How To Prepare For Your First 50K Ultra Marathon

How To Prepare For Your First 50K Ultra Marathon

50 kilometers. At just over 31 miles it probably sounds doable to anyone who has completed a marathon. A nice round number, 50K could tempt you to register without really realizing exactly what you are getting yourself into. Before you pull the trigger on a 50K training plan, there are some things to consider.

How Do You Know You’re Ready for a 50K Race?

Prior to jumping into the world of ultramarathoning, many coaches believe you should be running 35-40 miles each week and should have some racing experience under your belt. Most ultra runners have not just started running; rather, they are veteran runners looking for a new adventure.

Since most ultra marathons are trails, you should also be comfortable running off-road. Sure you can do some of your training on roads and other hard surfaces, but you should also be prepared to go off-road.

Bob Smith

Bob Smith: Once you complete a race of any distance you always have a burning desire to finish one that is longer. After completing my first 5K, I said I would never do anything longer. I have now run 6 marathons and a 50K. Yes, I would like to attempt a 50 Miler. Remember: No matter what happens in life you will always be an ultra-marathoner. 

How Long Should You Train For a 50k?

If you’re starting from scratch, most coaches recommend a 20-week training plan. If you have a strong mileage base you can compress the training to 10 or 12 weeks.

In a 50K training plan for beginners, the only goal is to complete time on feet (TOF). These miles can be spent running, walking and/or hiking.

If you are setting yourself up for success in an ultra, you need more than a 50K trail run training plan. You also need access to trails where you will experience terrain similar to that where you plan to race. Nothing will set you up for a rough race like doing all of your training on flat ground and then racing in a hilly, rocky environment.

Running 30+ miles is challenging. Doing it on hills, through streams and over rocks can be brutal if you are inadequately prepared.

Training Hints

Your training should have a blend of different types of efforts. First, there are the base building runs. These are just runs where you are logging miles to build your cardiovascular base and increase your time on feet. The majority of your runs are done at an easy, conversational pace.

Next, you need strength-building runs. These can be hill and/or speed work. Best case scenario is you would do some of both. Long runs are essential as you build your way toward the race distance. Don’t skimp on your long runs.

Back to back long runs are important to teach you to continue running and moving on fatigued legs. Ultramarathoners often will do a long run on Saturday and Sunday both.

Advice for Newbie Ultra Runners

Scott Lemmon

Scott Lemmon: Be ready for anything. I once ran an ultra where when I showed up on race day there were 20 inches of snow on the ground. I was elated to reach the finish line in under 10 hours. In the end he was exhausted but as Lemmon so eloquently stated, “scars heal and shoes dry.”  Lemmon says that the best part of ultra running is finishing proves to yourself that “anything is possible.”

TJ Theis:  Theis reminds people to cross-train because it is, “important to keep everything firing as it should, not to build muscle.” He reminds those new to ultra running, “you will be hungry, sore and tired all at the same time. Expect that.” He further admonishes runners to “slow down and enjoy the moment.” Lastly, his most important advice is not to skimp time on feet, no matter how you are moving. 

Photo Credit: Jeremy Ault (Photo of Honore MacCoy-Patty)

Honore MacCoy-Patty: Five pieces of advice from Honore:

1) Know the altitude and elevation and train accordingly.

2) Figure out your fueling plan and stick to it.

3) Leave yourself notes in your drop bag so you don’t forget anything.

4) Sleep is crucial to a good training plan.

5) Recovery is also essential. 

Chad Hause: Hause has some interesting advice. He tries to think of anything that might go wrong and come up with 2-3 potential solutions to the problem. This helps him when his brain is fatigued on race day. He further advises runners to try to train as specifically as they can for the circumstances they are likely to encounter on the racecourse including terrain, surface, heat, etc. 

Reilly: Laurel Highlands 70 Miler

Linda Reilly: Reilly has some very practical advice. “Before you commit, find your why.” Ultras are hard and you go to a very dark place at moments. When you realize why you are doing this and remember it will give you the strength to move forward. She further advises you to find what works for you and stay on top of it. This can be related to following your fueling plan or staying on pace. Her last advice is to simply enjoy every beautiful mile. 

How Long Does It Take to Run a 50K?

That is a difficult question to answer because the terrain of an ultramarathon is so varied. According to some pace calculators, a 50K will take you roughly :30 seconds per mile longer than your average marathon time.

There are also pace calculators that will help you determine your potential time. Don’t put too much stock in these unless you have marathoning and trail experience. The 50K ultra truly is a different beast.

How Do You Taper for 50k?

Most ultra plans have you cutting back then tapering in the last three weeks of training. You would have your last long run and high mileage week three weekends out from race day.

Two weekends out you would have had a cutback week, with lower mileage but still quality long runs. The week and weekend before you will be tapering, with full taper the last 6 days before you toe the line.

Can I Train For a 50K in 8 Weeks?

Sure, you can find an ultra marathon training plan to do a 50K in 8 weeks. That does not mean you should do it, however. Training for a 50K race is no small task and unless you are an experienced runner who is already completing substantial mileage, this training is no walk in the park.

Unless you are comfortable with risking injury, you should probably not try to train for a 50K in less than 18-20 weeks.

Should You?

If you’re tempted to pull the trigger on an ultra race and finding yourself a 50K training plan, go through the checklist of “if you’re ready for this challenge.” Just remember, deciding to train for a 50K is a bit like deciding you’re ready to have kids. If you wait until you’re 100% ready you just may never pull the trigger.

A 50K will challenge you, that is for sure. But if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. And isn’t that what running is all about?