Training for 50-Mile Race

I’ve been training to run the second day (October 12) of the multistage event, The West Virginia Trilogy, which entails a 50k, 50 mile, and half-marathon over the course of 3 days.  I thought I’d post a little bit about how I’ve been training for the 50 miler.  I wrote my “base” training plan based off those in the book “Relentless Forward Progress,” and then modified them to fit more of my style of training and race specificity.  I do tend to slightly modify my training plans from week to week, but generally I do not skimp on mileage but instead increase it or add harder workouts depending on how good mentally and physically I’m feeling.


Post Highlands Sky 40 I built base mileage back up to about 50 mpw before I really started training again.  Since I had such a strong base coming out of HS40, I gave myself 11 weeks to train for Trilogy 50 mi.  The original plan was to peak at 70 mpw, but the volume was feeling so good with no sign of injury that I ended up hitting 100.  It really felt like the more volume I did the better I felt physically and mentally with running.

During the first 3 weeks of training while my weekly volume was still below 65 mpw, I focused on different types of hill work with some speedwork mixed in.  Then I switched gears the following 3 weeks and concentrated on sheer volume that included long runs of 42-50 miles and peaking at 100 mpw.  For the remaining 3 weeks, I will be dropping mileage down to 50-75 mpw and concentrating again on hillwork, mostly endurance-type climbing, speedwork intervals, and fast-finish long runs with one run of over 40 miles.  Then it’s 2 weeks of taper and race day!

Most websites, books, people, etc. will always stress not to run the race distance in training.  I strongly disagree with this idea.  If you want the body to do something well, you’ve got to give it a rinse-and-repeat scenario.  You want the body to say, “Oh, yeah, we’re doing that again… okay cool!”  Granted a lot of people do not have time to go out and run 40, 50, 60 miles, but oftentimes time can be scrounged for if the desire to do it is strong.

Anyhow, it always bugged the crap out of me when I was marathon training how often I heard this nonsense about not running the distance (especially since I had been running 20-26 mile runs on weekends for fun before marathon training).  Well, if I were training for a 50k or a 50 miler, then running 26 miles becomes pretty standard practice.  So… now it’s okay since the race got longer?  The logic behind it is that it increases chance of injury and recovery can be prolonged afterwards, making some of the following runs suffer or be missed completely.

IMG_0007The benefits to the body and mind of running the race distance in training, in my experience, are quite underestimated.  For one thing, the confidence gained is immense, and this in itself can make for a superior race.  I don’t think that all of these race-distance training runs should necessarily be done at goal pace by any means, but I do think that a large majority of them should, and running the distance should be done as often as humanly possible.  Certainly some people will get injured doing this but, in my opinion, it’s a risk worth taking.  The principal of pushing the body to the overreaching point to further advance your fitness can be well achieved by race-distance runs.

Now obviously once you pass beyond the 50-mile training run it starts to get a little crazy to run the whole distance in training.  I’m tentatively planning to do my first 100-mile race next year, and will I train the distance?  While I don’t want to say it’s not impossible (as I certainly would love to!), I highly doubt it.  At that distance I think back-to-back long runs with one of the runs being in the 50-65 mile range would be what I’d shoot for.  For me, I do believe that any race distance under 80 miles, I would run the distance at least once in training.

Different things work for different people, and I’m still learning what works best for me, but I think the most important thing here is to turn off the computer, put down the books and magazines, and lace up and go find out through constant “trail” and error.

Now go out and get some miles!

Injury Update

I’ve been incredibly busy since I started really putting in the training time for my ultra.  Between training for 13-16 hours a week, sneaking afternoon naps, caring for my dependant son, and fulfilling my housewifely duties… it’s been nothing short of insane.  All of this on 3-4 hours of broken sleep at night.

My iliotibial band injury has been getting much better.  It still flares up on runs over 2 hours, but I’ve continued to run through pain and have learned to manage it on the trail.  As long as I ice it and take some ibuprofen, the knee bounces back very quickly from long runs.  Granted, I’m certain it would be healing a lot faster if I were not constantly aggravating it, but I’ve ruled that option out at least until after my race in June.  For now, I can live with and manage the pain, and I’m not very concerned about getting through my race with it.

On a more somber note, my compartment syndrome has returned again in full force.  Following a 35 miler during a 70-mile week, my shins started swelling and throbbing only a quarter mile into a recovery run.  I continued to try to work with it last week and finished the week off with a 40-mile run and a 62-mile week where I was just barely sliding through the runs with tight calves and shins.  It was somewhat pathetic, and I really ended up with some poor quality workouts.  This week I’ve shifted into damage control mode in hopes of sparing this weekend’s 32-mile long run.  Next week I’ll be 3 weeks out from the ultra, and it’ll be time for pure recovery.

Obviously I choke all the injury up to quick mileage and distance increases.  I’ve also been doing a lot of intense hillwork during the week which is likely not helping much.  I’ve managed to get through the bulk of training though without much issue until just now.  Being less than 4 weeks out, the majority of hay is in the barn, so taking time to recover at this point won’t be an issue.

Running Cooper’s Rock


After a wild desire to run up and down snowy ridges a few times a week, my left Achilles and right IT band were screaming at me.  I cut my mileage way back and have tried to just focus on getting everything feeling good enough during the week so I could make my long runs on weekends.  My IT was really bad last week, and I had intended to do an easy and relaxed 20-30 mile run this past weekend.  Yah, well intentions and actual outcomes tend to differ greatly. I went out to Cooper’s Rock State Forest to do my long run.

Boy, was I unprepared and naïve (aka dumbass) about running Cooper’s Rock.  It only took me 7 miles to realize 30 was out of the question.  Boulder hopping, climbing over and under trees, sliding down muddy rocky descents, slippery roots, and ankle-deep water flows were the dominating characteristics here with some bad ass elevation changes to boot.  What’s not to like?  There was nothing even remotely close to easy.

This one almost completely destroyed me!  It didn’t help much that I had only gotten a couple hours of sleep the night before.  The trails were incredibly technical and extremely rocky.  Footing was totally questionable.

Descending into the valley on the playful singletrack trails was incredible.  Water was rushing everywhere, and the streams were overflowing with violent torrents of water plummeting over enormous rocks.  I felt so alive.  Everything seemed to be going great until I reached the valley bottom and began to make my first ascent.  At one point, I was literally moving up a long, steep climb on my hands, moving from one slippery rock to the next.  All the snow was melting and gushing down the trails creating some very hazardous conditions.  My quads were on fire.  At 7 miles, I was at a really dark place in my head.  I sat down in the mud and began to question why the hell I was out here torturing myself so badly.  I was hungry, tired, in pain, and had lost a brand new pair of arm warmers.  Damn it.

When I got to the top of Cooper’s Rock I found myself demoralized, wasted, and just craving home.  The moment of funk hit me so fast and so hard.  I sat down, ate, and drank for a while and just decided I couldn’t go any further.  All I wanted was a really cold beer.  I began to head to my car which was a bit over 3 miles away.  I ended up detouring some on my way back down some gorgeous trails, and the amazing and beautiful views and scenery on the trails brought back some mental spark.  I finally got back to the car and sat down and stretched out my legs.  The number on my watch began to haunt me, “13 miles is not what I came here for.”  I pulled myself together and told myself I had about 2 hours of running left before the sun would start to crest the horizon, “I’ll go an hour out and come back,” I thought.

I headed back out for my second descent.  Initially, I felt good and strong. Suddenly, with every step my IT band felt like it would seize up and shatter.  By the time I got to the bottom, it was beginning to get pretty dim in places, and one thing I am not too keen about (to say the least) is running in the dark.  It literally scares the piss out of me.  It didn’t help any that I was somewhat confused about where I was.  My map was pretty pathetic.  I had a grueling ascent coming back out and wasn’t even sure how long it was going to take me to get out or where I really was.  It made me a pinch nervous, but then again, it totally took my mind off the pain I was in.

I finished up with a bit over 19 miles (yes, in daylight).  Not bad!  I felt like a million bucks when I got home, cracked open a cold beer, and began to nurse my wounds.  I was sore as crap, cut, bruised, and covered head to toe in mud, but I had accomplished what I set out to do.  I felt like I had conquered the world.

This run taught me a few things.  Firstly, I tend to overestimate what I can tolerate and push the limits way too often.  Unlikely that will change since that’s what I’m always looking for.  But it’s definitely been tearing my body down, and I’m barely staving off some significant injury most of the time.  I just don’t know how to do things any other way.  I also realized that I run so much better on real food than I do with gels.  I think gels work great for me when I’m really just cruising along at marathon distance/pace.  But for the hard distance or long distance stuff, I feel much better on real food.

Two days later and my quads are still sore like hell but I’m still full of cloud 9 juice.  I will attempt to run today for a few miles.  At least my IT band seems to have some forgiveness for my masochism and is behaving as of now.  I’ll definitely be using this run in the near future as I get closer to my ultra in June.  If this run can’t prepare me for an ultra, nothing can.

These are the kind of runs that make running so worthwhile – the ones that shatter me and I make it back home with a story to tell.

And yes, it was fun.

Racing, Hills, and Lifting!

IMG_1145Last Saturday I went ahead and completed one of my goals for the month: to run a 5K race or longer.  I entered a 15K somewhat last minute and went into it with no expectations.  I ran it much faster than I even really thought I was capable of and finished 2nd overall female with a time of 1:07:15.  Every time I glanced down at my watch, I was weaving between a 6:30-7:20 pace.  Instead of doing as usual and trying to hold back, I just went with it.  I figured I’d keep it up as long as my legs would tolerate.  Needless to say, it was nothing short of painful.  The hills were just a little brutal!

Running anywhere in West Virginia except along rivers is quite a feat.  The mountainous terrain is completely unforgiving.  I used to think anyone who attempted running in this state was out of their mind.  Of course, it’s all relative to what you’re used to.  I grew up in the South on very flat land, so West Virginia was kinda like terrain shock!  There are definitely great advantages to living and running somewhere challenging.  You don’t really have the option of avoiding hills all too often.  You’re pretty much forced to do it if you want to get out and run.  We all know how important hillwork is for developing those running legs.  So I guess it could be safe to assume that a person who lives where they run grades on just about every run would most likely have the upper hand versus an average “flatlander.”   This is also one of the speculations or observances made about the elite African runners in relation to their training terrain.

I’m continuing to work on increasing my distance runs.  I’m planning 22-24 miles for this weekend.  The plan is to keep increasing up to 30 miles since by that time I’ll need to focus on marathon training and work on my speed.  I saw this quote in a forum recently that just made me smile.  It said, “Never f@ck with someone who runs 26.2 miles for fun!”  There’s definitely something to be said about that kind of runner!  During the rest of the week I’ve been mixing in a decent amount of hill and speed interval training which I had neglected for some time.  I’m really enjoying those workouts.

IMG_1139I added some spice to my weight training days also in hopes of maximizing gains.  I’m doing upper body/abs 3-4 times a week and legs 1-2 times a week.  I’m really worried about working my legs too much and exhausting them prior to a run, so I’m keeping weight training at a minimum on them.  I upped my sets from 3 to 5 and kept my reps at 8-12 except abs which are 5 sets at 12-15 reps.  I really like the longer workout and increased sets.  I’ll keep this up for a month and see how it goes.

My upper body routine looks like this:

Cable crunches
Pushups wide
Bicep cable curl
French press
Bent-over side lateral
Rear delt rows