They Only Thought You Were Crazy: Training for a 50K

29 09 2014

The 50K (31 miles) distance is the perfect transition for the marathoner into the wonderful world of ultramarathon distance runs.  In fact, there are even those of us who ran the 50K distance long before we ran our first marathon.  Some folks simply have more sense than others.  I’ll leave it to you all to discern who exactly has more sense.

Geographically speaking, Memphis is poised to give runners access to several wonderful events in the coming months.  Whether it’s the SwampStomper 50K in January, the Sylamore 50K in February, The Mississippi Trail 50K in March, or the Ouchita 50K in April; there is no shortage of opportunities to spend the day on some beautiful trails.

Training for a 50K trail run is quite similar to training for a marathon.  Slight modifications to the handling of long runs and lessened speed work volume mark the major differences in the training schedules.  Special considerations must be taken regarding the change in terrain (road vs. trail), greater specificity in hard workouts, and the amount of time spent on the trail.

Road vs. Trail – The five-mile difference between the marathon and the 50K is only made greater by the change in terrain.  The more technical or more difficult the trails, the greater that difference becomes.  Expect to spend more time on the trails than what the simple math of adding another 5 miles to your marathon time tells you.   I have heard it said as a general rule to expect a 50K to take 1.5 times your marathon time.  Again, the courses play an even more significant role than they do in the world of road marathons.  It is key to get off-road for your long runs and become accustomed to spending that time on your feet on the trails.  Shelby Forrest, Stanky Creek, Herb Parsons, and Shelby Farms all offer plenty of miles of trails to enjoy on your long efforts.

Specificity in Hard Workouts – While the 50K distance is not a speed-centric event for most of us, a good experience with the distance does require some specific harder workouts.  Training is training, there is no denying that whatever you do works to help accomplish a goal but there are two types of workouts that benefit the 50K runner most and those are tempo runs and hill workouts.

Tempo Runs – These are simply a steady effort over a specific time or distance that build both strength and speed.  Tempo runs are worked into the middle of a run providing an adequate warm up and cool down.  The pace should be somewhere between your 10K and ½ Marathon race efforts.  The duration of a tempo run is usually 20-45 minutes.  The duration of tempo runs increase as the training schedule progresses.

Hill Workouts – Memphis doesn’t exactly provide us with a plethora of hill training options so you may have to drive a bit or be creative (the treadmill) to make these workouts happen.  Hill workouts provide much needed strength and mental fortitude.  Like tempo runs, hill workouts can be integrated into a run to provide the needed warm up and cool down.  Find a hill that is 70-90 seconds long and run repeats of hard effort uphill and then jog back down to the bottom for recovery.  Repeat.  Hill workouts should consist of 6-10 repeats.

Long Runs – The long is without debate the single most important component of the 50K training program.  Long runs prepare you both mentally and physiologically for the task at hand.  Most of the time spent training will be spent on these runs.  Long runs also provide the opportunity to work through your gear choices, fueling options, and all the logistics that come with race day.   Back-to-back long runs are possibly the most effective strategy to prepare your body for race day.  A regular long run is followed the next day by a semi-long run on tired legs simulating the physical and mental stresses of covering 31 miles on trails.  The rhythm of these two runs will quickly become a part your weekly routine and the physical stresses of it easier to manage.

The key to success at any distance is to enjoy what you’re doing.  Training for a 50K is absolutely no different.  Hit the trails and simply enjoy some long days outside putting one foot in front of the other.  After all, that’s all there is to it, right?


Week Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun Total
1 Rest 6 4 6 Rest 13 6 35
2 Rest 6 5 6 3 15 7 42
3 Rest 5 6 5 Rest 18 7 42
4 Rest 6 4 5 Rest 14 6 35
5 Rest 5 6 5 Rest 16 8 40
6 Rest 5 8 4 3 20 5 45
7 Rest 6 6 5 3 14 6 40
8 Rest 6 8 6 Rest 22 8 50
9 Rest 4 7 6 Rest 18 10 45
10 Rest 4 8 6 Rest 14 8 40
11 Rest 6 8 6 Rest 20 10 50
12 Rest 4 8 3 Rest 13 6 34
13 Rest 6 6 5 Rest 24 5 46
14 Rest 4 6 5 Rest 14 6 35
15 Rest 4 5 3 Rest 12 6 30
16 Rest 4 3 Rest 2 50K 40


Notes on the training schedule:


Tempo Run – Remember to warm up and cool down for 5-10 minutes.


Hill Workout – Remember to warm up and cool down for 5-10 minutes.



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