Overall Rating
Overall Rating (4 Reviews)
4.3
(4 Ratings)(4 Reviews)
DIFFICULTY
3.8
SCENERY
3.5
PRODUCTION
4.5
SWAG
3.5
For those who did not know all of the history surrounding the event, as they say, here is the rest of the story. 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 … MORE
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Recent reviews

    M_Sohaskey FIRST-TIMER '18

    BOTTOM LINE: First held in 1963 during the Kennedy administration, the JFK 50 Mile is the country’s oldest and largest ultra marathon. It’s an iconic race that draws some of … MORE

    BOTTOM LINE: First held in 1963 during the Kennedy administration, the JFK 50 Mile is the country’s oldest and largest ultra marathon. It’s an iconic race that draws some of the country’s most elite runners, as well as folks like me. The event remains a military race at heart with its most prestigious award, the Kennedy Cup, being awarded to its top military team. Buoyed by 56 years of history, this is a must-run race for serious ultrarunners, one that inspires fierce loyalty among its finishers — case in point Kimball Byron, who sadly fell short this year in his attempt to become the event’s first 50-time finisher. With limited elevation change after the first 16 miles, this is also a great option for anyone looking to tackle their first 50-miler.

    The JFK 50 course is part road (paved), part trail (unpaved). About 80% of the course runs on the unpaved Appalachian Trail and C&O Canal Towpath, with the paved 20% coming at the beginning and end. The course is divided into three main sections, starting with the Appalachian Trail (~11 of the first 16 miles) and moving on to the unpaved/crushed gravel C&O Canal Towpath (26 miles) before finishing on paved, rolling country roads (8 miles). The good news is you’ll get through the toughest section of the course (i.e. the Appalachian Trail) at the beginning; the bad news is that the hills and highly technical terrain will sap a lot of the energy and bounce from your legs. This was especially true in 2018, when record annual rainfall and eight inches of snow less than 36 hours earlier created trail conditions that were, according to one 31-time finisher, “the worst ever.” So my recommendation would be to prepare for the worst and then be pleasantly surprised if/when you luck into dry (or at least not marshy) trail conditions.

    Despite having four 50+ milers under my belt, this was the first race where I can recall feeling bored for long stretches, particularly on the flat 26-mile C&O Canal Towpath along the Potomac River where the scenery never changed. As one RaceRaves reviewer put it, it was like the running version of Groundhog’s Day. With no hills, no change of scenery and no headphones allowed on the course, I spent much of the middle 26 miles in my own head trying to focus on something other than my heavy quads and mounting fatigue, while slowly ticking off the miles one… at… a… time. If not for having to negotiate frequent mud puddles, I could have run this entire stretch on autopilot.

    So although I’d be curious to take another crack at this course under drier conditions, given that we live 2,500 miles away and I still have 26 states remaining, I won’t be returning for a rematch anytime soon. Someday, maybe…

    PRODUCTION: Race day was a smooth production for the most part. Aid stations were well stocked (which for me means peanut butter & jelly along with bananas), though I could feel my insulin levels spike just surveying the amount of cookies and sugary foods available. And the outstanding volunteers were ready to assist with pretty much anything you’d want or need, from food to Vaseline to good old-fashioned encouragement. As is the case with most events and especially the best ones, the JFK 50 doesn’t happen without the tireless support of its volunteers who sacrifice their day so the rest of us can chase our goals and play in the mud.

    Conveniently held at the host hotel (the Homewood Suites by Hilton Hagerstown), the race expo was your typical low-key ultramarathon packet pickup with tables from Altra Running (the presenting sponsor), a local running store and the JFK 50 folks themselves selling race merch past and present. The organizers even created a cool booklet featuring statistics from past JFK 50 finishers and course record holders plus a detailed rundown of historical sites along the course, very few of which you’ll be able to appreciate on race day.

    The post-race spread in the Springfield Middle School cafeteria was low-key but fairly generous including pizza, chili (Sloppy Joe or chili cheese dog, anyone?) and assorted aid station snacks such as pretzels, M&Ms and red velvet cake. Massages were also available for those who were willing to freshen up first. Most importantly for me, the indoor cafeteria offered a warm place to sit and recover while reveling in the accomplishment of another 50-mile run.

    I’d recommend to the organizers that the pre-race briefing begin (or end) five minutes earlier, to allow for last-minute porta-potty stops before the race start. By the time I exited the crowded gym after the briefing, took care of business and then walked briskly to the start line, the starter’s pistol had already fired and I was among the last runners to start. Not a terrible thing except the JFK 50 has no chip timing at the start, so the clock started while I was still ¼ mile behind the line in my wind pants and jacket. Oops.

    SWAG: From what I can tell, the JFK 50 finisher medal never changes aside from the year because similar to Comrades, why fix what ain’t broke? The iconic award is a silver- (or gold)-colored medal depicting JFK in profile, reminiscent of (but larger than) the half dollar coin that bears his likeness. The medal hangs from a patriotic red, white and blue ribbon. Like many trail races, the shirt is a simple cotton short-sleeve tee featuring the race’s patriotic logo on front with sponsors listed on back. And though I have no shortage of race tees, I’ll happily wear this one if for no other reason than its promise as a conversation starter.

    For more details including the history of the JFK 50, check out my blog recap at https://blisterscrampsheaves.com/2019/03/18/jfk-50-mile-race-report/

    DIFFICULTY
    3
    PRODUCTION
    4
    My Report
    SCENERY
    3
    SWAG
    4
    My Media

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    runningriddles Mar 19, 2019 at 6:00am

    Nice review, Mike! I'm going to do this one in 2020 as my first 50 miler since it is close to home. I'd do it this year (2019) but have… MORE

    Nice review, Mike! I'm going to do this one in 2020 as my first 50 miler since it is close to home. I'd do it this year (2019) but have too many marathons on the docket already) :) LESS

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    M_Sohaskey Mar 19, 2019 at 5:02pm

    Thanks, Aaron! Good call on making this your first 50, though fingers crossed Maryland sees a drier November in 2020. And I hear you on the scheduling, 12 months fill… MORE

    Thanks, Aaron! Good call on making this your first 50, though fingers crossed Maryland sees a drier November in 2020. And I hear you on the scheduling, 12 months fill up fast don't they?? 😊 LESS

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    dalebassplayer FIRST-TIMER '18

    Rain and snow gave the 2018 race some of the worst conditions in the history of the race. The AT portion of the race was snow and mud, while the … MORE

    Rain and snow gave the 2018 race some of the worst conditions in the history of the race. The AT portion of the race was snow and mud, while the towpath portion of the race was just mud. Many runners who run the race every year did not finish. Aid stations were awesome, but the course beat me up and took a huge mental toll. Swag is old school with pretty much the same style medal they’ve had for 50+ years and a cotton t-shirt. Post race food and massages were great! There are showers available but unless you’re an early finisher you’ll only get cold water. The worst part was being crammed in the shuttle bus back to the start with super sore legs.

    DIFFICULTY
    4
    PRODUCTION
    4
    My Report
    SCENERY
    3
    SWAG
    2

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    M_Sohaskey Jan 08, 2019 at 12:42pm

    YES and YES... totally agree with you, Dale. This course beat me up both mentally and physically, and I've honestly never been so happy to cross a finish line as… MORE

    YES and YES... totally agree with you, Dale. This course beat me up both mentally and physically, and I've honestly never been so happy to cross a finish line as I was in Williamsport. And not being one of the early finishers, I'm glad I didn't try the showers, yikes. Bummed we weren't able to meet at the race, but with 20+ states still to go, hopefully we'll make it happen somewhere down the line. Fargo, maybe? Huge congrats on checking off Maryland, and thanks for the helpful review! LESS

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    dalebassplayer Jan 08, 2019 at 12:49pm

    Thanks, yes, Fargo could be a possibility. I going to try to make it to the 50 States reunion and I will be pacing 5:25. I didn't find out about… MORE

    Thanks, yes, Fargo could be a possibility. I going to try to make it to the 50 States reunion and I will be pacing 5:25. I didn't find out about the cold showers first hand, but one of the guys in my group told me about it. Since I decided to wear tights I didn't get all that muddy, except for what had soaked through my shoes and socks. I had seen an old interview with the RD where he said that people fall an average of 2 times on the AT. I maintained that average, but only fell in the snow instead of the mud! LESS

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    M_Sohaskey Jan 09, 2019 at 5:30pm

    Sounds good, I'll keep an eye out for the 5:25 pace group in Fargo. Hope to see you there!

    Sounds good, I'll keep an eye out for the 5:25 pace group in Fargo. Hope to see you there!

     
    RunnerMeg FIRST-TIMER '18

    I heard JFK50 was a great first-timer's race, and it didn't disappoint. From central Virginia, it was a fairly easy three hour drive up to Hagerstown, MD the day before … MORE

    I heard JFK50 was a great first-timer’s race, and it didn’t disappoint. From central Virginia, it was a fairly easy three hour drive up to Hagerstown, MD the day before the race. Packet pickup was at a Homewood Suites across from where my husband I stayed. It’s about a 1200 person race I believe, so it was a little crowded but fast. There was some gear for sale and a few vendors. The vibe was pretty exuberant, like a family reunion since many runners seem to do this event year after year. The shirt, in my opinion, is pretty cool. The women’s are a v-neck navy blue and I’ll be proud to sport it!

    I got a lot of advice about this particular course from friends who had completed it multiple times, and I studied all the info on the website beforehand, so I felt fairly prepared, up until a couple of days before the race when western Maryland got 8 inches of snow, on top of all of the rain they received the previous weeks. That threw a small wrench into the works but some things are just out of your control. Other than the trail conditions promising to be bad, the weather itself was perfect, mid 30s to low 40s, no rain.

    On race morning you start in a high school gym which is very pleasant since there are indoor bathrooms and it’s a warm building! The RD spoke to all the runners in the gym around 5:50am and gave us some great information about the trails, answered questions, and had multi-year finishers stand up in case anyone wanted to tag along with them based on their anticipated finish time. After that we all filed out of the gym and walked the 8-10 minutes or so to the start line in Boonsboro. It was timed perfectly – we stood for about 1 minute before the gun went off right at 6:30am.

    The first two or three miles or so are on paved roads and have some serious hills. After that you get on the Appalachian Trail for the next 13 or so miles. There are parts of the AT that are steep up or down, some flat, all rocky, and with the snow and ridiculous amount of mud, all tricky! It was tough going for me, a road-marathoner, and hard to pass people as you end up in single file for a lot of it. Passing means risking your ankles to go through the snow and the unknown rocks dwelling underneath. I decided to listen to my friends’ advice and take it very easy on the trail. End goal: get off the trial in one piece so I can run the rest of the race. Mission accomplished – I made it down the final trail switchbacks without one fall but my time reflected my cautious strategy.

    The first crew spot is at Weverton Cliffs right after the AT portion ends and my husband met me there so I could change my wet socks and muddy trail shoes for dry socks and road shoes. They felt divine for about five minutes and then I found the mud on the towpath. I had heard from many JFK runners that they all hated the C&O towpath but at the time it sounded liked it would be a nice change from the trail: flat, good surface, no single track trails. It was nice for a few minutes, then I found the mud. It was all mud. So much mud. By that point it wasn’t me caring about my feet that slowed me down, it was me trying not to fall in the slick slop that made up much of the path. But I put on a good amount of speed to make up for the slow AT portion.

    There are cutoffs to be aware of along the way and I was well ahead of those, though take care to make sure your GPS is able to handle a long event. I had to go strictly by my timer and the aid station mile markers, as there are no other mile markers until the last 8 miles, and my watch mileage was messed up and useless.

    Speaking of aid stations, the locations varied but roughly they were every 4 or so miles. There were lots of goodies: gatorade, water, bottle/backpack refills, cookies, cake at one aid station, pretzels, candy, PB&J sandwiches, Coke, broth…the best part of ultras is the food! Volunteers were fantastic the entire way.

    At long last I left the towpath and made it to the paved road. These 8 miles are rolling hills through farm country but it was my fastest speed of the day even at the end. Here there are mile markers counting down from 8 – invigorating!

    The finish line is at another school and was the happiest finish line of my 62 races. I got the coveted JFK medal around my neck and then retreated into the warm school cafeteria with my husband to relish my finish and have a hot cup of coffee before getting back to my hotel to warm up and wash the extensive amount of mud off of my feet, shins, and calves. There were several food and drink options in the cafeteria but I didn’t partake except for the hot coffee.

    Overall, it was a great event. A note to potential runners that you cannot use personal listening devices so it’s a lot of time in your head out there on the trail and path. I talked to several people throughout the day which was a lot of fun, but also spent a lot of time by myself. I carried a lightweight hydration pack with my electrolytes and a little bit of nutrition and s!caps, since aid stations were a little far (compared to a marathon) but had no problem with that aspect at all. The weather was great as I said before. The toughest part this year was simply the trail and towpath condition, but I’d take the mud and snow over actively falling rain or abnormally high temperatures! I’d definitely recommend the race for its history, its fantastic RD and organization, support and volunteers, and camaraderie. I have nothing but fond memories of my first 50 miler..mud and all!

    DIFFICULTY
    4
    PRODUCTION
    5
    SCENERY
    3
    SWAG
    3
    My Media

    3 members marked this review helpful. Agree?

    runningriddles Feb 23, 2019 at 7:02am

    Great review! I hope to knock this one out in 2020 and am already dreaming about it :)

    Great review! I hope to knock this one out in 2020 and am already dreaming about it :)

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    RunnerMeg Feb 23, 2019 at 8:30am

    Thanks, hope you enjoy the experience! They do a great job from start to finish!

    Thanks, hope you enjoy the experience! They do a great job from start to finish!

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    M_Sohaskey Nov 25, 2018 at 8:45pm

    Normally I read your reviews as a third-party outsider, so it's cool to get your perspective on a race we both ran. You hit the nail on the head here,… MORE

    Normally I read your reviews as a third-party outsider, so it's cool to get your perspective on a race we both ran. You hit the nail on the head here, great recap — given the conditions I was also super cautious on the AT, and I'd love to run this one again (someday) under less marshy conditions. It was quite the adventure, and especially for your first 50. Though I feel terrible for the poor chap who fell short in his bid for his 50th (WOW) official finish. Congrats again on gettin' it done, and now the million-dollar question one week later: when's your next ultra? 😁 LESS

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    RunnerMeg Nov 26, 2018 at 12:23pm

    Hey Mike! It was definitely an adventure!! I can simultaneously see the appeal in going back year after year (great race, great organization) but mentally I think it'd be even… MORE

    Hey Mike! It was definitely an adventure!! I can simultaneously see the appeal in going back year after year (great race, great organization) but mentally I think it'd be even harder now that I know how rough the trail can be and how looooong the towpath is :P I am toying with a 100k next...maybe Pistol Ultra?? What about you? LESS

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    M_Sohaskey Nov 26, 2018 at 1:37pm

    The Pistol sounds like a cool event. My only ultra plan for the near future is a step down (distance-wise) to the Two Oceans 56K in April. I kind of… MORE

    The Pistol sounds like a cool event. My only ultra plan for the near future is a step down (distance-wise) to the Two Oceans 56K in April. I kind of like the idea of this year's Comrades down run being my longest race distance (56 miles), unless I happen to find something 100K-ish that really inspires me. But I'm always on the lookout, not to mention an easy target for peer pressure 😂! LESS

     
    karenfuss FIRST-TIMER '17

    I grew up in the area so I was used to running on the canal (most people say running a marathon distance on the canal is like Groundhog Day) but … MORE

    I grew up in the area so I was used to running on the canal (most people say running a marathon distance on the canal is like Groundhog Day) but I’d never actually run on the Appalachian trail. It was definitely rocky and treacherous on most sections, but good to get it done in the first 16 miles. The sunrise coming up over the South Mountain climb from Boonsboro was amazing. The aid stations were great with fantastic volunteers, and the ending was at my old Middle School with good food and warmth after 9 and a half hours in the cold and rain. The locals were great, either waiting along the canal to cheer or driving along Dam #4 road towards the finish, blasting radios out of their cars. I may be biased but best 50 miler ever.

    DIFFICULTY
    4
    PRODUCTION
    5
    SCENERY
    5
    SWAG
    5

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