JFK 50 – Ultra Marathon Run – My Next Big Run

My next big running challenge is the JFK 50 mile endurance run, in the ultra running world this race is the granddaddy of all 50 mile races.  If your new to the race here is some history.


From the organizers website: The JFK 50 Mile was first held in the spring of 1963. It was one of numerous such 50 mile events held around the country as part of President John F. Kennedy’s push to bring the country back to physical fitness.

When Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, most of these events were never held again. The one in Washington County, MD changed it’s name from the JFK 50 Mile Challenge to the JFK 50 Mile Memorial in 1964. The JFK 50 Mile in Washington County, MD is the only original JFK 50 Mile Challenge event to be held every year since.

This will be my first running of the JFK 50, being a retired military member this race comes to me as a calling to celebrate the military, our country and my ultra running.  As the days count down to race day, I’ll use this page on my blog to review all parts of my JFK 50 race plan.

The Race Course:  The JFK 50 mile course is a point-to-point “horse-shoe” configuration  starting from U.S. Alternate 40 adjacent to the Boonsboro Educational Complex in downtown Boonsboro, Maryland and finishing at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, Maryland.

The JFK 50 is in my mind two races in one, The Appalachian Trail section (approx. 15 miles) and the C & O canal path (approx 35 miles).  For me this will be my first real “mountain” race with any elevation to deal with.  Around mile 5 the course sets off on a 1,200ft climb, topping out a 1700ft. Exiting the AT the remainder of the race is very flat run along the C & O canal.

JFK50(Map and more info can be see here)

Watch my Twitter timeline and this blog for updates, where I’ll discus the following subjects and more.

My Goals:  I’ve had the hardest time conjuring up goals for this race.  My #1 goal is to finish alive and uninjured. And some of the stories about the AT have me wondering about that.  I’ve run a number of Ultras (13 to be exact), including a sub 23 hour 100 at Umstead, 13 Marathons (1 sub 4 hour finish) and 50 other races.  I’m coming off my last long run before JFK, a personal best 20 miler at 2 hours 42 minutes and 56 seconds.  And I might just be in the best shape of my running career.  BUT (pausing for effect and a silent prayer) I’ve never run on the AT and have no idea what I’m getting myself into with that section.

jfkmedal(Goal is to bring home my version of the JFK 50 Medal)

Saying all that and after consulting with a number of friends whom have run this event, whom know my running style, taking past finishes and judging against my current fitness.  My goals for the JFK 50 are (drum roll PLS).  As stated above to finish unbroken, a sub 10 hour finish or sub 11 hour.  (And the crowd goes wild and some laugh with delight).

My Fueling and Hydration Plan:
The JFK 50 course has plenty of fully stocked aid stations (14), approx. every 4 miles and some only 2 miles apart.  I’ve never run this race but from what I can gain from comments and race reports it appears that there will be no lack of food/hydration support.  From the official web site: “Provisions at these stations will include: colas, Gatorade, water, sandwiches, salted items, sweet items, energy gels, energy bars and basic first aid supplies.” Saying that I’ll stick with my plan of carrying a water bottle and snacks just in case.  I plan to run this race with my Ultimate Direction “AK” race vest and hand held Nathan 20oz water bottle.

graveyard100battlerattle(Graveyard 100k setup…I will go out much like this for JFK 50)

Instead of carrying two water bottles in the front pockets of the race vest, I’ll stash some gels, snacks and painkillers in these easy to access pockets.  I’ll also carry a small digital camera and headlamp. In the rear compartment I’ll stow some additional outer layer garments just in case it gets cold or wet.  With a shorter distance between aid stations I’ll stick with my tried and true plan of hand carrying a water bottle on races longer than a half marathon.  I’ll simply refill my bottle when needed to ensure I can make the next stop.

Part of what sets longer races aside from a marathon is that most runners can complete a marathon on a few cups of water and a GU or two.  During a long run like 50 miles, you’ll have to hydrate/refuel more extensively as you race.  What has worked well for me over the years is to drink/eat something light at every stop, as well as hitting a GU at 6 mile intervals.  I stress the importance of eating light.  Your muscles still have work to do, you can’t over tax your system by processing the gut bomb you’ve unloaded on yourself. I’ve learned it is important to maintain your energy level and fuel supply before you get into a deficient.  Think of it like your checkbook, once that first check is bounced…it’s hard to recover while paying the overdraft fees.

My Pacing Plan:  To be honest, I’m not sure what my per mile pace will be for the AT section.  I’m going to take that portion of this race by feel, my goal is to get off the AT between 2:45 and 3:00 hours.  Then run/fast walk a solid 12:00 minute per mile on the canal section to get in under 10 hours.  I can fast walk a 14:30/15:00 per mile pace.  I’ll mix in ten minutes of running at around a 9:30/10:00 pace and two minutes fast walking.  This combination worked well at the Graveyard 100k last spring.  My goal is to have some fight left in me for the final half marathon where I can attack the course and the clock.


UPDATE: My Race Gear:  Starting early Saturday morning and ending 10 hours later, I hope to make one transition from cold weather gear to my race gear.  Just in case I’ll have a few add on items carried in my race vest in-case the weather turns bad/cold.

From head to toe…

 JFK50 kit  JFK50outerlayer

Nike black beanie
Sun glasses
Nike gray ear warmer (optional use as neck cover)*
Nike balaclava*
Nike running jacket*
Trash bag as a disposable windbreaker* 
Blue fleece top*
Tech long sleeve race shirt x 2
Nike Fleece running gloves x 2
UD Ultra “AK” race vest (one 20oz bottle w/Lemon Gatoraid mixed with a Tri-berry GU)
*additional long sleeve shirt, beanie, gloves, trash bag in case the weather turns
Garmin 201 GPS
Nathan hand held 20oz bottle
Race ready long distance shorts
CW-X men’s stabilyx tights
Dirty Girlz, Puppy paw print gaiters
Injinji toe Socks
Nike Air Pegasus

* morning/cold weather use

Food and Miscellaneous
GU Energy Labs Tri-Berry Power Gels

Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes
Knuckle lights and hand held flash light
GoPro Hero 3+ Black with hand held mount



4 thoughts on “JFK 50 – Ultra Marathon Run – My Next Big Run

  1. Paul Starling

    Good luck Brian! I’m sure you’ll do great! My next big race in November 15 – Old Glory Trot 50 Miler.


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