Longest Roads Lead Runner To First Place His Races Make Marathons Look Easy

November 27, 1990|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff writer

Someday, Joe Blackmon will be able to tell his grandchildren about his long and sometimes torturous 10-mile runs to Flintstone High School during his junior and senior years.

No, his family didn't live in the Stone Age, in a town like Bedrock in the popular cartoon. In fact, his mother drove his brothers and sisters to the Western Maryland school, just a few miles from Cumberland, in a fully operational automobile.

"She offered to drive me, too, but I'd rather run to school," said Blackmon, who has lived in Arnold for the past four years. "I stayed in shape playing soccer, basketball and baseball, but running was a stress valve for me. It was a way to deal with peer pressure and blow off steam."

A computer operator for John E. Harms and Associates Inc., Blackmon still runs every day to relieve tension.

In the last four years, however, he has become more serious about the sport. He has competed in several 5- and 10-kilometer races and has entered two marathons -- 26-mile races.

But Nov. 17, Blackmon became really serious. He won the men's division of the John F. Kennedy ultramarathon -- 50 miles -- in six hours, 15 minutes, 53 seconds.

The JFK, which covered the distance from Boonsboro to Williamsport, was Blackmon's second ultramarathon. Two years earlier he covered the same course in 7:32, finishing 14th overall.

"It's a very competitive race. Its elevation goes up 500 feet, and its low points go down about 500 feet over mountains, trails and rocks," Blackmon, 28, said. "I was more familiar with (the course) this year, and I guess I had more running in."

When he's not running competitively, Blackmon is in training. Every day after work, he begins a long-distance run about 4 p.m. along the Baltimore and Annapolis bicycle trail.

Blackmon got involved in long-distance running the same way he began as a teen-ager -- as a by-product of the other sports he played.

"In high school, I played soccer as a primary sport, and since I was already running to school, I'd make a cross country meet if I didn't have a soccer game," he said.

He spent two years in the Navy after graduating from the University of West Virginia in 1983. During that time, Blackmon was nothing more than a casual runner.

"In college, I ran on and off on my own," he said. "Mostly, I just played pickup basketball, which is my first love.

"Right before I got out of the Navy I walked for exercise. People would see me walking everywhere and ask, 'Hey, why don't you just pick up your feet a little and run.' " Encouraged by several friends who are avid harriers, Blackmon wasted little time increasing the mileage in the races he entered.

In 1986, he finished second in the Dogwood Appalachian Trail run, his first 35-miler. Since then, he is a three-time champion in the Dogwood race.

On an invitation from a co-worker two years ago, Blackmon entered his first 5K race and finished second.

"After that race, I started thinking seriously about racing more competitively," he said. "At the end of '89 I started getting back into trail racing. So far this year, I've set personal-best records in all of my races."

And 1990 has been a busy year for Blackmon, beginning with the Charlotte Marathon on Jan. 7 and the Boston Marathon on April 16.

Blackmon completed the Charlotte race in 2:55, but he ran even better in Boston, crossing the line in 2:38.11.

Last spring, Blackmon ran a pair of 10K personal bests in the Baltimore Classic (32:45) and the Chestertown Biatholon (completing the running portion in 32:31).

This past summer, he sprinted to a 15:57 finish in a 5K race and 15:04 in a tough three-miler.

"The 5Ks and 10Ks helped me to warm up for (the JFK). My goal is to run a sub-30 (minute) 10K and become more competitive at the longer distances," Blackmon said. "If I can do that, then my theory is that I'll be able to run marathons at a more competitive pace. First, I want to break the record (5:53.5 for the JFK)."

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