50 miles. 24 hours. Go for it!

Marathons may be so yesterday, but the Fifty mile challenge isn’t so new either

Perhaps John F Kennedy was interested in increasing the natin’s fitness.In 1962 he discovered an executive order from Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, challenging U.S. Marine officers to finish 50 miles (80 km) in twenty hours. Kennedy challenged the present day marines to duplicate the feat, then extended the challenge to his own White House administration. The fifty mile march was born, with Robert Kennedy being the first to complete the challenge

The JFK 50 Mile was first held in the spring of 1963 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2013.  Though open to the public, it’s now in spirit a military race and has become an ultra marathon. the course record is 5 hours and 46 minutes!

Could you meet the challenge of two American Presidents and walk 50 miles in 24 hours?  Often called a Challenge Walk, that’s a rather imprecise term for an event that can draw runners and joggers as well as walkers. You have 24 hours or so in which to get round a rural course where you can encounter anything: near-vertical climbs up to wind-ravaged tops, fields full of camomile, moonbeam-caressed lakes, banks of primroses, overflowing pits of slurry and beautiful sunsets

The Long Distance Walkers Association (LWDA) was set up more than 40 years ago to put like minded people in touch with each other and to promote the benefits of long distance walking. As they’re always on offf-road routes over paths, grass and track, they’re much kinder on the knees than road walking or running. They’re not races, so you can slow down and pretend you’re enjoying the scenery if the pace gets too much. And if you’ve never gone this distance before, then whatever time you do will be a personal best!

Also, in theory, they take place in lovely countryside, though if it’s dark or slashing down, you may have some difficulty in seeing it. You have a route description to navigate with, so that the Fifty doesn’t become Sixty as you stray spectacularly off-route. Best of all is that you’re fed at checkpoints on the way round, with sustenance like soup, homemade cake, malt loaf, sandwiches, pasta and apple crumble, while you rest your legs and apply plaster to your blisters. despite this it’s essential to carry water and some energy giving food of your own choice.  You’re also expected to carry the relevant OS map(s) for the area and a compass and to know how to use them.  Event pages will increasingly include clickable purchase links and map links to show where events start and finish. And, needless to say, you need to have the right equipment for the challenge

Good advice can be found on the LDWA training page and survival page

Where to begin? For a first Fifty, choose carefully. Beginners might consider The Woldsman, which takes in the stunning East Yorkshire Wolds, or summery events in rural East Anglia, such as the Shotley Penininsula 50, in Constable country, or the Poppyline Fifty, which takes in both seaside and National Trust land. They’re fabulous routes and are fantastically well-catered

Of course once you finish your immediate reaction will be ‘never again’. But after a few days your thoughts will turn to the next challenge. There are tougher 50s, such as the classic Bullock Smithy Hike in the Peak District which is testingly hilly, as is the Surrey Tops, which features a handful of the Home Counties’ meanest spikes (most of which you’ll be climbing in the dark). The LDWA has a comprehensive list

And if you meet the LWDA qualifying criteria of 50 miles in 26 hours you can always go in for the LDWA’s flagship event, held over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend in a different part of the country each year, namely, a Hundred Miles in 48 hours, with a limit of 500 participants. This year’s is particularly grand given that it’s both the Diamond Jubilee and Olympic year. It starts on June 2 at Victoria Park, just outside The Olympic Park and features a linear route celebrating 40 years of the LDWA, the Royal Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Games. The route passes through areas of national, royal and London 2012 Olympic Games significance

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March 13, 2012

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