The JFK 50 Mile began as more of a forced march, with 11 male participants, four of whom finished the grueling trek.
Almost half a century later, the ultramarathon draws more than 1,000 men and women, some of them elite runners from across the country and around the world. As the level of competition increased, winning times have been cut in more than half — from 13 hours and 10 minutes the first year to a record 5 hours, 40 minutes, 45 seconds last year.
Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal towpath.
The list of entrants includes runners from more than 40 states, several Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, England and Israel.
Past finishers have received pewter medallions, but to commemorate the 50th running, those who complete this year’s event will receive gold medals, JFK 50 Mile Director Mike Spinnler said.
Surviving champions from each decade of the race are expected to attend the Legends Dinner at Hager Hall the night before the race, Spinnler said. Added this year is a post-race celebration at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Clarion, he said.
The post-race event was the suggestion of race staff member Rich Zeger, Spinnler said.
Many runners return each year and for them “it’s like a reunion,” Spinnler said, noting the celebration is a way they can spend more time together.
The public can attend for a nominal fee, he said.
Though named for President John F. Kennedy, who stated military personnel should be able to cover 50 miles in 20 hours, it was President Theodore Roosevelt who first issued a directive that U.S. Marines should be able to cover that distance.
“A century after Teddy Roosevelt dreamed this up, it’s still going,” Spinnler said.
Every branch of the military is represented in the race, and the Kennedy Cup goes to the top finishing military team. Since 2004, the U.S. Naval Academy has won the cup.