Hola, ShokzSquad! Greetings from Albuquerque. Have you ever looked outside on a nice day and thought to yourself, “Gee, I’d really like to fork over an absurd amount of money to go run through the mountains for 31 miles? Starting at 6 AM?” No? Just me? I know several ShokzSquad members are also Ultra-Runners, but I am here to share with you why I love the distance of the 50K, how I train for it, and why it is absolutely a life experience you should consider if you love trail running.
The race I am doing is the Cedro Peak 50K, which takes place in the Sandia Mountains just East of Albuquerque. I’ve done this race once before and it was a great introduction to Ultra Running because it is such a flat course. Unlike most Ultras that take you up steep gradients, insane elevation climbs, and areas of technical footing, Cedro is very runnable. It is also very well-supported.
What do some of these words mean? An “ultra” is any distance beyond the standard marathon distance of 26.2. “Well-supported” means that it has well laid-out directions for the course (31 miles is a long course!) and well-stocked aid stations. What do I mean by “runnable”? Most Ultra courses are so intense that there are periods where it is very difficult to run, let alone keep putting one foot in front of the other. Cedro is wonderful fun because you really can run the majority of the 31 miles. So- how do I train for this race?
I am going to break this up into three digestible sections for those of you that are enticed but also daunted. I honestly believe that, if given the right racecourse, any runner could successfully finish a 50K. It just takes some adjusted training. It’s currently wet, cold weather in Albuquerque and my training is ramping up for this race, which is really the first one of the year for me on April 18th. So! Let’s get to it. Here are my three areas of focus for how I train to run a 50K.
Duh. You actually have to run. A lot. I know that might sound silly, but you’ve got to start far enough ahead of time to get your body used to hammering out considerable miles without hurting yourself. I abide by the 10% rule, which is that you shouldn’t increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% or else you risk getting a running injury. I also believe that getting in lots of quality ‘base miles’ – miles at a slow, maintainable pace- is key. Just get used to running for hours at a time. Find new trails, new podcasts, find whatever will help you feel motivated to get out there and get running up to at least 35 miles a week.
This might sound silly, but one of the best runners I know has always assured me that as long as my weekly mileage is up to the distance of the race, I can definitely finish. And to be clear, the goal here for me, while I do want to beat my 50K PR, is really to have fun and finish. This is not advice for super speedy 50K racing. This is about feeling strong and comfortable and enjoying this amazing feat. I will say that doing some speedwork is both important for your fitness and also important to your mental fortitude while racing. Don’t make every run a long slog. Take some time to do some fast miles. This will come in handy when you have a nice downhill or a fun turn during your race where you can really launch yourself forward. The point is to put in your time with both long, slow miles and doing some fun speed work. Build up your endurance. Prep yourself for that long day. This should go without saying, but take your rest days seriously, too.
When you run 31 miles in one morning, you absolutely need to be intaking calories on a consistent schedule in order to feel good and perform. But you cannot and should not wait until race day to figure out what that looks like. Since you’ll be doing longer runs, use that time to figure out what kind of pack or handheld you want to use, and start practicing with your nutrition intake. Every runner is different, so I will tell you how I prefer to get my calories during a 50K. First of all, I wear a hydration vest with bottles and, depending on the race, a bladder as well. I don’t like having anything in my hands during ultras because I tend to fall… a lot. So I need my hands free to catch myself! In that pack, I bring Bloks, Stinger Waffles, and sodium tablets to put in my water just in case I start to cramp and am too far from an aid station. I follow a general rule that I need at LEAST 100-200 calories per hour so depending on my stomach, I make sure to eat bloks or a waffle every 30 to 40 minutes.
Do not wait until you feel like death or are exhausted to intake food. Then it is too late. Figuring out a nutrition schedule prevents you from running out of fuel. That is why it is so important to practice it in full on your longer runs. Experiment with gels, waffles, goo, blocks, bars, and whatever else. Find a few things you like to have with you and get used to eating them while you run. I find that I like having a variety. Running six to eight hours on only bloks can get gross and boring.
*HERE IS ANCIENT RUNNER WISDOM: At aid stations, drink the coke and/or pickle juice! Coke is a miracle cure for cramping. When you’re running for six to eight hours or longer, you’re going to cramp. Avoid it and help it by getting the right hydration and food. Coke and a Snickers will cure anything. Also, don’t overdo it at aid stations. We are fortunate that here in New Mexico, our trail running community provides exquisite arrays of chips, cookies, homemade treats, sandwiches, and just about anything you can imagine at aid stations. It is not wise to gorge oneself. Stick to what you’ve practiced!
This part is probably the most difficult to confront, as it certainly was the most daunting to me. Thinking about what running a 50K is going to be like is difficult and scary. I am fortunate to have a strong, encouraging community of ultra-runners in New Mexico to rely on for help in all these areas of preparation. Perhaps the most helpful thing anyone has ever said to me was advice from my friend Adrienne before my first 50K. She told me to just think of it as a long, fun day running in the woods with my friends. And that’s what it always has been!
Preparing myself as best I can with running and nutrition is just as important as mentally preparing myself for a long day and many hours of running, of being able-bodied and lucky enough to do so, through the beautiful mountain scenery.
Those are my three main areas of prep that I would encourage any runner to dutifully attend to when preparing for an ultra. An important fourth area would be gear. Make sure your running shoes are fit for hours on the trail. Check the terrain and course map long before the actual race day. You don’t want to be surprised by talus fields or boulder climbs in shoes not meant for rocks. I wear my Aftershokz on every ultra, since my very first one! Their battery life keeps me entertained on stretches where my friends and I aren’t able to chat. Wear sunscreen, always refill your water at aid stations, use bear bells if necessary, don’t forget the body glide (never chafe!) and most importantly, have FUN!
I will never forget the end of my first 50K, which was the same Cedro Peak Ultra race that I will be doing this April, when all of my friends waited for me at the 30-mile tequila aid station. It was so incredible to know I had run all that way. I took a shot of tequila and crossed the finish line with one of my dogs. It was the happiest day, but it took a lot of prep. You can absolutely do it and it is so worth it. I promise!
See you on the trails!
Want more? Follow Lauren on her running journey on Instagram.