Some races have a loyal following because of the unique and challenging terrain on which the course is run. Some races establish a strong culture based on the community of runners who return year after year. Some races build their reputation from the history of the event. The JFK 50-Mile Endurance Run has it all.
The JFK 50 runs along a horseshoe-shaped “point to point” course covering three very distinctive landscapes. From the town center of Boonsboro, Maryland the historic route covers 15.5-miles along the Appalachian Trail, 26.3-miles on the C&O canal towpath and 8.4-miles of rolling country roads leading runners to the final destination and the finish line in front of Springfield Middle School in Williamsport, Maryland.
(My Strava data, start to C&O and C&O to finish)
Along the Appalachian Trail runners transverse over asphalte roadways, and single track trails infested with gnarly rocks while climbing 2,461 feet of total gain reaching the top of South Mountain, the highest spot on the course, at 1,795ft. At around 14.5-miles the course takes a rapid descent via staggering switchbacks at the Weverton cliffs. Surviving the AT runners take on the 26.3-miles of the C&O canal towpath. Although seemingly flat the towpath climbs over 300 feet. At approx. 42-miles hopeful finishers depart the towpath at Dam#4 and begin the 8.4-mile run to the finish. With the finish line in sight and with nearly 8-miles of rolling country roads behind them finishers have to climb one last hill .25-miles from the finish. The JFK course offers something for everyone. This historic race will test all those who want the coveted finishers medal.
For some finishing, the JFK 50 is a rite of passage. For others running the oldest UltraMarathon in the nation is a yearly tradition. The finishers’ “clubs” start with 10-years with a handle full of legends having completed over 1500-miles on the course with a leader having finished 49 JFK races.
The JFK 50 Mile Endurance Run 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. Held for 57 consecutive years the memorial run is a benchmark of East Coast endurance events.
The 57th edition was my 4th running of this great event. Not that I am an elite athlete or would ever threaten to win this event, but I do have some secrets to success I would like to share. Race reports 2014, 2015, and 2016 (PR)).
Secrets to finishing the JFK 50-mile Endurance Run
- Without burning out your legs, advance during the early road miles.
- Always move w/purpose, when not running hike at a fast pace.
- When on the “non-rocky sections” of the AT make up ground. Run when you can, and pass when you can pass.
- When on the “rocky sections” land your footfall light and quick.
- Have a plan for the C&O…I choose to use an interval approach, 5/1 run/fast hike.
- Don’t allow the C&O to put you to sleep…make the run parts of your interval count.
- Concentrate on the mile you’re in.
- Make the pit stops short & make them count, drink/eat before you’re thirsty/hungry.
- Power hike the climb off the C&O and then run everything that is downhill or flat.
- Be ready for that final push.
And most importantly breath in your victory and finish.