The following is a letter written by Dave
Long about the JFK 50 Mile run…it was
written to his college roommates after the
JFK in the year 2000. Dave finished the
JFK once and is responsible with his ‘crew’
for our initial aid station at 4.4 miles.
I think you’ll enjoy it…
JFK 50 Mile Run Race Director
“Her name was Rachel and she
was so sore she had to….”
By Dave Long
I‟ve used a computer for over 15 years to write thousands of lines of programming code. Instead of computer code, I wish I had the time to write a book about the JFK 50 Mile Run. There are just so many interesting stories.
As you guys know, I help with the first „official‟ aid station
at the 4.4 mile point. It sounds cruel, but each year at that early point in the race, we pick 3 of the 1000 that we think won‟t
finish. It‟s a small inside joke that is fun for a number of
reasons. In short, we‟ve learned that you simply can‟t just
„look‟ at these folks and gauge their inner drive. Here were my picks:
; An awkward (tall & inefficient) looking teenager running
with Chuck Taylor basketball shoes (no support, cushion or
traction)…and carrying a big heavy book bag full of „stuff‟,
; A short lady shuffling along already looking tired, and
; A guy wearing stiff looking blue jeans and work boots.
I was „0 for 3‟…all of these finished.
Anyway, it‟s always neat to witness the finish of the winner of both the men‟s and women‟s race. But without a doubt,
the last half-hour always brings the real drama.
After this year‟s race, I had a chance to speak with Laura
thNelson, the women‟s winner in 6:59 (15 overall). To break 7
hours, she had to run her last mile in under 7 minutes. I was told she sprinted the last quarter mile. Winning wasn‟t enough
for her…can you imagine!?
She has a reputation in Hagerstown as being very quiet, even well into her distance runs when many loosen up. She moved away years ago, and I was excited to speak with her. She remembered me from my glory days, so I think that made her feel a little at ease.
She‟s 35 and, according to her, “was slow in high school”. She has beautiful eyes and the most awesome pair of legs on the planet…bar none. We swapped training horror stories and she
trumped me every time.
She said she once ran 3.5 hours on her treadmill….”in the basement without any entertainment…because there was snow on the ground. “
She also said she “got lost in the badlands of Oregon for about 12 hours on a training run”. She “started to go crazy
(laugh then cry, repeat)…she had no water and made circling loops.” Her husband had a huge rescue party looking for her…she ended up hitchhiking with some hunters.
One week later, she got lost again, this time for „only‟ 10
hours. She went on to explain that she was the last person to win a marathon in the 1900s…it was a sanctioned race, and she was the winner (including men)!
She „works out‟ 2-4 hours a day and then „works‟ at a
JCPenney‟s. (They wouldn‟t let her off the night of the JFK…so after the award ceremony, she was driving back to Virginia to go to work. They probably thought she was doing some „5k fun run‟.) She ran multiple 2:51 marathons trying to make the qualifying Olympic trials time of 2:48. At one race, she went 20.5 miles when she noticed her calf had torn so hideously that she ran back to the 20 mile point to get some ice. “It was completely black and blue”, she said. Of course, she finished (in 2:51).
I have her email address and will continue to prod her for stories like these.
After Laura left, in my usual tradition I went back to the
finish line at 8:00pm hoping to see someone that looked in as much pain as I was when I finished years ago. I met a guy that my old boss claimed „ran the canal in 3 days‟. Turns out he ran it in BOTH directions…in 6 days.
Can you believe 369 miles in 6 days, with his wife on a mountain bike? He was real nonchalant about it…huge guy.
He and his wife do the JFK every year. (She was one I bet against finishing one year…I haven‟t picked her in my „DNF (did not finish) list since).
It‟s demented, but there‟s something I find comical about somebody awkwardly leaning to one side trying to finish the JFK…(I‟m allowed to laugh, because “I‟ve been there and done that!”). It was starting to get dark and I was hoping some poor sap was going to provide some „entertainment‟ for me at 13:59
(14 hours is the cutoff).
13:30 into the race.
I see the walker from Paoli, PA… he does it slow and steady every year with a walking staff.
Also, finishing is race bib number 1. Buzz Sawyer! He
ndwas walking REAL SLOW at the 4 mile point…2 to last at the
time…but here he‟s finishing. (See!...you can‟t pick those that
will drop out).
He hugs some other 70ish age grouper and poses for the picture enclosed.
It is getting real late now. Not much of a crowd at all (maybe 20 people). I see an older couple (80s?) standing under a poorly lit tree. The gentleman is wearing a suit and the lady a dress. Its cold and the sight of them next to the graveyard is pretty eerie…surreal. I ask them the dumb question “Are you
waiting on someone to finish?”
“Our son. He‟s 54. He‟s not gonna make it (on time)”. We exchange pleasantries and I move on down the road.
13:59. Nobody in sight…I walk back toward the finish, disappointed that I wouldn‟t see the heroic sight‟s I‟ve seen in years past.
I get into my car and see the clock at 14:05…I look over and
the elderly couple is hugging their 54 year old son. He missed the cutoff, but Mike (Spinnler – race director) makes a judgment
in his favor (he probably finished 2-3 minutes ago, I reason). He gets his medal, but you can tell there is an empty expression on his face. Is it bewilderment? Shock? Or is he just too pained/tired to show emotion?
“See ya next year, JFK”, I think to myself. I reminisce about the guy I met 2 years ago that sprinted across the line in 14:01. The paramedics worked on him for a long time. I honestly thought the guy died. He was real stocky…after he was
revived, I met a group (could write a book about those 3) that told me the guy finished the JFK a „whole bunch of times…and was one of the best 100 mile runners in the world in the 60s). I nicknamed him „the bulldog.„
I crest the hill in my Jeep to drive home…
“Oh well, I just won‟t have anything to write about this year”.
I should’ve known better to doubt the JFK.
I‟m driving the race course backwards to get home…500 yards from the finish and I see two figures within the beams of my headlights.
One of them is James „Big E‟ Eberts (5 time winner)…he is full of arthritis now and is just a guy like me that enjoys the JFK. He‟s not in the race, but seems to be helping the other person. There‟s a fluorescent bib on the runner, but I don‟t see the race number. “It‟s dark, I reason”.
I squint a little more and the other figure is
It’s show time.
Just when I thought there‟d be no real drama this year, I felt ashamed for my lack of patience;
I park the Jeep and walk up. It‟s a girl. 25…maybe 38?…too dark to judge. Looks like she fell on her face, but
again, it is dark.
She is honest to goodness facing backward. Backward but
moving toward the finish line at about the speed of those surgery
patients connected to IV bags that you see in the hallways of hospitals. She‟s half crying while Big E is telling her how close
* Pause and picture the moment in your mind *
I give my two cents by explaining that she already went 50 miles (the JFK is 50.2). And that Marines were given 14 hours to cover 50…(if she‟s 15 minutes late, and completes 50.2, she‟s still a hero in my book.)
And she has this great, big cumbersome backpack strapped on. I ask her if I can take it off and she‟s pretty much without care. I know darned well she couldn‟t get anything out of it if
her life depended on it.
She turns around (faces forward) and looks at dim yellow lights (because the finish line is being torn down – quick).
Big E tells her “there‟s the finish”. She goes back to walking backward – too sore to face forward.
Big E said she sat down a half mile ago and just put her head in her knees. He convinced her to finish.
She‟s talking now. “I‟m not a runner, really.
But I ran too much of the mountain.
I‟m sooooooo sore.”.
“Where are you staying tonight?” I ask.
She says “I‟m driving to my mom‟s in Alexandria (VA).”
“You‟re driving?!” I ask.
“I just want to take a nap”, she moans.
“Stay at my house”, I said…but she wouldn‟t. “I have a sleeping bag in my car. I‟ll be fine. I‟m tough”.
A lot tougher than anyone I ever met.
All of a sudden, here comes the drama subject from 2 years ago, a.k.a „the bulldog‟. Sprinting like a madman…no fanfare
for him either, except for me reliving his finish from 2 years ago. He gave me „five‟ on the way by…his hand was cold and clammy, just like 2 years ago.
The girl‟s name is Rachel.
She walks across the line and we delay the bus (full of stinky 13+ hour JFK finishers) that will take her back to Boonsboro. (Read: she had no family or friends at the end…so sad).
I told Big E she wasn‟t fit to drive. So for the first time, I followed the bus back to Boonsboro High School (the starting line).
I get there, and of course, to add to the ambiance, a guy is RIGHT next to the bus stop puking his guts out.
“This is where she‟ll get off the bus” I‟m thinking.
No massage cots…no „Chariots of Fire‟ music…no TV
cameras…and certainly no hot tub next to clean sheets on a warm bed. Just the guy throwing up – that‟s HER reception
party. (And he‟s STILL throwing up – how much Powerade
can you drink in 14 hours?).
Everybody gets out of the bus…except Rachel. So I get on
the danged bus and she motions to the driver that she‟s parked „over there‟. There‟s a white car in a remote corner of the middle school.
She and I get off the bus and I take her picture, and amazingly, she’s in good spirits.
I don‟t know what happened after that. For all I know, she drove home or slept in her sleeping bag. She was happy in the picture and I know her race number was 120. I‟ll be in touch with her.
So there you have it:
; 2 years ago, it was „the bulldog‟.
; Last year, a guy in black dress shoes and work pants.
; This year, it was Rachel.
If I get to Heaven, I‟m creating my own highlight film with God‟s time machine. Until then, you can be assured that I‟ll be at the finish during the last minutes (and now beyond) of the
Rachel Coleman went on the finish the JFK
in 2001 at the age of 32…her time was