"It took me three years to forget the pain of it," said Becker, remembering his first ultramarathon 21 years ago. "I wasn't really in shape, and the wind chill was 17 below. I had a couple people talk me into it, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into."
These days, Becker is quite aware, and fitness won't be an issue. He has stuck to a training regimen that calls for three runs per week -- two 15- to 20-mile jogs and a weekend race -- and an occasional bicycle ride.
Becker used the Baltimore Marathon in October as his last competitive tuneup. He covered the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds to win the men's 65-69 age division.
Becker said he has tapered his routine over the past two weeks. After 16 ultramarathons, he's learned that rested legs are as important as anything else.
"I found out that since I'm retired and in my 60s, I need more rest time in between long runs. I kind of learned by accident that three runs a week works pretty good," Becker said. "To have a good JFK you need three things -- good training, rest and a lot of luck."
Becker's best JFK 50 Mile finish was in 1993, when he covered the course in 8 hours, 3 minutes and 20 seconds. He has come within 15 minutes of that time since, but insists that he will be much closer to nine hours this year.
"It's always very challenging for me, so I usually don't pick a time to finish in. Most of the time, I don't even wear a watch," he said. "When I come in, I come in. That's it."
For Becker, the race gets no better than the first few hours after sunrise -- running on the Appalachian Trail. Things take a sharp turn, though, when he hits what he called the "dreadful" C&O Canal towpath for 26.3 miles.
"I don't know if I have a strength, but I like the mountain run the best," Becker said. "I'm absolutely happy to get away from the C&O Canal. The scenery is all the same."
It's even easier to leave the towpath behind because the end is in sight. And the end is what Becker remembers most about each year.
"The best (memory) I have is getting to the finish line," he said. "I'm just happy to be able to run it and finish."
The Becker file
Name: Jim Becker
Residence: Greencastle, Pa.
Number of JFK finishes: 16
The JFK in one word: "Challenging"
Coming Saturday: Meet Sam Billotti, Bryan Glines, Mark Price and Dave Sanders, members of the Washington County Sheriff's Department who are competing as a team in the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon.