Running your first 50k race can be a stressful undertaking. Most people have never run for 8 hours straight and unlike most road races, ultras can take you deep into the woods making dropping out past a certain point impossible. To help ease your mind I’ve put together a quick guide on how to survive your first 50k. Let’s get started!
Key Takeaways for Surviving Your First 50k Race:
- Choose your race wisely, considering weather and elevation.
- Follow a 12-week training program with gradual mileage increases.
- Test and stick to your race fuel plan during training runs.
- Maintain enthusiasm during race week with a proper taper.
- Run your own race pace, prioritize fueling, and enjoy the experience.
A Quick Guide on How to Finish Your First 50k
Step 1. Picking Your Race
When it comes to ultra running, not all races are created equal. Unlike road races, the terrain, weather, and elevation change of an event has a huge effect on how challenging the course will be. The two main factors to take into account are time of year (weather) and elevation.
For a first time ultra I would recommend looking for a race in late spring or early fall to try and avoid weather that is too cold or hot. Late fall typically means more leaves on the ground (harder to see roots and rocks) and offers more chance for rain. Elevation wise, look for something with less than 4,000 ft of gain (8,000 ft total elevation change).
Step 2. Training for an Ultra Marathon
I could write a book on how to properly train for an ultra marathon and many people have. If you’re looking for for a good read I’d recommend “Nowhere Near First.”
If your looking for a condensed but still thorough training outline you should check out my article How to Train for Your First Ultra Marathon (coming soon). For those of you looking for the most straight to the point cliff note version of the above… here you go!
Quick 12 Week Program
Pick any three days of the weeks that you can keep consistent, ideally with one days rest between and complete:
Day 1: 3 Miles
Day 2: 5 Miles
Day 3: 8 Miles Trial Run
For following weeks add:
1 Mile per-week to your Day 3 Trail Run
2 Miles per 3 weeks for your Day 1 and Day 2
Your week 9 millage should look like:
Day 1: 9 Miles
Day 2: 11 Miles
Day 3: 18 Miles Trail Run
Week 10 starts your taper, reducing each week miles by 25% until the week of the race.
Step 3. Nutrition
Making sure you are fueled and properly hydrated during a race is key. The problem is that a lot of times you are not hungry while running and by the time you are, it’s too late to catch up. Test your race fuel on your training runs and never switch it up the day of the race. Eat every 45 minutes whether you are hungry or not and a tip is to start eating right after the start of the race. This will pace you and get you ahead of your fuel need.
Step 4. Race Week
I’ve read a lot of different takes on race week and different things work fro different people. The best advice I was ever given was, “you want to feel eager/excited to run.” This can be tough after 12 weeks of training but with the proper taper and race week you will feel like a horse in the starting gates at the Kentucky Derby.
I’m going to assume your race is on Saturday in this scenario. There is no long run the week before the race and all runs are at a slow 50k pace.
Sunday: 3-5 Miles Recover Pace
Monday: Rest Day
Tuesday: 3 Miles at 50k Pace
Wednesday: Rest Day
Thursday: Rest Day
Friday: 3 Miles Recover Pace/ Recovery Stretching & Nutrition
Step 5. The Race
This is where you have to trust your training but here are a last couple of tips. Run your own race. Don’t feel forced to keep up with anyone in the beginning. You can always speed up, but redlining too early can lead to a rough race day. Stay Fueled. I can’t stress that enough, eat and drink water. Walk the uphills. Keep a motivated walk going uphills and save your energy for running the flats and downhills. Enjoy the Race! Don’t get too caught up in train vision and enjoy the beauty around you. Race directors run events on some of the most amazing trails in the world.
Step 6. Drink a Beer and make some friends!
Surviving your first 50k race is an incredible accomplishment, and it’s a journey that will test your physical and mental endurance. Remember that the key to success lies in careful planning, training, and maintaining the right mindset.
By selecting the right race, preparing with a structured training program, and dialing in your nutrition strategy, you can significantly increase your chances of not only surviving but thriving during your first ultra marathon. Additionally, following a well-thought-out race week plan and executing your race strategy wisely will help you conquer the challenge.
As you cross that finish line and savor the sense of achievement, don’t forget to celebrate with a well-deserved beer and make new friends who share your passion for ultra running. Your first 50k is just the beginning of an exciting journey into the world of ultramarathons, and with dedication and perseverance, you’ll continue to push your limits and achieve even greater milestones in the future. So lace up your running shoes, embrace the adventure, and may your ultrarunning journey be filled with unforgettable experiences and personal growth.