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Live Life With More “Vigah”: Take The JFK/ Freedom’s Run Challenge

By Staff | Jul 31, 2015

In the late 1950’s a warning sounded. Almost 58 percent of American children were unable to pass a basic fitness test, while only 8.7 percent of Europeans failed. President Eisenhower and later John F Kennedy saw the problem at hand, had a vision, and took action.

“Our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security. We do not want in the United States a nation of spectators. We want a nation of participants in the vigorous life. This is not a matter which can be settled, of course, from Washington. It is really a matter which starts with each individual family” President John F. Kennedy, Conference on Physical Fitness of Youth, 1961

“For the physical vigor of our citizens is one of America’s most precious resources. If we waste and neglect this resource, if we allow it to dwindle and grow soft then we will destroy much of our ability to meet the great and vital challenges which confront our people. We will be unable to realize our full potential as a nation.” JFK in Sports Illustrated The Soft American 1960 (link at end)

In a follow on Sports Illustrated Article The Vigor We Need 1962 Kennedy reported on some of the initial policy and outcomes. He wrote this “. But fitness is vital for a still more basic reason. It is vital because it is the basis of the health and vitality of the individual citizen. And these are qualities which are essential if each American is to be free to realize fully the potential value of his own capabilities and the pursuit of his individual goals.”

Kennedy discovered an order of Theodore Roosevelt requiring US Marine officers to march 50 miles in 3 days, and some of them did it in under 20 hours. Kennedy challenged the current marine commander to see if his Marines were in as good shape as those of the early 1900s, as well as his own staff including his brother Robert. RFK walked 50 miles from Great Falls to Harpers Ferry on the C&O Canal towpath in under 18 hours in freezing conditions in a pair of oxfords. The C&O Canal makes up a large part of Freedom’s Run and The JFK 50 Mile.

The 50 mile challenge became a national craze and even made the cover of Life Magazine. Housewives, students, scouts, seniors, soldiers, and everyday citizens each with a unique goal set off on the challenge. Fitness Pioneer and White House Physician Janet Travell helped encourage and set the example for a healthy national “middle class” of athletes who exercises for the joy and cautioned highly competitive sports. The JFK 50 Miler born out of this movement is now in its 53rd year.

John F Kennedy over 50 years ago outlined the current challenge to family fitness and gave us solutions which are alive but need to thrive today. Freedom’s Run and the JFK 50 Mile Run were both conceived and still are family and community events giving individuals and groups a challenge to achieve a goal and explore beautiful natural places.

I have had an amazing experience and adventure with the JFK 50. I entered in 2006 as an ultra running novice I found myself in second place at half way. Little did I know that my pace, which seemed easy for a marathoner, was too fast to digest food and fluids- essential for 50 miles! Everything I took in was now on the trail and I struggled to the 38 mile aid station where my family was waiting and humbly walked off the course. The next 3 years I figured it out and ran the race in under 7 hours and won the Masters Division in 2008 (shared a post on that day here). After a few year hiatus I returned last year to run the race with friends and finished a respectable 8:03. To me the JFK has evolved from a “race” to a celebration of history, community, and promotion of the “vigorous life”.So in the spirit of JFK we have created the JFK 50/Freedoms Run Challenge to help you live life with more “vigah” and pass it forward to the next generation.

-Finish both the Freedom’s Run Marathon and JFK 50 Mile and receive a special shirt from Atayne (www.atayne.com/) for completing a challenge first called for by Teddy Roosevelt and later championed by JFK. [Atayne shirts are made in the USA of all recycle materials..Teddy would like them]

To register go to:



– Freedom’s Run Marathon (Oct 10) is a perfect fun tune-up for the JFK 50 Miler (Nov 21) with a long stretch of Canal and finishes with rolling country roads. Six weeks out is a good time to test your strategies and fitness.


If you are new to ultrarunning this challenge may be for you as you progress your fitness.

Runners finishing the difficult Freedoms Run within 30 minutes of JFK standard would be eligible to enter JFK under the Challenge.


Men — Marathon 4:45

Women — Marathon 5:15

Senior Men (65-over)– Marathon 6:30

Senior Women (55-over) — Marathon 6:30


The Soft American by John F Kennedy Dec 26, 1960


The Vigor We Need by John F Kennedy July 16,1962


and a couple amazing reads on the history of JFK and the Fitness Movement



Here is a wonderful booklet for the 50th Anniversary of the Presidents Fitness Challenge


and an amazing video on students living life with more “Vigah”