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Mile a march toward fitness

JFK 50

November 17, 2012

The question most often asked of participants in the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon is simply, “Why?” Perhaps the best answer is, “Why not?”

Why not take the circuitous route from Boonsboro to Williamsport, turning a 12-mile trip across Md. 68 into a 50-mile trek across rural roads, the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal towpath? Why not battle the elements, which have ranged from extreme heat (80-degree temperatures in 1967) to extreme cold (a wind chill of minus-15 degrees at the start in 1987)? Why not watch the sunrise and the sunset, as do those who take more than 10 hours to complete the course?

The 50th running of “America’s Oldest Ultramarathon” is today in Washington County. First attempted by 11 members of the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club in 1963, the event has seen nearly 22,000 men, women and youth cross its finish line.

Some of them have been serious runners. But many have not. They have simply been serious about finishing.

In December 1960, more than two years before he issued his challenge to members of the U.S. military to complete a 50-mile hike in 20 hours, President-elect John F. Kennedy wrote an open letter to the American public. In it, he revealed his concern about the declining physical fitness of the country’s population. At the time, the National Health Examination Survey of adults ages 18 to 79 showed that 13.4 percent were obese.

“Physical fitness is the basis of all the activities of our society,” Kennedy wrote. “And if our bodies grow soft and inactive, if we fail to encourage physical development and prowess, we will undermine our capacity for thought, for work and for the use of those skills vital to an expanding and complex America.”

By 2009-10, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of obese adults in this country had grown to a staggering 35.7 percent. We are a country that can ill afford — in our current economic and political climate — to be sedentary, in either body or in mind.

So to those of you who are active, whether by running 50 miles or by walking for 50 minutes, we salute you. And to those of you who are not active, we encourage you — to take steps against growing “soft and inactive.”

It’s a race we can all finish together.

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