This afternoon I am jumping into the car after work to make the drive up to Hagerstown, Maryland to run in the 52nd annual John F. Kennedy 50 Mile. It will be my first time at the race and I am eagerly looking forward to it. Originating in 1963 a few months before JFK’s death, the race began as a challenge to our nation’s military to cover 50 miles, on foot, in 20 hours or less. Today, half a century later, over a thousand runners take to the roads, trails, and, most infamously, the ‘towpath’ on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to rise to Kennedy’s challenge.
As I have made my way into the second phase of my ultrarunning career, I have set a goal of running as many of the classic American ultras as I can. Certainly, the JFK qualifies as one such classic. It has all the hallmarks worthy of such a label; it has history and tradition, a longstanding competitive legacy, a loyal and committed volunteer base, a unique course experience, and a passionate race director. In a highly unscientific survey on Twitter earlier this week, several folks confirmed my thoughts that these five characteristics combine to make a race a classic.
Over the years, in addition to Western States, which quite obviously meets the ‘classic’ standard, I have run others on the circuit such as Hardrock, Vermont, Wasatch, American River, and Mountain Masochist. In addition to these, there are many other events that are destined for ‘classic’ status but have not yet met, again in my highly unscientific experience, the standard. As events evolve, grow, and develop, it is interesting to note how the priorities evolve, as well. Some events focus on their roots while others seek transformation and change. The institution of ultrarunning is in good hands in the presence of these classics.
So, as I look ahead to a day on the trails, roads, and towpath of Maryland this weekend, I am grateful for the opportunity to essentially play on the ultrarunning equivalent of Fenway Park, Augusta National, and Churchill Downs. For indeed, our sport is one of the few in which many of our sacred, classic places are accessible to all as long as we are willing to put in the work to get to the starting line, and, ultimately, the finish line. To run in the shadows and on the shoulders of the great ultrarunning pioneers is something I will never take for granted. Fifty-two years of ultrarunning history is a lot! Indeed, sharing the joy of a long day in the woods, mountains, and deserts of this great country is something that never goes out of style.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Saint Louis Brewery, the makers of Schlafly Beer, in St. Louis, Missouri. Their Tasmanian IPA is a wonderfully balanced IPA that has a flowery flavor combined with a crisp, hoppy finish. These guys make great beer!
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What are the characteristics of a classic race for you?
- What are some examples of races you think are classics in your home country or abroad?
- What classic races have you run? Do you have aspirations of running others?