Newcomers Nippert and Altieri Snare Impressive JFK 50 Mile Victories


Neither Howard Nippert nor Bea Marie Altieri had ever run the JFK 50 Mile prior to November 21, 1998. Nippert had never raced beyond 50K and Altieri's last sojourn beyond the marathon distance had been nearly a decade earlier. Yet the first-timers to America's oldest and largest ultramarathon found themselves carrying the weight of the favorite's role as 845 starters toed the line in downtown Boonsboro for the gun that would unleash the 36th annual running of the continent's greatest tradition in ultramarathoning.

Supporters and skeptics alike, had to wonder if the pressure*not to mention the terrain and the competition*would prove too much for Nippert and Altieri's maiden attempts over the storied JFK course.

It took less than six and seven hours respectively for the dynamic duo to quiet any doubts of their abilities and preparedness as the names of Nippert and Altieri were placed amongst the elites of JFK history.

Nippert*a 33-year-old assistant cross-country and track coach at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA*was indeed a rookie at 50 miles, but his athletic resume was the sharpest of the 938 entrants. The owner of a 29:14, 10,000M personal best, the VA Tech alum had powered his way to an impressive 21st place finish in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, clocking a career best 2:19:08 over the undulating Charlotte, NC Olympic selection course.

His first and only previous cross-over into the ultra world came at the Rattlesnake Trail 50K in Charlestown, WV earlier in the year on July 11. He raised a few eyebrows that day taking the scalps of Andy Jones and former Rattlesnake record holder Courtney Campbell by 4:38 and 12:30. Nippert's 3:30:37 off-road clocking hacked eight minutes and twenty-nine seconds from Campbell's previous standard.

As expected, Eric Clifton*the defending JFK champion and course record holder (5:46:22)*bolted to the front immediately as the horde departed Boonsboro. Nippert and Courtney Campbell (the owner of a 5:58:20 from '96 that is number six on the all-time JFK performers list) did their best to shadow his aggressive tempo over the difficult first 15.7 mile Appalachian Trail (AT) portion of the course.

At the railroad track crossing, that connects the AT section of the course to the flat C&O Canal Towpath 26.2 mile segment, an off-schedule train negated the ninety-second (on Campbell) and two-minute (on Nippert) advantage Clifton held at that juncture. The trio crossed the tracks in unison after the brief forced pit-stop (Clifton lost 2:10 to the clock, Campbell 1:35, and Nippert just 12 seconds) and by 20 miles the power-stroking Nippert was off the front and alone in his pursuit of Williamsport glory.

Nippert continued to widen the gap on his pursuers and at 30 miles still had a legitimate shot at Clifton's course record in spite of a slowing headwind that impeded everyone's progress over the towpath section.

The record was out of reach by the time Nippert stepped onto the macadam for the last 8.3 miles, but his victory was looking safer by the mile.

Clifton, who turned 40 years old in June, gave valiant and steady pursuit of the front-running Nippert down the stretch and still only trailed by five minutes at the 44-mile mark. Clifton had run down two-time Olympic Trialist Michael Harrison with a similar late race deficit in '97, but Nippert was too strong and wouldn't be caught on this day.

Sporting the black, silver, and red colors of Team Brooks, Nippert stopped the clock at 5:58:41, only the tenth man in JFK history to dip under the six-hour barrier and moving his name to the number seven all-time JFK spot.

"I just had to concentrate and relax," Nippert said to Mike Wolff of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. "Every time it crossed your mind that you might win, you can get carried away. I just had to keep thinking about staying relaxed and maintain my composure."

A solid second, Clifton added to his already large JFK legend by crushing David Horton's 1994 Masters record by nine minutes and thirty-eight seconds. His 6:06:42 effort (which could have easily been 6:04-and change without the delay in the race's 16th mile) is not only the new 40-and-over standard, but is also the 15th fastest performance in race history. In Clifton's nine appearances at the JFK (1990-98) he remarkably has four victories (a second and a third placing as well), four of the nineteen fastest performances in race history (including his course record which is a mind boggling six minutes and forty-eight seconds faster than anyone else has ever mustered out of their beings) and now with a touch of gray in his unique hairstyle, is the fastest ever Masters in the race's 36 year history.

Also eclipsing the previous Masters record was third placer James Garcia (40) who picked up third place overall money in 6:14:21 just 34 days after finishing 18th (second yank) for Team USA in the IAU World 100K Challenge in River Shimanto, Japan.

A teenage performance of considerable note was posted by fourth placing Ryne Melcher of Canada. The 19 year old clocked 6:18:36 to become the second fastest teenager in race history. His mark trails only 1977 race runner-up Karsten Schultze (a 4:11 prep miler who went on to run 13:59 for 5Ks as a collegiate) whose 6:16:25 junior standard could stand well into the next millennium. Melcher's effort is also the fastest ever by a Canadian national in the JFK.

Three others would better six-and-a-half hours on the day. U.S. National Team member Mark Godale (5th, 6:22:25), 44-year-old Tim Hewitt (6th, 6:23:57), and Ian Torrence who nabbed 7th in 6:26:42. A last minute entrant, Campbell failed to finish the JFK for the first time.

Bea Marie Altieri had run 50 miles before, but not since 1989 when as a 22 year old she circled a 400 meter oval 200-plus times in seven hours and 41 minutes. In the decade that followed she picked up a new coach (who ended up becoming her husband as well), found real focus in her athletic career, and developed into one of the mid-Atlantic region's best road racers in the 5K-to-marathon distances.

Under the tutelage of George Altieri, a National Class Triathlete*who finished 73rd in 1995 Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon*Bea Marie literally transformed from an "OK" local age-group runner in the early '90s to an elite-level competitor in a few short years. Clocking PRs of 16:48 (5K) and 35:25 (10K) she enjoyed her biggest win to date at the 1996 Philadelphia Marathon in a current career best 2:50:01.

Working in promotions for PowerFood, Inc., "BMA" had been to all kinds of sporting events that were being sponsored by PowerFood in recent years, including a few ultramarathons, one of those events being the '97 JFK 50 Mile. Curiosity set in during the months that followed and to the JFK organizing committee's delight, she accepted an invitation to compete in '98.

Tagged the "PowerBar Girl" by a few skeptics in the established ultra community, who thought she might be biting off a bit more "energy bar" than she could chew in the JFK, Altieri prepared meticulously for the event including two very valuable training sessions over the Appalachian Trail section of the course. Was she ready? You better believe she was.

Trailing two-time defending champion Bridget Brunnick by less than a minute at the 15.7 mile emergence onto the towpath, BMA shifted into overdrive and quickly danced away from the field.

Scaring the ancient 1984 course record of Teri Gerber (6:50:56), BMA became only the second woman in JFK history to dip under the seven-hour barrier with her 6:58:44 win. "I came out of the mountains (AT section) about ten minutes faster than I expected," Altieri explained to the Herald-Mail's Mike Wolff. "That was a real inspiration to me because that was the part of the race I worried about the most."

The Pennsylvania pair of Debbie Berner (7:25:54) and Sandi Beale (7:26:52) ran extremely well for second and third, becoming the 6th and 7th fastest women in JFK history. Their times, although seemingly "mortal" on this day, would have been fast enough to win four of the last five previous JFK races. Brunnick failed to finish after placing no worse than second in her three previous attempts.

Age-group efforts of special note were recorded by 50-year-old Keith Hileman*who's 6:51:44 (10th overall) clocking trails only former World Record Holder Frank Bozanich's 6:42:48 (1994) in JFK marks by 50-plus athletes*and Leo Lightner (70) who toppled Bob Boal's 1982 70-and-over record by 20 minutes and 23 seconds with a sensational 10:01:58.

Race founder*and director from 1963-92*Buzz Sawyer, now 70-years young, finished his 11th JFK in 12:20:37 in spite of falling on a training run a month prior to the race and receiving 27 stitches in his head. He took a heavy spill again on race day opening a nasty gash on his leg, but it would take a lot more than lost blood on the AT to stop this living legend from working his way to Williamsport.

Other JFK legends Cal Mahaney, Kimball Byron, and Mike Adams kept their remarkable runs at immortality alive. Mahaney, 69, finished his 29th consecutive JFK and both Byron and Adams (still both only in their 40s) finished the JFK for the 30th time each. Adams (49) in a still competitive 7:59:46 for 73rd place.

Statistically the 36th JFK 50 Mile rewrote a handful of U.S. ultra and JFK records. Nine-hundred thirty-eight registered, 842 started, and 774 officially finished (the most in U.S. ultra history for any single ultramarathon race) under the mandatory 14-hour time limit. The 92% finishers rate was the highest ever in JFK history as was the 73 individuals (68 men and 5 women) who finished in less than eight hours, eclipsing the previous high of 62 from 1996.

The greatest tradition in U.S. ultramarathoning will continue again in 1999. The 37th Annual JFK 50 Mile has been slated for November 20, 1999. For entry information, contact: Cumberland Valley Athletic Club, 1012 Valleybrook Dr., Hagerstown, MD 21742-3464 or by phone at (301) 739-7004. Entry requests will be filled at one time in early August of 1999...only the first 1,000 entries can be accepted due to restraints from the National Park Service.

1. Howard Nippert		5:58:41
2. Eric Clifton			6:06:42
3. James Garcia			6:14:21
4. Ryne Melcher			6:18:36
5. Mark Godale			6:22:25
6. Tim Hewitt			6:23:57
7. Ian Torrence			6:26:42
8. Greg Zaruba			6:42:19
9. Michael Harrison		6:48:01
10. Keith Hileman		6:51:44
11. Edward Boggess		6:55:52
12. Chris Gibson		6:56:08
1. Bea Marie Altieri	6:58:44
2. Debbie Berner		7:25:54
3. Sandi Beale			7:26:52
4. Sue Johnston			7:39:23
5. Megan Ratermann		7:56:53
6. Courtney Fenstermac	8:16:20
7. Alice Loughran		8:23:24
8. Bonnie Arlt			8:23:47
9. Alicia Barahona		8:30:18
10. Gretchen Shuey		8:35:17
11. Kathy Wathrn		8:42:43
12. Suzie Flockart		8:55:11