50k Ultra Marathon Training for a Meathead

I am far from an endurance athlete. I weigh around 205 lbs. at 5’11 on a good day. When training strength hard, I’ll get up to 215 lbs. My knees are in less than ideal shape after several ACL replacement surgeries. 

What in the hell would make me think that running a 50k ultra marathon race is a good idea?

1. Because I’m not good at it.

Running endurance has never been my strong suit when it came to athletics or competition. I was naturally inclined to sports that involve some variety of contact. Generally, those sports range from several seconds to a few minutes before getting some kind of rest period.

I learned to train endurance while on active duty in the Marine Corps, because I had to. Long rucks or patrols under load lasting several hours required that I train endurance. I hated it… and then I didn’t. 

Slowly but surely, I grew to enjoy distance running, especially when it was on a trail. For me, distance running was in the 6-7 mile zone… compared to serious runners, that distance is a recovery day. Regardless, getting out on a trail was something I looked forward to as the problems of the day melted away.

The hour mark was where I would hit a wall. I just didn’t enjoy it beyond that. I think you’ll find the line between the recreational endurance athlete and a serious one is training or competing in events longer than 1.5 hours. That’s where the mind starts to question the body.

2. Mental Toughness Test

The mind will play tricks on you as hit that ‘wall.’ Your body hurts and your brain starts to tell you that you can’t do it. You can’t go another mile. You can’t take another step.

It’s equally amazing when you can tell your brain to shut off. This skill varies. Some folks can push hard. Some will let that little voice creep back into your consciousness telling you to stop. I’m somewhere in between.

I firmly believe that the skill of shutting off the pain your brain is sending you is perishable. I’ve seen it in athletes who have pushed through to achieve incredible physical achievements, but they lose it somewhere along the way. I’ve witnessed it in myself, allowing the brain to punk me. 

Running a 50k race won’t feel good or be particularly enjoyable. It will test my own resolve as I train and hopefully achieve the objective.

How I’m Training
Endurance work, in general, has a negative effect on strength, and to a lesser degree, work capacity. I have no doubt that I will lose some strength, but I’m interested to see how much of that loss I can mitigate. 

I’ll train strength twice a week. One day with traditional barbell movements (Back Squat/Bench Press and Deadlift/Push Press, alternating weekly), and the second with bodyweight movements focused on Leg Blasters. 

The Leg Blasters have a heavy eccentric endurance demand, which is perfect for training for the downhill portion of the run.

Following strength, I’ll train work capacity by alternating between 300m shuttle runs and Sandbag Get Ups. Some movements, low equipment, and still kick my ass without ruining me for the day. 

I’ll run four times a week, with the focus of a progressively long Friday run working up to 18 miles. Each week’s total running volume will approximately equal the total distance of the race (50km, or 31 miles) 

The trick to this running progression is learning how to run slow… really slow. I generally train to keep my max 3-mile run time at 19-20:00 min., and my 5-mile at 35-37 min. Keeping that kind of pace is impossible for this race, especially in the mountains where this 50k race will take place.

My training runs now are at about 70% effort. I’m able to speak in full sentences while running. I initially wore a heart rate monitor to make sure I was in the correct zone, but found that the ‘talking’ test is just as accurate. 

One training run a week is conducted at a higher effort at 80% for a prescribed amount of time… 8-9 minutes. Then I’ll slow down for 4 minutes back to 70%. Repeat 3 times.

Here’s a snapshot of my training week. 

I’m in my third week of the training plan, and the race is August 5th. Surprisingly, I have no discomfort in my knees. My 70% running pace is usually 9-10min/mile, but that it is through the hills and mountains surrounding my house. 

I thought my run happy dog would be able to keep up with me on the longer runs, but his paws were getting smashed on some of the loose gravel trails that I’m running on. Too bad - it’s nice to have a training partner.

HOKA Challenger ATR running shoes - these things are ugly as hell, but it’s like running on clouds. I love these things and credit them for keeping my knees feeling good.
Trail Toes - Rub this stuff on thighs and feet. No chafing, no blisters. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

Audio books - I have an Audible account through Amazon that allows you to download 1-2 audio books a month. Great way to pass the time and keep your mind from wandering towards the discomfort. It’s not uncommon to run into wildlife, but the extent of that has been deer and elk. I take my headphones out when I get up high in wolf/bear/moose country. 

Camelbak - 2 liters of water is more than enough for me. I throw in a foldable pocket knife just in case.

No gels/snacks yet, although I’ll have to pick some up on runs that take me longer than two hours. 

That’s it. Trail running is beautifully inexpensive. I am very curious to see how my strength will be affected by the running volume. So far, no effect on my maintenance strength percentages, although I suspect that my maximal strength will take a hit. 

More to follow.