Thursday, November 22, 2012

The JFK 50 Miler

In today's Washington Post, the columnist Lenny Bernstein recounts his efforts at the JFK 50-Mile run last weekend. He had the misfortune of running the last two thirds or so with a broken hand and sore ribs from a fall. This was the 50th running of the JFK 50, named in honor of the president who challenged Americans to get back into condition and try such challenges as 50-mile hikes.

In 1982, I ran in the 20th running, and discovered what somebody could have told me: 50 miles is a long way to go. A friend had suggested a try it, so I sent in the application. Another reckless friend signed up, and another came along as "handler" for the two of us. I believe that the field must have grown over the last 30 years, for Bernstein writes of two waves in the race, some runners leaving at 5:30 from Boonsboro, and another, larger, presumably faster wave leaving at 7 am. In 1982, there was that I know of but one start. Those of us issued race numbers under 100 had the privilege of starting about 20 yards ahead of the rest--a nice gesture, but one that seemed eccentric for a race of that distance.

By now, I remember only so much of that day. There is poor footing on South Mountain, which one runs north to south; I thought one would have better footing running north. One covers a marathon distance on the C&O Towpath, having arrived about 15 miles in, and leaving with 9 miles to go. The roads between the towpath and Williamsport were somewhat narrow, and traveled by large pickup trucks. I made a friend in the last couple of hundred yards, a young woman who was truly suited to long distances, and came into her own at 50 miles and beyond; we ran together several times a year until she finished law school and left the area. I acted as her handler at one 100-mile race, and my brother and I handled for her at another running of it.

What I chiefly remember was the locker room at the junior high school in Williamsport where the race finished. I had to wait in the halls until my friend the handler showed up with my pack. With that in hand, I went to the locker room, where I noticed a man leaning up against the wall, with the shower running down his back--this being a junior high, the shower heads were at about shoulder height for a grown man of average stature. I undressed very deliberately, took a long shower, and then dressed and repacked very deliberately. As I turned to go, the man was still leaning there with the hot water running down him. I understood.

I did reasonably well in the run. As I remember it, my number was 26, and my finish was 25th or 27th. I was impressed by the excellence of their seeding, until I got the race report and found that those of us in the first 100 were issued numbers in alphabetical order of name. But that was it for me and 50-milers.

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