Hal Higdon: Ultramarathon 50K: Is 26 miles 385 yards too short for you? Would you like to move upwards in distance and become an ultramarathoner? A runner of ultras? Here is a training program to get you ready to race 50 kilometers (31.1 miles) That is only a half dozen more miles than the classic 26.2,, but those half dozen miles can be a struggle if you do not train properly. That is true for any race distance—even a 5K—but it is particularly true for an ultra.
How difficult is it to run a 50K race? I address that question in a chapter on Ultras in my book, Hal Higdon’s How to Train, quoting George Parrott, a coach with the Buffalo Chips running club in Sacramento, California. “Fifty kilometers is simply a marathon with a warmup.” Okay, George. We believe you. Now, what kind of training will get us to the finish line of a 50-K race?
Here's the plan: The first 18 weeks of this 50K training program offer a mirror image of my Intermediate 2 marathon training program. A half marathon Week 9, three 20-milers at peak training, then a three-week taper to 26.2 miles in Week 18. You do not necessarily need to “race” in Weeks 9 and 18, but using a race as a training run allows you to utilize support on the course not always available for a training run. After a brief recovery, you continue to train for eight more weeks to your climactic 50K in the 26th week of this program.
The progressive mileage build-up leading to your 50-K follows a logical pattern: a mile or two more each week, particularly for the key long runs. But wait: There is a pattern different from most of my programs for races 5K to 26.2 miles. In preparing you to race 50K, I often use time rather than distance to define many of the longer-distance workouts. And most of the long runs are coupled on the weekends with semi-long runs, sometimes done at race pace. This is a trick I learned from experienced ultramarathoners such as George Parrott. You don't need to do megamileage. You simply need to be smart about the mileage you do run, particularly the Saturday and Sunday workouts. Thus in Week 30 of the program, just before the taper begins, expect to run 30 miles on Sunday following a 2-hour run on Saturday. I know: Wow! But if you want to run an ultra, you need to learn to train like an ultramarathoner.
All will be revealed in the daily emails I will send you if you sign up for this 50-K ultramarathon training program. You can run 50K: Believe me!
Run 3 miles at a comfortable pace. Over the next 26 weeks, you will add only 3 more miles to your Tuesday workouts. In Week 7, you'll do 4 miles. In week 11, you'll be up to 5 miles. And in Week 32, 6 miles. By that time, you'll be so used to doing much longer runs that a run of that distance will seem easy. It's all part of the progressive buildup of total mileage designed to get you ready to run 50 kilometers. Don't be tempted to push the pace. Undertraining is often better than overtraining.
Five miles, a couple of miles more than yesterday. As the countdown continues, your Wednesday mileage will increase gradually from 5 miles in Week 1 to 10 miles in Week 11. This is what I like to describe as a sorta-long run, done midweek at longer distances than usual, but not as long as the weekend long runs. Feel free to punch the acceleration button if you're feeling good, particularly toward the end of the workout.
Run the same workout that you did on Tuesday: 3 miles, comfortable pace. Follow the run by doing some stretching and strength training for about 15-30 minutes. This might be a good workout to do in a health club, since, if you choose, you can do your 3-miler on a treadmill before moving to the machines.
Five miles at marathon pace. You need to implant in your mind what it feels like to run the exact pace needed to meet your goal on race day. Pick a measured course where you can catch your time each mile. Measure the course yourself or run on a track if necessary. Or enter a 10-K road race with the intention of ignoring the competition and running 5 of its miles at what will seem like a slow (ultramarathon) pace.
In this 50-K schedule, the long runs are on Sundays. If necessary, you can flip-flop your workouts and run long on Saturdays, but it's usually easier to go from fast to long than the other way around. If your work schedule dictates, you can do your long runs on any day of the week. In general, however, I would rather see you do pace work Saturdays followed by the long run on Sundays. Run 10 miles today.
Today's workout is a run of 3 miles at a comfortable pace, the same as last week on Tuesday and the same distance you will do Thursday as well. This workout shouldn't take a great deal of your time: a half hour or less if you run at an 8:00-mile pace or faster. But forget I said that! I don't want you to go out and time yourself for 3 miles. In fact, your course doesn't need to be precisely 3.0 miles. It can be about that distance. The easiest way to pick a course of 3.0 miles would be to get in your car and figure out how far you need to run to go about half that distance (1.5 miles), either from your home, from your office or from wherever you plan to run on Tuesdays. Then run this 1.5-mile course out and back. Don't wear a watch, at least for the time being.
Five miles today. This is your hard day of the week. If you want to run a bit faster than yesterday toward the end, do so. Today's 5-miler is the same as last week's Wednesday workout, but next week you move up to 6 miles. As the program continues, the Wednesday mileage will increase 1 mile every second week until you reach a peak of 10 miles in Week 11. It's all part of my Grand Plan to get you in shape for the ultramarathon. And trust me: it will!