By George Banker
Photos by Clay Shaw
The 59th JFK 50-Mile Run, was on Saturday, November 20, 2021, in Boonsboro, Maryland. The organizers moved forward, adapted to change, and worked across jurisdictions to plan a perfect event. The goal was to deliver an event to meet the expectations of the runners. There were notable COVID health and safety protocols that were a carryover from 2020 to provide a safe environment for the runners.
1,030 runners lined up in Boonsboro, and by the close of the 13-hour limit in Williamsport, 933 runners (232 females, 701 males) crossed the finish line.
The race is rich in history. On March 30, 1963, four people (James Ebberts, Steve Costion, Rick Miller, and William “Buzz” Sawyer) completed the 50-mile distance in 13:10. In 1975 the race settled into November. After a successful first 30 years, the directing of the race was turned over by Buzz Sawyer to Mike Spinnler, who has been at the helm for the last 20 years. In 1973 Sawyer saw the finishers swell up to 673. Spinnler saw the number explode to a record 1,079.
“Some like to say that time flies, but it doesn’t. It’s steady and consistent. Sixty seconds to every minute, sixty minutes to every hour, twenty-four hours to every day, and 365 (and once every four years like this year, 366) days to the year. Steadiness and consistency are why this grand event is still in existence today. It is the essence of the JFK 50 Mile,” stated Mike Spinnler, race director and two-time winner (1982, 1983).
The men’s record was set in 2020 (5:18:40) by Hayden Hawks of Cedar City, Utah; the women’s record was established in 2012 (6:12:00) by Ellie Greenwood of North Vancouver, BC, Canada.
The course demands respect from the athletes. It starts on the road in Boonsboro, MD and joins the Appalachian Trail (AT) at 2.5 miles. It continues on the AT until Mile 15.5. This section of the AT is very rocky in sections as it rolls across the mountain ridge. At 14.5 miles, the course drops over 1,000 feet in a series of steep switchbacks, and connects with the C&O Canal towpath. The “Canal” section of the JFK is 26.3 miles (from 15.5 – 41.8 miles) of almost a flat, unpaved dirt/gravel surface. The route leaves the C&O Canal and follows gently rolling paved country roads the last 8.4 miles to the finish in Williamsport.
Numerous athletes with impressive running resumes and past performances always guarantee competition at the JFK.
The start of the ultra is not like a road race, where a pack of athletes breaks away fast. The tempo is slower. This course forces patience as each person has a strategy. This year the men’s race began to unfold with three men dominating: Adam Peterman of Missoula (MT), Zack Beavin of Lexington (KY), and Eric Lipuma of Richmond (VT).
The checkpoint after the AT (Weverton 15.5 miles) was Peterman (1:45:05). Trying to maintain contact was Beavin (1:51:53). The next runner within view was Lipuma (1:52:51).
At the next checkpoint at Antietam (27.1 miles), Peterman began to open the lead (2:56:17). Beavin was falling for several minutes but remained in the second position (3:05:19). Lipuma was keeping third place under control (3:07:28).
The positions did not change going into the checkpoint at Dam 4 (41.7 miles). Peterman maintained his dominance as the final stage was being set (4:26:24). Beavin was not yielding in his position and was holding fast (4:38:51). Lipuma was keeping pace to hold onto the third (4:41:53).
The closing miles along the road required determination and Peterman was crowned winner of the 59th JFK with a time of 5:19:38. Taking second place honors was Beavin in a time of 5:34:44 and third was Lipuman with a time of 5:39:49.
“During the race, my motivation was the course record. As the day unfolded, I realized that I had a shot. I felt like I did a good job pacing throughout the race to set myself up for the record, but it just didn’t happen when it came down to the final 8 miles. Hayden Hawks’ record is a great time, and I have a lot of respect for him. I am happy to come close to his record and would love to try and break it in the future,” stated Peterman.
Peterman continued, “I honestly didn’t feel a whole lot of doubt during this race. As I mentioned earlier, I have struggled with doubt during races plenty of times before, but I felt strong for most of the race during JFK. The final 90 minutes became pretty tricky, but I never felt like I’d overdone things. When I did start to slow down, it happened gradually. It felt like my pace went from 5:50 to 6:00, then hovered around 6:10 – 6:20 towards the end. If I had hit a few 7- min or 8- min miles on the flat section, I might have had some doubt, but fortunately, that never happened.”
“I think during JFK, I proved to myself that I belong in the front of these races. I have plenty of doubts, but I used to have way more. In college, I struggled at some points with believing in myself and running. Trail running has erased many of the doubts that I used to have, and I think the race at JFK gave me a lot of confidence that I will carry to next year’s races,” added Peterman.
The women’s field held some promise, with three athletes looking to reclaim lost glory. Three competitors shared their knowledge and experience. The contest was going to be down to strategy and being hungry for the win.
Devon Yanko of San Anselmo (CA) was the record holder in 2009 (6:29:21), Sarah Biehl of Columbus (OH) placed fifth in 2020 (7:22:32). Sarah Cummings of Park City (UT) was the 2020 runner-up (6:57:11). Cummings lost ground after going off course for about two miles.
In the early section of the race, Yanko reached Weverton in 2:08:25, followed by Biehl in 2:10:10. Cummings was holding back in third place with 2:13:29.
At Antietam, Yanko was holding the lead with a time of 3:35:07. Cummings had made a move to secure second place with a time of 3:37:04. Biehl was still in the chase with 3:37:28.
The final stage of the race was going to play out to test the determination of the three. At Dam 4, Cummings had worked up to the lead to cross in 5:20:18. Biehl had recaptured second place with a 5:22:18. Yanko faded back to third 5:28:33.
The AT and the C&O Canal had taken their toll. The closing miles were the time to use the remaining energy after the prize. Cummings was not to be denied and finished first with 6:18:43. Biehl had regained ground and captured second place with 6:22:03. Yanko finished third with 6:31:12.
Yanko was more assertive over the AT section (1:53:56), and Cummings was stronger along the C&O Canal (3:01:51).
Cummings stated, “The field this year was the most competitive in the history of the race. I was very intimidated. I was concerned about all the other women in the field. Many of them are friends. It was an honor to line up beside so many talented women!!”
“There is a lot of time for doubts on the lonely and long C&O! I came off the AT in 5th and slowly moved my way up. I took the lead at 35mi but was anxious about doing so. So much can happen in 15mi. I didn’t take my foot off the gas until the finish. I ran scared the whole road section,” stated Cummings.
“I signed up for the 2020 edition on a whim about three weeks before. It was my 50-mile debut. I’d always been in awe of the race and those who were brave enough to take on the challenge. My training lacked specificity for the challenges of the JFK course. I had about two months of lifetime trail running experience. Not surprisingly, I struggled on the AT. I approached the race much differently this year. I started working with Hayden Hawks (2020 winner and CR holder) in March of 2021. I returned this year with a year of trail running under my belt,” stated Cummings.
“My strategy was to run my race and aim to run a similar time as I did in 2009 when I set the then course record. I stuck to my plan and recognized that I didn’t feel great on the day, so I tried to run within myself. The miles towards the end of the Towpath were a bit tedious mentally and physically,” stated Yanko.
The top male master was Paul Jacobs of Washington (DC) in tenth place with 6:11:30. The winning master female was Karen Dunn of Collegeville (PA) in seventh place with a 7:02:08.
Announced at the Legend’s Dinner was the induction of Eric Clifton into the America Ultrarunning Marathon Hall of Fame for 2021. In 1994 at the JFK 50 Mile, he set a new record (5:46:22) which lasted for 17 years.
Sika Henry, making her debut JFK 50 Miler, completed the race in a time 9:01:36 in 45th place. The time along the AT was 2:54:18, and the C&O Canal was 4:15:25.
“On the Appalachian Trail, I had one bad fall and twisted my ankle around mile 8. Another runner was incredibly kind and stopped. He helped me tape my ankle. He was such a blessing! Once I got off the AT, I knew I would get to the finish line no matter what,” stated Henry.
“Since this was my first ultra. I had three goals: have fun, don’t get injured, get to the finish line. I knew I was going in slightly undertrained for the distance (I only averaged 30 miles a week/running during the triathlon season). My last race was on September 26 (IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta). My coach gave me a week off to recover; he began to ramp up my mileage slowly. Heading into JFK, I only had an 18, 20, and 22-mile run under my belt, so I was truly relying on swim and bike volume.
“With my background as a triathlete and low-run mileage, my place was not my goal. This year, I also put a ton of pressure on myself to qualify for my pro card and have a solid pro debut. I truly wanted to have fun and enjoy the challenge for this race.” Henry is the first African American Woman professional triathlete.
- 6:18:43 Sarah Cummings, 32, Park City, UT
- 6:22:03 Sarah Biehl, 27, Columbus, OH
- 6:31:12 Devon Yanko, 39, San Anselmo, CA
- 6:41:23 Kimber Mattox, 32, Bend, OR
- 6:44:42 Kristina Randup, 23, Berkeley, CA
- 6:53:18 Anna Kacius, 28, San Francisco, CA
- 7:02:08 Karen Dunn, 45, Collegeville, PA
- 7:10:49 Anna Mae Flynn, 34, Poncha Springs, CO
- 7:11:05 Sara Zambotti, 41, Shelocta, PA
- 7:16:04 Morgan Blevins, 24, Somerville, MA
- 7:26:46 Madeline Wighardt, 20, Ancaster, ON, CAN
- 7:34:56 Taryn Olmstead, 35, Scranton, PA
- 7:39:08 Alyssa Anderson, 45, Claremont, NH
- 7:45:59 Caroline Roehrl, 32, New York, NY
- 7:50:57 Brenda Fortin, 38, Williamsburg, MA
- 7:52:17 Bethany Spector, 32, Virginia Beach, VA
- 7:57:18 Starla Garcia, 31, Houston, TX
- 8:01:00 Amy Hamilton, 45, Abingdon, VA
- 8:09:56 Michelle Roos, 30, Alexandria, VA
- 8:10:00 Hannah Grall, 24, Saint Joseph, MI
- 5;19:38 Adam Peterman, 26, Missoula, MT
- 5:35:44 Zack Beavin, 27, Lexington, KY
- 5:39:49 Eric Lipuma, 28, Richmond, VT
- 5:44:57 Sean Van Horn, 35, Carbondale, CO
- 5:46:21 Justin Scheid, 35, Succasunna, NJ
- 5:56:14 Nick Arndt, 27, Keene Valley, NY
- 6:05:01 Anthony Fagundes, 31, Fair Oaks, CA
- 6:06:15 Jared Bassett, 31, Bend, OR
- 6:07:59 Sam Kirk, 39, Newtown Square, PA
- 6:11:30 Paul Jacobs, 43, Washington, DC
- 6:13:49 Ruairi Moynihan, 32, Flagstaff, AZ
- 6:16:40 Andrew Simpson, 33, York, PA
- 6:24:55 Danny Sheehan, 36, Brooklyn, NY
- 6:33:21 Charles Oestreich, 24, Cambridge, MA
- 6:35:01 Reid Burrows, 26, Morriston, ON, CAN
- 6:35:18 Preston Dunn, 20, Naples, FL
- 6:36:55 Taylor Troischt, 50, Morgantown, WV
- 6:38:19 Adam Lowe, 39, Martinsburg, WV
- 6:38:48 Manuel Lago, 44, Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL
- 6:38:52 Trentin Overcash, 20, Chambersburg, PA
Categories: Race Coverage