Sunday, December 1, 2019



I choose the JFK 50 as my race for the 50 States Marathon Club several years ago but just put it on the calendar this year. I registered right when it opened and later added double road marathons to the schedule in Delaware and New Jersey for October 19 and 20 a month before this race. The plan was to use those two road marathons as easy training runs for the JFK 50. As anyone who runs long distances knows things don't always go to plan and you are sometimes forced to adapt if you want to meet your goals. I had set a goal to complete the two "easy" training run marathons in under 5 hours each, which I felt capable of based on prior doubles. When the rubber met the road last month I felt more challenged and pushed harder than expected completing the marathons in 4:52 and 4:55 just within minutes of my goal pace. I was quite emotional and proud of getting these races done within the goal times I had set, but walking off the Atlantic City boardwalk I felt a definite twinge in my right achilles that was not normal. I was largely resting the achilles the past month with aquajogging sessions ( and only a handful of runs that left the achilles a bit off each time. For the first time in a long time I was heading to a starting line not quite sure of what I was capable of given the nature of this unknown injury. Although nervous and uncertain of what my body would allow me to do on race day I had made a commitment to myself and more importantly my charity ( that I would give all that I had to complete two marathons in two days and the JFK 50 in under 13 hours as part of my East Coast Triple Play Campaign supporting 3 no kill animal rescues in 3 states. I knew going in that I would have to rely on awareness of the cutoff times and my racing experience and knowledge to overcome my physical limitations in this race.


The JFK 50 was started by William "Buzz" Sawyer in 1963 as a direct response to then President John F. Kennedy's 50 mile fitness challenge ( After 57 years the JFK 50 remains the last vestige and important part of the 50 mile challenge and ultrarunning history.  Interestingly, JFK was not the first President to issue the 50 mile challenge to his military officers. In 1908 Theodore Roosevelt issued a directive that all his officers complete a 50 mile hike in 20 hours time spread across three days including rest breaks. The JFK challenge intially allowed for 20 hours straight to complete the challenge of 50 miles. Although JFK and TR were both staunch proponents of physical fitness the 50 mile challenges they made were directed only at the military, but in 1963 for a short period of time many American citizens of all ages took on the 50 mile challenge across the United States. For a much more detailed history and interesting overview of the origins of the 50 mile challenge and also the 50 mile craze that briefly swept America please visit: and (  Independent of the innaugaral JFK 50 race that took place on March 30, 1963, the first to take up the 50 mile challenge was the President's brother, Robert Kennedy, the month before on February 9, 1963, completing the 50 mile distance in a pair of leather oxford shoes in 17 hours and 50 minutes along the Cheasapeake and Ohio Canal towpath. Several Marines completed the 50 mile challenge in fewer hours just a few days later. The JFK 50 mile challenge was renamed the JFK 50 Memorial in 1964 after the violent and untimely death of President Kennedy in November of 1963 just 10 months after the intial 50 mile challenge was issued. 


After flying into a rainy Washington DC via Dulles airport I made a quick stop at Theodore Roosevelt Island. It was raining light and steady giving me an opportunity to test a rain jacket on a 3 mile walk around the island. I enjoyed the calm before the JFK 50 storm and had a good idea which rain jacket to call upon if needed during the race. I drove into Maryland and checked in at the Ramada in Hagerstown where the JFK 50 Legends Dinner was being held and conveniently made my way across the parking lot to another hotel hosting the expo. I met an enthusiastic volunteer named Rick at a small table near the entrance answering all questions regarding the race. I came to find out he had a wealth of knowledge to share as a he was a ten time finisher of the JFK 50 and graciously offered support and encouragement regarding strategy, logistics and course information. Rick told me to walk down the hall to purchase a ticket for the Legends Dinner which led me to meet the welcoming race director and former JFK champion Mike Spinnler, who recognized my name from my blog and perhaps other posts on Facebook and he heartily welcomed me into the JFK 50 family.
I also noticed that ALTRA shoes had a large display set up and after looking at some of the new models I was introduced to Regional Sales Manager Zach Barker.  I compared technical notes with Zach after explaining my love of ALTRA shoes dating back to the 2.0 Lone Peak model and the evolution of the company and shoes over the past few years. I told Zach I was going with the amply cushioned OLYMPUS 3.5 for the JFK 50 but I believe the very runnable LONE PEAK 4.5 could have been a good choice as well or the slightly more cushioned and responsive TIMP 1.5 which may have better served the more technical Appalachian trail section of the race. After leaving the expo and preparing my gear for the race ahead I walked downstairs where I met a man named Enrique who was in his late 50's I believe and was doing the JFK 50 as his first Ultramarathon. Enrique was very concerned with the trail section the first 16 miles as he was mainly coming to the race from a road marathoning background. His experience was not uncommon and I came to learn that many participants in the JFK 50 were not veteran ultrarunners and in fact many were locals who were taking on the JFK 50 challenge as a rite of passage. At the Legends Dinner the race director gave recognition to those who made the race possible with their hard work and volunteerism and also recognized the new members of the 500, 750 and 1000 mile clubs who were JFK 50 race veterans with 10-20 finishes and I learned 2 men had 40 plus finishes in the 57 year history of the event. Mike also gave a stiring tribute to the memory of JFK as well as race founder Buzz Sawyer who had sadly passed earlier this year. I have attended 50 plus marathon and ultra events since 2012 and was really amazed and impressed by the sense of history and amazing community spirit that surrounded the JFK 50. Make no mistake, this is an inspiring and historic race that means alot of different things to its finishers. I got to sleep fairly early around 9pm to be awoken by a preset midnite alarm from a previous guest but I woke up a few hours later ready to run!


I left for Boonsboro and the starting area about 20 miles away in temperatures in the high 20's. I had shorts and a long sleeve Columbia Omni-Heat shirt that served me well all day. I packed my Salomon Bonatti jacket in the back of my UD vest in case of rain later in the day and filled two softflasks in front with water. I took a few mini payday bars and watermelon chews to start the day as I knew the aid would be sparser on the Appalachian trail section of the course starting out. Approaching the starting line around 6:20am after walking over from the local High School gym I noticed a old time barber shop right near the start and folks were already getting haircuts! I started towards the back and made my way through the start onto a 3 mileish road section that featured quite a bit of uphill. It seemed many folks were taking this section at way too hard a pace with the rocky trail section and 2600 feet of climb to come over 13 plus miles of the Appalachian trail. I ran the road downhills and power hiked long uphill road sections with other more judicious runners until we reached the Appalachian trail segment.

The trail was quite fast and dry in most places and was broken up after a short time with a climbing asphalt bike trail section that I hiked alot of. I picked up speed on the trail until I took a few ankle turners on some rocky sections that were covered by leaves. Although I normally move well on some technical trails I also knew there was no sense pushing too hard here with 27 miles of flattish canal ahead. We hit a really pretty section of rocky descending switchbacks marked with yellow caution tape, which I knew spelled the end of the Appalachian trail section. This brief section was among my favorites on the day. Sadly, I later learned many folks took hard falls in this section suffering cuts, bruises and even a few broken bones. That would be a tough fate this early in the race!

As I continued to level out after the descent I saw a busy aid station just before some railroad tracks and the beginning of the Canal section of the race. Although I ordinarily love technical rolling trails I welcomed the sight of some straightforward runnable trail to make up some time and build a bigger cushion on the cutoffs. As I continued along the canal for many miles I remained positive. I was pacing 13-15 minute miles depending on the inlcines and was moving through aid stations efficiently and without incident. Many had described the Canal section as boring or repetitive. While it may not be as inspiring to most as a view from a mountian summit it was nonetheless engaging with rushing waters, towns, parks, bridges and historical markers along the way. The scenery was perhaps much more varied than my pace which one runner commented on along the way calling me a "human metronome". I thanked him and took that as a compliment as I was just trying to hold my ground and not fall back to have to fight the cutoffs with a compromised achilles. 

I rubberbanded with many veterans and first timers all day including 19 year old John from the Annapolis Naval Academy whose lock joint/leg issue prevented him from running much after mile 30 but did not stop him from a road march power hike pace that was faster than my running pace! I also met a local cross country coach in his 60's going for a 4th finish in perhaps 6 tries. I was maintaining a 40-50 minute buffer on the cutoffs but although my pace had not slowed the cutoffs got more aggressive after mile 35. Somewhere in the 30-40 mile range I encountered two saltly veteran finishers of the race who were cheering on others this day. One of them said "you can still make it" I countered with"I am finishing this race no question!" His friend then got fired up and said "Yes, that is what it takes to finish here!" I got a boost of confidence and pressed on into dusk. Somewhere after mile 40 I met Mark and Travis. Mark told me he was running the race and trying to keep Travis ahead of the cutoffs as Travis had missed the mile 46 cutoff by a few minutes in bad weather the previous year and this was his 4th overall attempt to complete the JFK 50.  I promised them both we would get this done and we rubberbanded onto the final 8 plus mile hilly road section. I had asked many people online and in person if a headlamp is required late in this race. I got many different answers but would conclude it can be helpful but is not necessary as there was quite a bit of moonlight and natural artificial lighting as well in most but not all sections of the road. As I turned up a hill I noticed a small table with a Marine flag on it at the edge of a driveway. A man appeared from out of the shadows and offered me a hot soup. That really hit the spot at mile 43ish! I pressed on and complimented Travis on his strong power hiking up the hills and his grit for coming back after 3 attempts to get this race done. He told me he also was coming back from 3 back surgeries! I really loved this guy. Mark kept us moving often playing music on his phone out loud with polar opposite classics such as "Highway to Hell and Walking on Sunshine". We all came into the final mile 46 cutoff together with an 18 minute buffer on the cutoffs and Travis and Mark pushed harder towards the finish. I kept an even pace but didn't want to aggravate anything with my achilles any worse than I had already. I closed in on the final miles reflecting on the day, relieved my finish was certain and in my grasp. I heard Mike down the block announcing 15 minutes left on the race clock and I strolled in 6 minutes later with 9 minutes left at 12:51 and change. I proudly accepted my medal and took a photo at the finish area. 
It instantly began downpouring rain in the finsh line tent and I made it into the gym for a few pulled pork sandwiches and reuniting with friends from the course. I caught the last bus back to Boonsboro and drove another half hour to Hagerstown. Exhausted and spent I went to sleep at 9:30pm and woke up at 6am with no alarm and a pain in my legs that would not allow me to go back to sleep. I headed back to Washington DC for my flight home but time permitted one last stop on this whirlwind weekend. I walked through Arlington National Cemetery towards the final resting place of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and when I reached the eternal flame I silently thanked JFK for the challenge and pulled out my medal as tribute to his spirit. Thank you JFK 50 for letting me join the family and thank you Mr. President for throwing down the gauntlet in 1963! America still answers the call in Boonsboro!

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HOW DID I GET HERE? I choose the JFK 50 as my race for the 50 States Marathon Club several years ago but just put it on the calendar ...