in front or behind you with broken bones from the AT who plan to finish.)
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? Hopefully, a grandkid will someday finish the race so that together with me and my daughter, we can be a 3-generation JFK-50 Mile family.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. I hope there are not many changes because I love the comfortable tradition of the race. It’s timely and perfect the way it is. If anything I’d like to see more people on the starting line on race day to share in its great history.
Q&A: Mike Spinnler
September 9, 2016
The JFK-50 Mile race as we know it today was built on the hopes and dreams of a 12-year-old boy named Mike Spinnler.
Below, Mike shares his thoughts on the early days, the hard fought miles he suffered through during the race, his inspiration and the legacy he hopes to leave behind.
Mike Spinnler, JFK-50 mile race director, participant, finisher, winner, course record holder (1982-1994): “Lay it on the line and answer the questions most human beings never get answered”
Why do you do it? I initially did it – at age 12 – because my older brother (by 17 years), who had been a standout runner in college, was doing it and was trying to win. I had no idea what I was doing.
What is special about this race? This race is very special to me because it was the first time I ever pinned on a number. It was THE RACE in our region…in 1973 it was the largest foot race in North America. Bigger than Boston and Bay-To-Breakers.
How important is this race to you? For the last 45 years (from age 12 to 57) it has been a daily part of my life. At first as an athlete striving to someday win it, to eventually assuming the director’s role in a race I hope lasts for centuries to come.
Tell me about your strongest finish. The year 1977 was an extremely painful “learning experience” when I thought I could lead from the gun at a fast tempo. Nineteen-years-old and probably capable of something around 6:20 (which still would not have won on that day) I suffered to the finish line 10th in 6:57:54. I actually fell back from the lead to 14th place before rallying down the stretch to get back into the top-ten. When I finished in 14:19:23 as a 12-year-old it seemed like I was out on the course for years. A very difficult and painful day when I learned a lot about myself even though I’d only been on the planet for 150 months at that point. My fastest was my course record win in 1982 (5:53:05….previous record was set in 1973 by the legendary Max White…5:55:30). I trained at my absolute physical edge topping out at 140-miles a week. Also supplemented those running miles with swimming, lifting weights and yoga. I purposely left no stone unturned. On race day I suffered but it was good well-executed suffering and I was able to achieve a dream that I had pursued for 11-plus years. I wrote in my log book that night that it was the most satisfying day of my life. I’ve had many other satisfying days over the following 33-years, but that one still ranks way up there.
Which section is your favorite and why? My favorite section is the final 200 meters to the finish line. It passes the house of the man (Greg Shank) who coached me as a post-collegiate to my wins in ’82 and ’83. So many of my training runs started or went by his house and by the finish line. So on race day to go by such familiar territory in last moments of my most notable athletic achievement was special. I literally ran tens of thousands of training miles on the C&O Canal Towpath. So when ever racing that section during the JFK 50 Mile (and the Gary Brown Memorial C&O Canal Five Mile….which I won in ’85 and also currently direct) I felt very “at home.”
Tell me about the most interesting person you’ve met while running JFK-50. I’ve met so many interesting (and inspiring) people associated with the JFK 50 Mile. Number one however has to be William “Buzz” Sawyer the founder and director of the first 30 editions of the race. He loved this race like no one else. He is the reason it is the only surviving Kennedy Challenge event still in existence. I’ve directed since 1993 but he’s the one who made it happen year-in-and-year out from 1963 to 1992.
Who is your inspiration? My greatest inspiration as the event’s director is also William “Buzz” Sawyer. It is like he handed over to me his child and said I need you to take care of this baby since I’m getting too old to do it now. His trust in me is probably the greatest compliment ever bestowed on me. I hope I can find the right person to take over when the time comes. Buzz sensed I was the guy. I hope I have that same sense when I eventually hand over the reigns to my successor.
What would you say to someone who feels they wouldn’t be able to do this race? To someone who thinks they’d never be able to do it, I’d personally leave them alone. But to some young kid who witnesses the event and then wants to “shock the world” I’d highly encourage them to lay it on the line and answer the questions most human beings never get answered.
What do you tell runners who are struggling during the race? To people who are suffering/struggling during the event, I’d remind them that if this was easy a heck of a lot more people would be doing it. It is the difficult part of this challenge that makes it special and worthwhile.
What do you want your JFK-50 legacy to be? My legacy? As a competitor….someone who dreamed of winning and then pursued that dream for over a decade – with every ounce of their existence – to make that dream a reality. As a director…..someone who loved the event as much as Buzz Sawyer and – like Buzz – whose passion kept the event alive regardless of the challenges that arose.
Imagine the race in 10 years, tell me about it. I hope the race in ten years still maintains all of the traditional aspects that make it unique. At 67 I doubt if I’m the top-guy on the Race Management Team in 2025, but hopefully I’m still on the Team in some capacity. It is my dream that through efficient and effective race management that every person who warrants being on the starting line gets that opportunity.
JFK 50 Mile Participant 1971-75, 1977, 1982-85, 1987-88, 1990
JFK 50 Mile Finisher 1971-73, 1975, 1977, 1982-83, 1985, 1987-88
JFK 50 Mile Winner 1982 & 1983
JFK 50 Mile Course Record Holder (5:53:05) 1982-1994
JFK 50 Mile Director 1993-present
JFK 50-Mile Story Project
I am interviewing people about their JFK-50 experience to capture the history and significance of the Nation’s oldest and largest 50-mile footrace.
If you would like to share your story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Runners, volunteers, families, supporters… I want to share your story, please reach out!