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With most major running events having been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities were not to be wasted at the 58th annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon in Washington County.
No one seized the chance to showcase their fitness quite the way Hayden Hawks did Saturday.
In his debut at the race, Hawks, 29, of Cedar City, Utah, turned in a stunning performance, winning in a course-record time of 5 hours, 18 minutes and 40 seconds — an average of 6:21 per mile.
The women’s title was captured by pre-race favorite Camille Herron in 6:31:14.
“I just really wanted to come out here, have fun and see what I could do. It just all clicked today,” Hawks said. “I kept thinking the whole time during the race how grateful I was to be out here.
“You know, it’s been a hard year for a lot of people, including us as professional athletes. My whole schedule was changed this year. I had all these big plans, competing at all these big things. Of course, all that got canceled, so I just took advantage of the time I had and really dialed everything in — my nutrition, my strength training, my running training — coming into this.
“I was like, you know, I need to be grateful and have gratitude because, really, this might be the first and the last race for a while for me. I was just really fortunate and really happy out there.”
The previous course record was 5:21:29, set by Jim Walmsley in 2016. That was a momentous achievement, as before Saturday, no one else had ever run faster than 5:34:22 in the first 57 years of the event.
“I fully expected Walmsley’s record to stand well into 2040, maybe even 2050,” JFK 50 director Mike Spinnler said. “It was just such a big quantum leap.”
With some help from Walmsley, Hawks took it a step further.
“Jim and I are really good friends. We talk all the time,” Hawks said. “Jim actually gave me some advice coming into this. I was texting him back and forth, asking for shoe advice and what I should do. And he gave me advice.
“He’s a really class-act guy, a really great competitor, and I’m really fortunate to have him as a friend. That’s what we do as competitors. We’re always trying to push each other and reach that next goal. I’m sure Jim is happy for me today to take this course record to the next step, just like I’d be happy for him if he did that as well.”
Stephen Kersh, 29, of Flagstaff, Ariz., placed second in 5:27:07 — the No. 3 performance in race history — in his first JFK.
“I’m definitely pretty happy,” he said. “It was just about as good as it could have been.”
Kersh’s training partners in Flagstaff include Walmsley and two other recent JFK champions, Jared Hazen (2018) and Eric Sensmen (2017).
“I’ve been picking their brains for the last couple months, so I didn’t come into this as green as some people. I knew what to expect,” Kersh said. “Training with those guys, this isn’t as unexpected as maybe some people think, because I’m not really a big name in the sport.”
After the first 15.5-mile segment of the race, mostly comprised of the rocky Appalachian Trail, a lead pack of four — Hawks, Matt Daniels, Hazen and Kersh — took the title fight to the flat C&O Canal towpath for the next 26.3 miles.
“Once we hit the canal path, Matt and I took off,” Hawks said. “We actually train a lot together and are really good friends.
“We talked beforehand about working together on the canal path, and then it would be every man for himself at the end, so that’s what we did. We started clicking off sub-6-minute miles and were feeling very comfortable, having a conversation and feeling really good.
“At Mile 27, I kind of broke Matt a little bit. I think maybe he had a calf injury. He’s been dealing with a lot of injuries over the past few months. Matt on his ‘A’ game would have been hard to beat today.”
Daniels ended up dropping out, and Hazen fell back to a 13th-place finish (6:36:13).
Jonathan Aziz, 29, of Colorado Springs, Colo., finished third in his ultramarathon debut in 5:37:14 — the No. 6 performance in JFK history.
Anthony Kunkel, 28, of Durango, Colo., placed fourth in 5:45:31, and Geoffrey Burns, 30, of Ann Arbor, Mich., took fifth in 5:52:51.
Herron adds to her résumé
In the women’s competition, Herron, 38, of Alamosa, Colo., showed why she was the overwhelming pre-race favorite, leading from start to finish as she won by nearly a half-hour in her first JFK.
Although Herron’s personal record for 50 miles (5:38:41) is an all-time world best, she specializes in even longer events, also owning world-best performances for 100 miles (12:42:40) and 24 hours (167.842 miles).
“Because I was coming down in distance, I felt a little slow and rusty today,” she said.
She had her sights set on the JFK women’s record — 6:12:00, set by Ellie Greenwood in 2012.
Although Herron was off course-record pace on the Appalachian Trail, she had hoped to make up for it on the C&O Canal towpath.
“I was trying to chase time the whole way, and I just didn’t have it. This was the best that I could do today,” she said. “Buy hey, I won. I’m not disappointed for such a crazy year. It’s awesome to even have a race.
“I definitely want to come back,” she said. “I think I have it in me to go for the course record — just keep trying. It’s a stout course record, I can tell you that.”
Sarah Cummings, 31, of Park City, Utah, was the runner-up in 6:57:11, while Haley Moody Gilpin, 31, of Chattanooga, Tenn., placed third in 7:00:52, Alicia Hudelson, 36, of Roswell, Ga., took fourth in 7:14:02, and Sarah Biehl, 26, of Hilliard, Ohio, was fifth in 7:22:32.(11/22/2020) Views: 101 ⚡AMP