By Jeff Nations
Emily Harrison wasn't feeling quite right as she approached the starting line for Saturday's JFK 50 Mile in Maryland.
That's not a good feeling, not with 50.2 miles of running ahead.
"It was a little bit of an off day for me," admitted Harrison, the former Warren County High School and University of Virginia star runner. "I could tell right from the start. I was like, 'Hmm, I don't know about this.'"
Harrison settled down just fine once the race started, and ran her race from start to finish to win the women's race in 6 hours, 35.05 minutes. That winning time was nearly 40 minutes faster than Saturday's second-place women's finisher, Chester's Sage Norton (7:14:03).
It also gave Harrison her first victory -- in her second attempt -- at the JFK 50 mile, billed as the oldest ultra-distance race in the country. Last year, in her ultra-marathon debut, Harrison was the second-fastest woman in the same race as she engaged in a spirited duel with accomplished ultra runner Ellie Greenwood. Harrison's time last year -- 6:17:16 was considerably faster and even smashed the previous course record, but still not as fast as Greenwood (6:11:59). This year Greenwood didn't race, leaving Harrison with no one to run with as she led wire-to-wire for the victory.
"I would have liked to have been a little bit faster," Harrison said. "But I think for where I was at with my fitness and training, it was a solid effort and a solid day."
It was a cold day, too, something Harrison said she didn't really feel for most of the race. Although Saturday's chilly weather had nothing on Sunday's frigid temperatures, the wind did pick up throughout the race from Maryland's Boonsboro to Williamsport.
Harrison said she was doing fine -- temperature-wise -- as she covered the initial road segment of the race, then raced over the rugged terrain of the always-challenging Appalachian Trail segment and onto the mind-numbing flatness of the C&O Canal portion.
"When I came off the canal and onto the road again, I definitely noticed the wind," Harrison said. "I felt like it was getting colder, but I didn't know if that was just me or not.
"It wasn't horrible, though. We didn't have any precipitation, no snow on the trail."
Harrison also took comfort in having several members of her Flagstaff, Ariz., running community also in the race, including training partner and coach Ian Torrence.
A multiple state champion as a cross country runner and track athlete at Warren County as well as an All-American at Virginia, Harrison couldn't really say where this victory ranked among her personal accomplishments. It sure was nice to nail down the win, though.
"I'm happy with that win," Harrison said. "It's nice to come back and win this race."
Harrison said she's planning to run one last time this year, having recently accepted an invitation to join Team Run Flagstaff for the Dec. 14 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in Bend, Ore. That race, just six kilometers, will be a drastic distance drop and Harrison isn't sure just what to expect other than to enjoy the experience.
As for future plans, she is a good bet to return and defend her new title as JFK 50 Mile champion.
"I see no reason why not," Harrison said. "I can see myself returning next year. It's a very historic race with a great atmosphere."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>