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Category: Ultra

How I’m training for a 50 Mile Ultra Marathon!

This year I decided to take a break from triathlons.  I wanted to focus my effort on one big race.  Yes, I did do some smaller races I’ll never skip, like the Broad street run or Oddyseey Half Marathon.  Once those were complete my focus changed to just training for the 50 Mile race.  Time wise and for scheduling reasons I decided on the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50.  

The terrain is mostly forest roads, so I won’t have to deal with an extremely rocky course.  Obviously, the biggest hurdles are the distance and the climbs, totaling about 5,500ft.

I had registered for the race last year, but because of an injury, I had to back out.  I have had the best success avoiding injuries when I am following a training plan, so I’m using this Runners world 50 Mile Plan.  I’ve done training plans before that use back to back long runs, but I tend to get burned out.  So far this training plan has been VERY enjoyable.  I actually look forward to the long run on Saturday, and I have been just doing a leisurely bike ride on Sundays instead of another long run.

This is my first attempt at this distance, and the training has been going well.  At this point I’m at the 3:45 hour mark and can complete about 2,500ft of climbing on the kind of rocky terrain of the Wissahickon.  I’ve completed two 50Ks in the past, but I still think it’s odd that the farthest you run in training is only slightly over 30 miles.  Having a 20 mile gap in the plan doesn’t lead to much confidence, but I’m going to trust it and see how it works out.  Regardless, there will be suffering that day, but I’m trying to keep it to a minimum.

I’ve made some modifications to fit my needs.  For weight training, I’m using kettlebells.  It’s the perfect compliment to running.  I have never, in my past, made such an effort to keep lifting, while I’m still in the middle of a high mileage running program.  With the addition of weight training, I’ve been feeling better at the end of longer runs, and I don’t seem to have as much pain in my legs after then run.  It’s like I can take more abuse, yet not fatigue as much.  Kettlebells don’t just work your legs, they work EVERYTHING, with a big emphasis on core strength.  From this point forward, I plan to keep it in my schedule, 2 days a week, regardless of what distance I’m training for.

Another part of ultra running, that can be difficult to figure out, is what type of food to use.  Currently, I’m using honey stinger waffles, PB and J sandwiches, and GU packets.  Eating while running is necessary, with how many calories you are burning per hour.  I also make sure to down a few Hammer salt tablets, while drinking a mix of both Cytomax and water, from a Camelbak.

My strategy for the race is mostly just completion.  Yes, it would be nice to place in my age group, but with this being my first attempt at this distance I really don’t see that happening.  The best tip I received about ultra racing is that you do a lot of walking, well at least you should if you want to see the finish line.  It can help if you actually practice walking fast on a treadmill before the race, since it uses a different muscle set than running.  Yes, I’m sure some of the uber-elite runners don’t walk as much as I plan to, but I don’t want to be in so much pain that I don’t even enjoy the race.  The other biggest tip was to have fun, and sometimes I forget about that, and just focus too much on the competitive side.

My First Ultra – Blues Cruise 50K

Blues Cruise Ultra 50K
The Loop

So how did I get here? That’s what I usually ask myself.  It’s always when I ‘m pushing myself to some new extreme or event that I had never done before.  I was browsing this subreddit when I came upon the video “Running Madness”.  If you haven’t seen it you can check it out here (WARNING:  You may feel the need to enter an ultra after watching. )  That video helped spark the idea of, “Would it be possible”?  Would I be able to get ready for an ultra in under 2 months?  I had already put in a decent amount of training to complete Steelman a few weeks ago.  In my previous post, I had mentioned I was following this schedule.  I would fit the long runs in during the week with running to work, and then get the rest in during the weekend.  At least that was the plan…

This same time last year, I was preparing for the Philly marathon and having some issues with top-of-the-foot-pain.  I worked hard to correct my form, I even recorded myself running on a treadmill to analyze it.  That information helped me correct my form and I haven’t had an issue since.  I’ve done high mileage and some of the hardest runs to date.  So everything was falling into place, if I was able to get in more miles and stay injury free the ultra would be easy, right?  Well that’s what I originally thought, I would later find out that they made a HUGE change to the course.

I felt as though the training was difficult but not unbearable, I actually started to really enjoy my long runs to work.  They were a time to relax and unwind, except for the part where I run through a state park at 5:30AM in the dark.  Running in the dark was a new experience and I picked up this.  Either way, most of my miles were done with a mix of road and light trail.  This didn’t fully prepare me for the new course this year.

The starting/finishing line of the race
Stephan Weiss informs us how much we will suffer.

Of course the night before the race it starts raining.  This has me worried about what conditions would be like, and to top it off, it starts pouring on the way there.  I know that this won’t be good for the trails, I had run a trail race earlier in the year, the Mt. Penn Mudfest, in the rain and nearly twisted my ankle twice on the course.  The idea of doing that again was starting to worry me, I was fortunate in the fact that the rain stopped right before the start of the race.

So the race is off and I seeded myself near the back.  I know I’m going to be in for the long haul and I wanted to avoid as much pain as I could.  I was amazed at how fast some people went out, I guess I was expecting more of a leasiurly pace but that wasn’t what most seemed to be doing.  They have you start with running on the road for a half mile before you enter the trail.  It was 98% trail, there was only a few short sections where you had to run on the road.  Most of the time you spent it running parallel to the lake, or opposite corn fields.  The rain had made conditions very slippery.  I can’t count the number of times I had to catch myself from slipping on mud and going down.  The week before I had spoken to multiple people who had done the course last year.  They all said the same thing, it wasn’t much of a challenge, and it’s relatively flat.  They had done an out and back but this year they opted for one big loop .  The first 10 miles were relatively easy, as you can see from my Garmin data below, the difficult hills didn’t come till later in the race.  I had done hill work but nothing near the level of what I experienced.  Looking back, I know I should have spent more time with hill training.  I had heard from someone else that you should walk the larger hills of a trail race, so that’s what I did.  I think this helped save my legs for the finish.

Stream crossing at the Blues Cruise Ultra 50K
That's COLD!

If I had to say anything about the people you meet in a trail run, it’s that they just seem to be a nicer group.  I talked to a few different people along my 31 mile journey and they were all very friendly.  I actually took a spill going down this one hill and a guy took the time to stop and help me up.  He even turned around and pulled the tree root out of the ground that tripped me so it didn’t get anyone else.  You don’t experience this when you run the big city marathon.  Everybody has their headphones on and focused on their run.  There’s a bond between trail runners as you suffer the course together, it makes you talk to your fellow runner.  That, and the fact that there’s not 20,000 people running the race at the same time.

I had an additional “ace up the sleeve” to help me get through the race.  My parents were actually worried about me heading out on such a long run, my Dad offered to drive up with me.  In the “Running Madness” video they talked about pacers, so I asked him if he would be willing to meet me for the last portion of the race.   I can’t begin to explain the difference this made, after mile 22 I had been running alone.  When I got to the last aid station to meet up with him, he had already run 4 miles out to meet me.  I was dead at this point and my legs were in pain, but when I got behind him to finish out the last leg of the race it gave me a second wind.  I was able to pick the pace up and continue on to the finish.  I wouldn’t have done nearly as well for those last 4 miles, the most difficult to complete.  I can see why a pacer is so critical, especially if this had been a longer race.

My pacer helped me get through the race
"Pacer Dad" helped me finish the 50K

When I did cross the finish line it was the single best experience in running to date.  I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment as I did completing that race.  As for my results, I was 17th with a time of 4:45.  I’m pretty happy with all things considered.  I learned a lot in this race, and I learned just how critical your pace can be.  I should have taken it easier on the start, maybe walked a few more hills, and pushed a little harder on the downhills.  This was the most fun I have ever had running a course.  The aid stations were packed with good food and good people.  I can say for sure that I will be showing up next year.  I heard they are doing the course in reverse!!!

Taking on a 50K – Blues Cruise Ultra

So I finally completed my first Olympic distance triathlon, the Steelman.  The race was brutal, I did better than expected in the swim, but the run really suffered.  I attributed it to pushing too hard on the bike and really not putting in the time practicing hills.  As fun as it was, it was disappointing.  I didn’t place that well and I couldn’t believe how terrible I did on the run.  Running is my best event, I enjoy it the most so it was heartbreaking to say the least.  So what do I go and do???  Register for a 50K run, that’s what I did.  My wife already can’t stand how much time I spend training and this nearly put her over the edge.  It’s funny, most people think that the hardest part of completing a 50K would be the actual miles.  I would say it’s trying to convince your wife that what your doing isn’t insane.

Over the past two months I have had some early mornings.  It’s really the only time that you can put in those types of miles and not ruin any other plans you might have.  I live about 26 miles, by car, outside of the city.  My bright idea was to get my mileage up and take a series of trails that would get me to work.  I’m lucky to have a shower and an understanding boss who doesn’t care if I’m a little late for work.  So waking up at 4:30 in the morning has been tough but I actually look forward to it.  I started off small with some 13 mile runs from a train station that was closer to work.  As I progressed, following this training schedule, I moved the starting point further back to my home.  The total miles door to door is 20.   Add in a few extra loops of Kelly drive and that’s how I got the miles in.  The 2nd nice thing about my job is that I sit at a desk most of the day.  Another huge problem would be running 27 miles in to work, then trying to stand on your feet.  It just wouldn’t happen.

So I’m one week away from the race and the only thing that concerns me is the terrain.  Most of my long runs were done on a mix of road and trail, I just hope that it’s a relatively flat course and not too hot that day.  According to their site, it’s a great race for first time ultra runners.  The idea of running a gigantic 31 mile loop sounds fun, I just have to remember to pace myself.   I met a guy, on one of my morning runs, that said he made the classic mistake and went out too fast on his first ultra.  He said I should walk the hills to save my legs… I might just take his advice.

http://www.bluescruiseultra.com/

One of my runs to work: