If you like adventure, here’s a site to check,http://www.jfk50mile.org/. This is an annual event whose origin came about during the cold war. Fortunately for both of us, the entry date has already passed. The thought behind the JFK fifty-mile hike/run was that because of the possibility of a nuclear attack, each American should be in good enough shape to cover fifty miles in a day.
I participated in the event twice—I wrote participated because to state that I ran the entire way would be misleading— and I can state with certainty that almost no Americans are close to being able to complete this. The event is run in the fall starting in Boonsboro, Maryland. It takes place along the Appalachian Trail and the C&O Canal and various other cold, rain soaked, and ice and leaf covered treacherous terrains.
We ran it in our late teens or early twenties, the time in your life when you are indestructible and too dumb to know any better. One of my most vivid memories of the event was that on the dozen or so miles along the mountain trail, leaves covered the ground. By default that meant they also covered the rocks along the trail, thus hiding them. That we were running at elevation—isn’t everyone since you can’t not run at at least some elevation, (that may be the worst sentence every written) but you know what I mean—meant the prior night’s rain resulted in the leaf covered rocks being sheathed in black ice. That provided a nice diversion, making us look like cows on roller skates—roller blades had yet to catch on outside of California.
There were several places along the trail where the trail seemed to fork—I’m not going to say and I took it—and it wasn’t clearly marked. Runners could easily take the wrong fork (or should that be Tine?). I think it would have been helpful had the race organizers installed signs like, “If you are here, you are lost.” Hold on to that thought, as we may need it later.
Some number of hours after we began we reached the C&O Canal, twenty-six miles of flat terrain along the foot path. It’s difficult to know how well I was doing in the fifty-mile race, in part because I had never run this distance and because there we no obvious mile markers, at least so I thought. Then we noticed that about every five and a half to six minutes we would pass a numbered white marbled marker that was embedded along the towpath. Mile stones. At the pace we were running, we anticipated we would finish high in the rankings. As fast as we were running, we were constantly being passed, something that made no sense. That meant that a number of people were running five minute miles, which we knew they couldn’t do after running through the mountains, or…Or what?
The only thing we knew with any certainty at the end of the day was that the markers with which we used to determine our pace and measure how far we’d run were not mile markers. We never figured out why they were there or how far apart they were, but we greatly underestimated their distance and hence our progress.
It doesn’t really matter whether you call them mile stones or milestones. What matters is whether they serve a valid purpose. If they don’t, milestones become millstones. Milestones are only useful if they are valid, and if they are met. Otherwise, they are should’ a, could’ a, would’ a—failure markers, cairns of missed goals and deliverables.
How are your milestones? Are they valid? What makes them valid? Are they yours, or the vendors’? All things to think about as you move forward.