Warren County High School graduate shatters course record
By Jeff Nations
Emily Harrison wasn't going to be satisfied with just completing Saturday's 50th annual JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon on Saturday.
For the former Warren County High School and University of Virginia standout runner, the mantra was simple and direct -- go big, or go home.
Harrison went big, shattering the course record of 6 hours, 29.21 minutes with her second-place time of 6:17.16. Not a bad day, especially considering it was Harrison's first-ever attempt at that distance.
"It was pretty scary at the start," said Harrison, a standout marathoner who competed in this year's U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. "I just had to trust my training."
Harrison credits fellow runner Ian Torrence, a former coach on Flagstaff, Ariz.-based adidas-McMillanElite, with providing the right training and guidance for such a big step up in distance. Torrence, an experienced ultramarathoner, has competed in 18 JFK 50 Mile events (run between Boonsboro, Md., and ending in Williamsport, Md).
Harrison started training for the JFK 50 in September, gradually building up mileage for her first ultramarathon.
"With this race basically being in my backyard, I started thinking in September, 'Hmm, maybe I should start training for it,'" said Harrison, who has recently relocated back to Virginia.
Heading into the race, Harrison was considered one of two favorites to win the women's race. Ellie Greenwood, a 33-year-old native of Great Britain and longtime ultramarathoner, likely entered as Harrison's biggest competition. For Harrison, the 50-mile event was a major step up from her customary 26.2-mile marathon races. Greenwood has been more accustomed to running 100-mile races, creating some real drama for the JFK 50 Mile race as both runners essentially met in the middle.
That's just how the race played out, as well. Greenwood, the experienced ultramarathoner, built up a significant lead over the rugged 15-mile Appalachian Trail section. But on the flatter C&O Canal section of the race, it was Harrison's time to shine.
"The canal suited me because I have a little more speed," said the 26-year-old Harrison.
Harrison overtook Greenwood on the canal and led the race for nearly 10 miles. But Greenwood eventually caught up and went on to win with a course-record time of 6:11.59.
Harrison said not managing her calorie intake throughout the race caused her "to hit a wall" at one point, but she recovered for a solid finish.
"I came back and finished pretty strong," Harrison said. "I'm pretty happy about that."
Although Harrison didn't get the victory, she easily reached her goal of breaking the course record. And her second-place effort earned Harrison a spot on the USA 100k World Team and a spot in the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. The 100k World Team is set to run on Oct. 13 in Jeju Island, South Korea. Harrison said she still needs to get clarification on whether that's as a member of the trail or road team.
"I've heard I've got a spot on the team if I want it," Harrison said.
Harrison's first ultramarathon experience was a positive one, enough so that she's considering running in more . But for now, she remains focused on the marathon as her primary event. Harrison is targeting England's Brighton Marathon (April 14, 2013) as her next big race.
"I think maybe as I get more miles under my legs, I would consider pushing them closer together," Harrison said of running both marathons and ultramarathons on a consistent basis. "I haven't really been running marathons that long, so I worry about doing too much. I came off this race pretty well, so I want to make sure I stay on the cautious side."
-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at (540) 465-5137 or at firstname.lastname@example.org