The JFK 50-miler, America’s oldest ultramarathon, will be held on Saturday in Boonsboro, Md., with close to 1,200 runners set to race. Included in the list of 1,200 athletes is a deep and fast field of elites, featuring names like Camille Herron (who will be running the JFK 50 for the first time) and defending champion Seth Ruhling. Herron and Ruhling are just a couple of the big names ready to run on the weekend, and the stage for this event — which is in its 58th year of running — is set to see some exciting and competitive racing.
The JFK 50
First run in the spring of 1963, the JFK 50 was created 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 a yearly tradition almost 60 years later.
The point-to-point course starts in Boonsboro and heads south to the Maryland-Virginia border before taking runners north and working up to the finish in Williamsport, Md. The route’s terrain varies, and after 4K of road running, athletes transition onto the Appalachian Trail. The first 9K features more than 350m of climbing, but at about the 23K mark, the course heads downhill on a series of switchbacks. From there, the route links up with the flat C&O Canal Towpath, which runners stay on for 42K before switching back to paved roads for the final stretch of the race.
This year’s race has several COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone involved, the main two being the wearing of masks and holding wave starts. All event staff, volunteers, participants and spectators will be required to wear face coverings at all times, and runners will be given neck gaiters to wear while on the course. Face coverings won’t be required while running, but if participants find they can’t keep six feet apart at any point on the run, they have been asked to cover their faces with their gaiters. In addition to this, waves of no more than 250 runners will be sent out one at a time to make it easier to social distance while on the course.
Women to watch
With multiple ultrarunning world championships and world records, plus a number of other big race wins (including the Comrades Marathon and Tunnel Hill 100, both in 2017), Herron is a favourite in every race she enters, and the JFK 50 is no different. She has never run the race, but with her wealth of experience in ultras and consistent fitness, she can certainly challenge for the win on Saturday. Event organizers have yet to post the lineups for the elite races, but Herron was able to supply us with a list of who she’ll be racing in Maryland.
First is Lindsey Scherf, who owns the indoor marathon world record of 2:40:55. She also boasts a marathon PB of 2:32:19. As she has proven with these results, she can certainly bust out a quick run in tough races, and while the JFK 50 is a beast of its own, she could have a shot at a big result this weekend.
Next up is Tara Richardson, who has plenty of experience on the trails and in ultras. Richardson has multiple podium finishes at trail races across the U.S., and while she has yet to race the JFK 50-miler, her lengthy trail running resume will serve her well. U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials runner Sarah Biehl will also be toeing the line in Maryland. At just 26 years old, Biehl doesn’t have as much experience as some of her competitors, but as she showed in college (when she was a five-time NAIA All-American), she can post some fast times.
Men to watch
In the men’s race, defending champion Ruhling will line up against 2018 JFK 50 winner Jared Hazen. While still in their 20s (Ruhling is 26 and Hazen is 25), both men have impressive resumes in their young careers. According to his profile on Ultrasignup.com, Ruhling is on a seven-race win streak that dates back to January 2019, and he’ll be looking to extend that to eight straight victories on Saturday. In the past few years Hazen has recorded great results at the Western States 100 (third in 2015 and second in 2019), the Pikes Peak Marathon (sixth in 2015) and the Hong Kong Ultra (fifth in January).
Joining Hazen and Ruhling will be Hayden Hawks, who has won all but three of the races he has entered since May 2017. Hawks’s resume features wins at the Squaw Peak 50-miler earlier this year, the Chuckanut 50K in 2019, the UTMB CCC in 2017 and many more. With such quick runners ready to compete this weekend, the JFK 50 will undoubtedly be a top race of 2020.