It was a successful day for several Canadian ultrarunners at the 61st running of the JFK 50-mile race (America’s oldest ultra) in Washington County, Md. Former Canadian 50K record holder Calum Neff, and Robyn Mildren of Dundas, Ont., finished as runners-up in the men’s and women’s races, and Quebec’s Valérie Arsenault was third in the women’s race.
Canadians finish 2nd in both Men’s & Women’s division at @jfk50mile . Plus Valérie Arsenault 3rd. @CalNeff and Robyn Mildren both ran the fastest times ever by Canadians on the course by about 20 minutes each.
Cal was 10 minutes back of winner and Robyn only 4 minutes back! https://t.co/LAkBuJXro5
— Reid Coolsaet (@ReidCoolsaet) November 18, 2023
Neff’s time was 5:38–10 minutes behind Seth Ruhling, who ran 5:28:38 (Ruhling also won in 2019). Neff was just ahead of third place, Ryan Sullivan, who finished in 5:40. Ruhling’s time was the fifth fastest in the race’s history.
Neff described the race on social media as one of the hardest races he’s ever done. “It was lonely and cold out there, definitely did not love the distance, but it was a beautiful fall day and my time ended up being the 16th fastest ever at America’s oldest ultra and the fastest by a Canadian on the course by 20 minutes!”
It has been a successful fall season for Houston-based Neff, who broke the 50K course record at the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va., just weeks ago—a race he said was a training run for the JFK 50.
Twice is nice
Mildren also ran to a second-place finish, bettering the fastest time ever recorded by a Canadian on the course. Mildren crossed the line in six hours and 27 minutes, only four minutes behind race winner Jennifer Lichter, who ran the fifth fastest time in race history, in 6:23. Arsenault rounded out the podium in 6:35.
“Can hardly even believe I did this,” Mildren shared. “Second place in my 50-mile debut at America’s oldest and one of the most iconic ultras, that attracts some of the greatest athletes in the world.”
Lichter had a giant lead on Mildren at one point in the race. “I was able to put up a fight and claw it back to ~3mins in the end despite suffering so hard,” Mildren said. “Wasn’t quite enough but I’m so proud of my mind and body, I gave it everything I could. 50 miles is no joke.”
The JFK 50 was first held in the spring of 1963 after President John F. Kennedy pushed for a nationwide boost in physical fitness. Kennedy was assassinated in November of the same year, and according to the event website, many similar races the late president had inspired folded immediately. The JFK 50, though, kept running, and it continues to be an annual tradition, 60 years later.
This year, over 1,000 runners took to a course that follows the Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal Towpath, and paved roads.
For full results of the JFK 50, head here.