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JFK 50 Mile

Running the Appalachian Trail section of
the 2000 JFK 50 Mile.

I've never counted how many races I have run, but I'm sure it would be a four-figure number.  Some of those races stay in your memory for one reason or another.  One favourite, which I have only managed to run twice, is the JFK 50 Mile held each November in Maryland, USA, about an hour's drive north-west of Washington DC.

The race has an interesting history. In 1963, President John F Kennedy launched a national fitness drive that included a challenge to the nation's military officers to meet the standard set by Teddy Roosevelt in the early 20th Century of being able to cover 50 miles in 20 hours on foot.  Others were keen to test themselves against that standard and a number of 50 Mile races were organised around the US in that year.  Sadly, Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, and the Maryland race changed its name from the JFK 50 Mile Challenge to the JFK 50 Mile Memorial in 1964 and has been run every year since.  It is the only surviving 50 Mile race from that time.

Looking over the Potomac near where the JFK 50 Mile
descends to the river.

Being so close to Washington DC and many US military bases, and with its military-related origins, the field always includes many service personnel, giving it another dimension.  For a long time it was the largest ultra race in the US, averaging around 1,000 finishers in the last decade or so.

The C&O Canal towpath.

Apart from my passion for trail ultra-running, the race appealed to me because a section was run along the famous 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail that I had hiked a decade earlier.  Being just half a day's drive from where I was living in Connecticut at the time was an added bonus.

The race is actually a varied mixture of terrain and surfaces.  It starts with a run down the main street of the small town of Boonsboro before climbing 1,172ft on mostly sealed road for the first 5.5 miles.  The field spreads out quite quickly.  The next 10 miles follows the lovely Appalachian Trail, paved with autumn leaves, southwards along a timbered ridge before descending 1,000ft to the C&O Canal towpath which follows the Potomac River upstream.  If you are going well, as I was in 1999, the first year I ran the race (64th, 8:02:17), the marathon-length dead flat towpath is an opportunity to gain time and places.  The second time I ran, in 2000 (118th, 8:48:47), the towpath stretch seemed demoralisingly endless.

The Potomac River along the JFK 50 Mile course.

After the towpath, there's an undulating 8.5 mile run through rural countryside, which can also be a tough stretch if you are running badly, to the finish in Williamsport.  The community support for the race, and the size of the field, along with the military dimension, help make it a special and memorable race, and I hope to do it again one day.

For my exercise today, I played my usual Friday morning 9 holes of golf.  Later, I was pleased to get a call from the Cardiologist's rooms offering me an appointment next week, three weeks earlier than scheduled.  I think I have the Respiratory Specialist I saw on Wednesday to thank for that, and am looking forward to finding what can be done about my heart arrhythmia, and when I can start running again.