First 50-Miler - Page 2
Whereas an average beginner marathon-training program varies weekly from 15 to 45 miles per week, a weekly volume of 50 to 60 miles will allow most runners to experience a great first 50. Assuming that you have run a marathon before, add 10 to 15 percent to each week's total volume by increasing the length of every run if possible. Increase mileage for three weeks, and recover during a fourth week by dropping your mileage down into the same range as week one.
It's All About the Long Run
Just as long runs are the backbone of any marathon-training plan, so it is when training for a 50-miler. Says professional ultrarunner Sean Meissner, "The weekly long run is the key to training for your first 50. As long as you're progressively increasing the distance, do not worry about speed."
In your first 50, you could be running between seven and 15 hours on race day. To build your endurance, long runs should be performed once a week or every 10 days, depending on your run history and ability to recover. Work to extend your longest long run to around 30 miles. Don't be afraid to walk—in fact, practice it—during your long runs, because you will most likely walk in the race.
The 10-percent-per-week rule for increasing volume and distance is one I both love and hate. It's a good guideline for most folks, but does not apply to everyone. It absolutely does not apply to talented or accomplished athletes in other sports who are running their first 50-miler. For the rest of us, it is a great starting point, and a safe bet.
As your training progresses, consider specificity, which means your training should be relevant and appropriate for your race course. If you are lucky enough to live near the goal race, run sections of it whenever possible.
If not, try to run trails or terrain that resemble the race course. If the race is fast, smooth singletrack, find a dirt bike path to run. If the race includes monster climbs, hit your local mountain trails or find something that challenges those same muscles and kinetic mechanics.
If a busy schedule that includes families and work makes you pinched for time, run hard. Studies show that a small amount of speed work can have a profound effect on your fitness.
While overall training emphasis should be on your long run, volume and consistency, everyone can benefit from speed work. My favorite way to incorporate speed is doing a 20-minute tempo run, which is run about 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than current 5K race pace.
For runners who just can't tolerate specific paces and track work, I prescribe fartleks. The word fartlek is Swedish for "speed play" and entails freestyle intervals, however long or short you feel like running them. For example, sprint to that rock a quarter-mile away, get your breath back, then power up the ensuing half-mile hill, recover and repeat over a period of 15 to 20 minutes.
Sneaking tempo runs and/or fartleks into each week will make a difference. Think of it as working the top end of your fitness. When running intervals, you are generally running anaerobically (without oxygen), which makes the body more efficient at consuming oxygen. This means your slower race pace will feel easier. Speed work also resets your brain's concept of hard, improves economy and increases your muscular force, all of which has a trickle-down effect on slower-paced running. Don't add speed and increase volume in the same week. Adding both is a recipe for injury.
Keep Your Head
The mental component of running your first 50-miler cannot be understated. Says the 2009 Ultrarunner of the Year and 2010 Western States 100 Champ, Geoff Roes, "If your body hasn't raced 50 miles before, it's not going to want to do it, so the key is to make sure you want it."