Should I do an ultra?

I'm looking for input from someone experienced in 50 milers.

I'm 47, and have been running for 4 years. I have a dream goal of running a 50 mile ultra by the time I turn 50. It doesn't seem possible right now, but then again a marathon seemed impossible a few years ago and now I've run 5.

I've looked at training plans, but not knowing anyone that has done one, I'd love to hear any advice.


  • MelisRunning
    MelisRunning Posts: 819 Member
    I am presently training for my first 50 miler and am having the time of my life! I will be 52 come race day, March 1, 2014.

    I began running on Labor Day 2011. I guess you could call me a late bloomer.

    I "borrowed" a training plan from a MFP friend of mine who did an Ultra last Spring. It is tough. It is, quite frankly, kicking my _____ but I am having a great time.

    You have more experience than I do running. I don't see any reason at all why you could not do this! Sign up. Have an awesome time training. Have a great race!!!
  • MinimalistShoeAddict
    MinimalistShoeAddict Posts: 1,946 Member
    5 marathons sounds like a great start to me!

    I ran my first marathon in October and would like to run my first 50 mile ultra this year. Like you I think 50 miles is a long way!

    Why not try a 50k trail race first (that is my plan)? It should give you more confidence and experience with trail running (I am assuming your marathons were road races and your 50 mile target race is on a trail).

    I will not be following any plan specifically, but I like this one as a reference point:

    If your goal is just to finish the ultra (that is my goal) instead of a specific time hopefully you will feel less pressure. Even the best ultra runners walk portions of races (up steep hills, etc.) Train hard and you will be able to reach your goal!
  • jturnerx
    jturnerx Posts: 325 Member
    Like you I think 50 miles is a long way!

    It is a long way.

    I'm doing my 7th 50 miler in a couple of weeks. I never know what to say to people when they ask for advice about doing ultras. So much of it is an experiment of one. Keep an open mind. Learn to problem solve on your feet. You could have your worst possible day and your best possible day in the same race. Repeatedly. You have to learn to keep your head together while your world is yo-yo'ing up and down like that. Hang in there until something changes, hopefully for the better.

    Train if you can on terrain that mimics that of your race. The road is still your friend. I like to use road marathons as up tempo runs. The race environment keeps me honest (I'd just never run that fast on my own otherwise) but it's not a full out effort in order to keep my recovery time to a minimum.

    Getting to the start line in one piece is half the battle.
  • davemunger
    davemunger Posts: 1,139 Member
    I am training for my first 50-miler on March 29. I have done 10 marathons and just felt like it was time for a different challenge. My plan is to take it super slow. I have a friend who has run over 100 ultras and his advice is to "start slowly, then ease off the pace." That is what I hope to emulate!
  • marikevr
    marikevr Posts: 389 Member
    I say go for it!!

    See if you can get a race-specific training programme. Depending on the terrain or route profile the training required will differ. (for example, strength training, hill training)

    Build up slowly, a person's best chance of finishing a 50 miler is to go in the race uninjured. We followed a three-week step-up, one week step back programme (for example, 60km, 64km, 68km, 60km.) This one week of cutting back helped me a lot in term of physical AND mental fatigue.

    Our training programme started 5 months before the race. Training started at a level where you could comfortably run 20km.

    As part of our training we did a lot of back-to-back half marathons over weekends. This was alternated with 30km long runs. A 30 km long run is long enough to teach your body endurance and using alternative sources of energy. However, it is not that long that it tires you as much as a marathon would.

    We tried to average 42km over a weekend. The idea is to get used to running on tired legs.

    Apart from the B2Bs and the 30km long runs we scheduled a marathon three months before, a 50km two months before and a 60km long run 4-6 weeks before the target race (this long run got cut down to 50km due to pouring rain, we were afraid of hypothermia after already running in the pouring rain and icy wind for 5.5 hours. Didn't want to get sick so close to target race). All races were treated as long runs, not races. We didn't taper for the marathons/ultras, the idea was to go in with tired legs.

    Practise nutrition strategies on these long runs. You have to know what works for you: gels/liquids/solid foods.

    Your last (slow!, no racing!!) long run should be 4-6 weeks before the target race after which you start tapering.

    Listen to your body, if you need rest, take it. I didn't feel physically tired, but I couldn't sleep and got very cranky. You will get to know your 'overtired' symptoms.

    Once you run the 50 miler: go in with a pace chart and stick to it. Start slowly, conserve energy from the start. Get a mantra, use it when the going gets tough. Because it will. But if you stick it out, it will also get better! And then the going will get tough again. And it will also get better again.

    Running such a long race is an amazing experience. When people ask me to describe my 50-miler I struggle to put it into words. WHY would you do that to yourself? Because it hurts. And the day is long. And it hurts. But I am already training for my next one...
  • tappae
    tappae Posts: 568 Member
    I think it's doable for you if you manage your expectations. I ran my first ultra (40 mile, trail) last year on less running than you've done (2.5 years of <2 miles/week, 1.5 years of 20-50 miles/week, and only one marathon).

    If your goal is just to finish, then it can be a positive (though quite painful) experience. I felt really good about what I had accomplished, even though I was one of the last finishers.

    I'm also thinking about going for my first 50-miler this year, and I appreciate all of the good advice on this thread! The main obstacle for me is finding the time for the weekend long runs. I've read a few plans that peak around 30 miles/5 hours. Is this really long enough? I was thinking 40 miles/8 hours would be better (but a lot harder to fit into my weekend).
  • sarahc001
    sarahc001 Posts: 477 Member
    I ran my first 50 miler 10 weeks after my first marathon, and had never run trails until 8 weeks before the first 50. There were a few things that made me believe I could do this. The first was volunteering at a 50 mile ultra. I was fortunate to be at miles 26 and 40 and saw the runners both at the marathon mark and with only 10 miles to go, and realizing that they didn't look that much different from me- in other words, they weren't crazy fit super humans. The second was Bryon Powell's "Relentless Forward Progress," which I highly recommend. In particular, there is a chapter by David Horton on running your first ultra. His expanded version is here: You'll read it and think "yeah, this is doable." Lastly (and I almost forgot this one) was a short run I did with Dean Karnazes at TEDMED when I was deciding between doing the 50k or 50 miles...he was asking questions and said that it sounded like I had made up my mind to do 50mi...and I had, I just didn't realize it. After the decision was made, I ran a self-supported 50k on trails just to make sure I was happy with distance and trails combined (but I had already registered at this point- it was more of a confidence boost than anything else.) I truly think that with your running experience you'll be fine. But definitely read the Horton piece and get Bryon's book- there are training plans for both 50 mile and 100 mile ultras. And take the time to volunteer at an ultra- in addition to seeing how people cope with the 50 mile distance, ultrarunners are a great group of people, and you will find that the aid station captain is typically a seasoned ultrarunner who has a ton of valuable knowledge. Plus, being on the other end will make you appreciate the volunteers when it's your turn. Good luck!

    ETA: @tappae, you don't need to do more than 30 for your longest run before your first 50. Sounds crazy, but it's true.
  • SillyC2
    SillyC2 Posts: 275 Member
    If you've done 5 marathons, then absolutely!

    The keys to going beyond marathon distance are not so much more "training", but skill and strategy. You can completely run a 50 miler on hardly more mileage than an "intermediate" training plan. You need to eat more, and know when to eat. You need to care for your feet early. If it means that you STOP at mile 6, when you absolutely do not feel like stopping, to change socks, that's what you do. Also, a lot of races only have aid about every six miles (as opposed to every mile or so at a road marathon), so you need to be able to care for yourself in the interim.
  • SillyC2
    SillyC2 Posts: 275 Member

    ETA: @tappae, you don't need to do more than 30 for your longest run before your first 50. Sounds crazy, but it's true.

    I second this. I just ran a 50 miler this weekend having not run anything longer than 24 in training, and I felt fantastic, really, right up until around mile 48. I like back-to-back long runs, though - I'll run 14 miles on Saturday and then 22 on Sunday.
  • dorianaldyn
    dorianaldyn Posts: 611 Member
    You sound just like I did when I posted on here wondering if I should run a marathon. I ended up doing three marathons in 2013 and I'm already registered for two in 2014. Hoping to do my first ultra this year too - but just a 50k, not a 50m.

    So, yes, you should register for the 50m and start training for it. I think you already know you're ready to take that leap.
  • KateRunsColorado
    KateRunsColorado Posts: 407 Member
    I second the suggestion to get the book "Relentless Forward Progress."

    I just ran my first marathon last week, and am now training for my first 50K on March 22nd, with the HOPE to do a 50 miler in September (but that will depend on how the 50K) goes. I just started reading Relentless Forward Progress, but it was recommended to me by several people.
  • denny_menter
    denny_menter Posts: 34 Member
    I second the suggestion to get the book "Relentless Forward Progress."

    I just ran my first marathon last week, and am now training for my first 50K on March 22nd, with the HOPE to do a 50 miler in September (but that will depend on how the 50K) goes. I just started reading Relentless Forward Progress, but it was recommended to me by several people.

    Thank you all for your great input. It makes me feel like it's another great accomplishment to add to the list of things I never thought I would do!

    I will get Relentless Forward Progress and give that a read.
  • SillyC2
    SillyC2 Posts: 275 Member
    Can you find a local trail running group? Maybe on Facebook? And get together with them for long runs?

    It's one thing to read it in Relentless Forward Progress, but you get a whole other level of understanding from going out there and watching people "do" it.
  • jturnerx
    jturnerx Posts: 325 Member
    One thing you might find helpful is to volunteer at an ultra. Education through osmosis. You'll see what gear people use and how they deal with any issues they are having. Other volunteers are likely quite experienced and you can pick their brains for information and insight. It's a lot of fun and inspiring to see people push their limits. It's great to see the front runners come through but what's even more awesome are the folks pushing a cut off and keep battling. I've marked courses, worked aid stations and comforted runners I've had to pull. I've felt more exhausted pulling an all day shift than if I'd run the race. lol