“Kennedy Challenge” Ultramarathon in Western Maryland is “Last of its Kind”
Boonsboro, MD — In the spring of 1963, President John F. Kennedy put forth a challenge to get America moving again. Kennedy was committed to challenging members of the U.S. Military to keep up with a rigorous skillset put in place at the beginning of the 20th Century by then-President Theodore Roosevelt. More than a half-century later, residents of Washington County, Maryland continue their commitment to the former president’s vision, with the annual JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon.
“The original challenge, to cover 50 miles on foot in one day, was issued by Teddy Roosevelt in the early 1900s. JFK greatly admired Roosevelt and, after a 50-year hiatus, (Kennedy) reissued the ‘Roosevelt/Kennedy Challenge’ during his administration,” explained Mike Spinnler, Race Director for the JFK 50 Mile. Spinnler is not only the Race Director for the JFK 50 Mile, he is also a past participant and two-time winner, “This event is conducted annually in Washington County, and it’s the last surviving ‘Kennedy Challenge’ event existing in the United States.”
Following Kennedy’s death, which happened just a few months after the inaugural nationwide Kennedy Challenge, many communities decided not to continue the JFK 50 Mile, or held a memorial run in its place, as Washington County did in 1964. For Spinnler, who competed from 1971 through 1990, and has served as race director since 1993, the credit for the race’s longevity and success is one shared by many, “We get amazing community support from local government, local businesses, hundreds of local residents who volunteer their time and energy, as well as the amazing assistance from Dan Spedden and his staff with the Hagerstown/ Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.”
“The Annual JFK 50 is one of Washington County, Maryland’s greatest traditions. It is a rally point for locals and a great introduction for competitors across the continent and around the world,” said Spedden, President of Visit Hagerstown. “We are very fortunate to have this event in our community.”
While the race’s origins are rooted in preserving the fitness of U.S. military service members, the JFK 50 Mile has always been open to the public, “Less than .1 or 1% of the U.S. population has ever completed a 50-mile foot race,” Spinnler said. The JFK 50 Mile is the most demanding in terms of the physical and mental fitness required to compete. “The Challenge was offered to the nation by President Kennedy to encourage our military personnel, and general citizens, to ‘Shape up!’”
This year’s JFK 50 Mile is the first time the event has reached its maximum entry limit of 1,200 runners since 2013, with organizers reaching that number more than 70-days prior to the event date, “Many, many more people from different ages and walks of life have gained an interest in challenging themselves at the JFK 50 Mile,” said Spinnler, adding, “As marathon and ultramarathon running has gained popularity in the country in recent decades, the number of non-military participants actually now out-number the military personnel that take part.”
The event reaching its maximum entry limit isn’t just something that is a benefit for organizers, it will also have a significant impact on the local economy. Spinnler said a big factor behind the longstanding success of the JFK 50 Mile is the partnerships between organizers, participants, the hundreds of residents who volunteer, and the Hagerstown/ Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, “The area businesses benefit from the visitors coming for the JFK 50 Mile and the visitors and participants have a much more rewarding experience because of the information and assistance the WCCVB provides them, so they can fully enjoy their visit to the area.”
Spinnler says the event has pumped tens of millions of dollars into Washington County over the decades, and he expects participants and their families to flood local hotels, shops, and restaurants for multiple nights as many use the event as an opportunity for a long weekend in scenic Western Maryland. The JFK 50 Mile has partnered with Homewood Suites by Hilton, Ramada Plaza, and Holiday Inn Express as their three primary host hotels. There will also be a pre-race expo and packet pick-up at the Homewood Suites by Hilton, with the pre-race Legends Dinner being hosted at the Ramada Plaza.
“Often times, when you think about a sporting event which has a tradition dating 50, now almost 60-years, you don’t necessarily think of an event that is put on at the hyper-local level the way the JFK 50 Mile is in Washington County,” said Terry Hasseltine, Executive Director of Maryland Sports. “The fact that this race is at capacity, now in its 57th running, really shows the commitment and hard work being done by the event organizers, the local community, and the participants… It’s quite impressive.”
The race will get underway on Saturday, November 23rd, at 6:30 a.m. Participants will have a 13-hour time limit on a grueling course which starts in Boonsboro and travels south on the Appalachian Trail towards Weverton. Racers will skirt the borders of Virginia and West Virginia as they head west, before turning north along the Potomac River past Antietam along the Chesapeake and Ohio National Historical Park. The route will twist and turn just west of the Antietam National Battlefield as it passes near Taylors Landing, later jetting north through Downsville before reaching the finish line in Williamsport.
“The point-to-point layout of the course, which passes through two separate national parks, creates some unique and challenging logistics,” Spinnler said. However, after nearly six decades of executing this event, Spinnler expressed plenty of confidence in the organizers and race designers, “The Cumberland Valley Athletic Club has been managing the event for well over a half century and created a very smooth and fluid event management process.”
For more information about the JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon, visit: www.jfk50mile.org.
2019 JFK 50 Mile Ultramarathon:
When: Saturday, November 23rd, 6:30 a.m.
Where: Washington County
Starting Line: Downtown Boonsboro
Finish Line: Williamsport
More information: http://www.jfk50mile.org
About Visit Hagerstown & Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau:
The Hagerstown/Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) is a non-profit private organization. The Mission of the Bureau is to promote Hagerstown and Washington County by increasing tourism and visitor spending through the marketing and promotion of attractions, events, accommodations and visitor services which will contribute to economic development.
About Maryland Sports:
The mission of Maryland’s Sports Commission is to enhance Maryland’s economy, image and quality of life through the attraction, promotion, retention and development of regional, national and international sporting events.