Marathon man pushes his limit, finishing the JFK 50-Miler


November 25, 2001|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

CLARKSVILLE'S Rick Mitchell has been a runner 23 of his 35 years. He's a veteran of 15 marathons and this year scratched one of his objectives - doing the Boston Marathon - off his to-do list. Then, he said, he began looking for another objective.

"When someone first suggested to me to do the JFK, I thought, `It sounds long, painful and downright crazy - I'll do it,' Mitchell told some of his Howard County Strider friends last week, adding: "My family immediately thought I was out of my mind."

The JFK 50-Miler is an ultra-marathon, an annual 50-mile footrace - not quite double a marathon - in Western Maryland that includes a long stretch of South Mountain called the Appalachian Trail. This is one tough race, started in 1963 and now America's longest continuously run "ultra."

On Nov. 17, Mitchell wasn't the only Strider in this year's JFK, which had 818 finishers. He wasn't the first one from Howard County to finish, either (that was Columbia's Caroline Chebli, 89th). But Mitchell proved to be the most literate, based on a recollection he shared last week with those who encouraged him. For you vicarious runners, some excerpts:

"I left my house at 4:30 a.m. for the long drive to Boonsboro. It was pretty intimidating to pick up my number surrounded by all the veteran `ultra' men and women who had already done this race many times before, and the farthest I had ever run in my life was 26.2 miles. ...

"After arriving on the Appalachian Trail, I was really surprised. ... I thought there would be little rocks here and there, but much of the trail was covered with rocks jutting out in all directions. Some were the size of, say, a book; others were as big as a keg of beer. ... I figured that if I could make it out of the 13-mile trail portion without breaking an ankle, I would be set. I tripped twice and nearly went over the mountain after careening out of control but somehow managed to stay on my feet.

"The most mind-playing moment was about halfway. ... It was pretty hard to comprehend that I would do another 25 miles. [But] for some reason, miles 30 to 40 didn't seem as difficult as people had described. I just went into the `zone' and kept running [about] seven minutes and walking for one [while trying to average a mile every 10 minutes]. ...

"After reaching the end of the C&O Canal towpath at 42 miles, I still was right on my pace, and I had yet to walk for more than one minute at any time. ... [But] I hadn't given much thought to the miles after that.

"With only eight miles to go on rolling country hills, either I was getting really tired or I was losing it mentally. ... When I saw the sign `6 miles' to go (still at a 10-minute pace), I decided to extend my walks. This may have made things worse because each time I started to run again my calf muscles would start to spasm, and it felt like I was going to pull a muscle. So I mixed in more walks and just hoped to survive.

"At Mile 48, a runner asks, `Are you OK?' and I think, `Well, I've just run 48 miles, but other than that ... ' The last two miles are tough. I'm keeping a 12-minute pace. ...

"I see the finish line, and I hear the announcer say, `Here he comes, and he's only 14 years old.' I glance back and watch this kid go sprinting by me on to the finish. Anyway, a few seconds later, I cross the finish line in eight hours, 46 minutes [he was 109th, about 2 3/4 hours behind the Coloradan who won]. I'm just thrilled to finish. Fifty miles is a long way. ...

"I think my `ultra' career is over. I've proved I can do it, but it's just too long and too hard. So, don't ask me when my next 50-miler will be, or if I'm ever going to attempt a 100-miler, because there's no way, no how, no nothin.' ..." ... Gee, I wonder if I really could go 100 miles?"

Warriors win again

The Columbia Community Church Warriors are playing today for the eastern Junior Pee Wee title in Pop Warner's national youth football tournament after beating Bellefonte, Pa., 13-7, last weekend on a fumble recovery in the end zone by Mario Escalante.

Today's eastern title game is at Lock Haven (Pa.) University.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or address e-mail to

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.