The JFK Challenge

The JFK 50 Mile Challenge

The JFK Challenge is to complete 50 miles in less than 24 hours. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy was concerned about the fitness of the nation. He coyly remarked that he didn’t believe the average citizen could complete President Theodore’s 1908 Executive Order – a U.S. Marine officers fitness test consisting of marching 50 miles. His brother, Attorney General Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy, completed the 50 miles in 17 hours and 50 minutes through snow and slush without any preparation at all. News coverage of his oddly heroic feat immediately elevated the publicity about the walking challenge.

Many saw JFK’s order as a personal request and challenge, although it was not meant to be. Within weeks, thousands around the country laced up whatever they could and participated in these walks. When Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, most of these events were never held again.

Back in August, Chris mentioned the JFK Challenge on our of our morning walks. I quickly became obsessed. (History & walking, how could I not love it?) My immediate thought was “if he thought people weren’t active in the 60s, what would he think of us now?” Then “I see myself as a moderately fit person, could I even complete it?” Like many during his presidency, I suddenly saw this challenge as a personal request. One, that like my 60,000 steps in 1 day, I added to my New Years Resolutions and sure as hell planned on completing.

Chris and my 60,000 step day taught me many important things. The most important being take breaks, avoid hills, and plan exactly what you are going to do. I waited for a weekend when Chris was going to Tahoe & I was home alone. I planned exactly how many steps and miles I needed to have per hour and where exactly I was going to go the day before. As each hour passed, I marked where I was at on my epic spreadsheet. I’m going to warn you right now that this story isn’t filled with amazing pictures and breathtaking views. I didn’t criss-cross the city or walk to LA, but I did walk 100,000 fucking steps and I started by going to bed early at 9pm.

I woke up. Jogged in place while watching New Girl for a full hour. The first hour was critical for figuring out my stats. I discovered I can walk 10,000 steps in 1 hour, which meant the hours that I planned to walk 5,000 I knew I could take half hour breaks. I really liked the idea of showering & eating without having to walk at the same time. I also purposely front-loaded this hour. By completing 10,642 steps instead of my planned 5,000 I allowed myself buffer room that I could (and did) use later. Back to bed.

5 AM
I sprung out of bed at 4:50 am. I actually had trouble sleeping because I was so excited to see if I could actually do it. From 5 until 9:30 I jogged in place half an hour every hour, re-watching the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I finally showered & left the house by 10am with 36050 steps under my belt.

Over the 1/4 point!

10 AM
I walked from my apartment down to 24th street and back. It was fun to people watch for a bit.

11 AM
My mom called and I talked to her while walking to Dinosaurs (16th & Market) for lunch. I told her I was walking 50 miles, but it didn’t really sink in. I think she thought I said 50,000? She was supportive none-the-less. When I got to Dinosaurs I was actually under where I needed to be, but thanks to the midnight-buffer I was able to take a break a little early and nom on some bahn-mi.

I left Dinosaurs around 12:15. I hit the halfway point as I crossed Duboce Triangle.

Past the halfway point!

Still upset about losing some of my buffer, I decided to walk directly into Golden Gate Park rather than stopping at home. I hit 60,000, the most I had every walked in one day, as I passed the buffalo.

60,000 steps at the bison!

I rocked out to Girl Talk, dancing my way down Ocean Beach. When I finally made it back through the park I spotted Twirl & Dip, which at this point was the closest thing I’ve had to a mecca. I was at 68,000 steps and told myself I couldn’t get soft serve until I successfully hit 70,000. I weaved around the Music Concourse Community Garden between Cal Academy and the De Young Museum until my 3:00 alarm went off & I hit 70,134 steps.

70,000 = celebratory frozen yogurt!

3 PM
I scuffed my way home and face planted on the couch. I only got 6,000 steps when I planned for 8,000. Saved by the buffer again! I was now only 18 steps over my target and just past 75% complete.

Over the 3/4 point!

I was super bummed to discover that Fitbit stops giving you daily badges after 75,000. (Which is a shame because I was really looking forward to my 100,000 daily badge.)

4 PM
The half hour every hour walks between 4 and 8pm got more brutal as the night went on. I walked around my neighborhood for some. I jogged in place for others. I tried my best to massage my feet during my down time. When the balls of my feet hurt to much, I’d pace around the apartment on my heels like a mad woman. From 6 to 8pm I watched the Chinese New Year Parade by walking back and forth, towards and away from the tv.

8 PM
The Chinese New Year Parade was over. Chris, Laura, and Allison were texting me to see how it was going. My feet had had enough. My the right side of my hips hurt. 6,000 steps away from glory. COPS came on and I decided I was going to run like the crazies on the show. There was a naked guy riding a bike in Portland. I laughed and was done.

Successfully completed the JFK 50 miles in 1 day challenge!

I can hear it already. “You cheated!” The first thing Chris asked me when he got home was, “what will you say to people who think that jogging in place is cheating?” At first I got defensive – if they think it’s cheating then they should fucking do it! I want to hear, when their feet are blistered and hips are sore, that it’s not real. Then, as time passed, I thought about like this: Every step was real and, funnily enough – as Chris and I found out during our studies (that I still haven’t posted), the Fitbit Ultra is actually most accurate while jogging in place. Completing the JFK challenge was a goal I imposed on myself and I believe I successfully completed it. Haters gonna hate – that is all.

A big thank you to everyone who supported me along the way – whether it was a phone call or just a simple like on my Instagram photos. Everything helped & because of you I was successful. I can’t wait to travel to Ireland to take on the challenge with others.