Training Tips for Running Your First 50k Ultramarathon

My 50k ultra, the Ice Age Trail 50, took place on May 11, 2019. I started preparing for it in December of 2018 by reading Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning: Training for an Ultramarathon, from 50K to 100 Miles and Beyond.

IceAge-2019-2263.jpgI had run my first marathon in October and felt like an ultramarathon was logically the next step. Koerner’s book provided valuable insights and a training plan that I intended to follow just as I had dedicatedly followed the Hansons Marathon Method training in preparation for my marathon. However, I was also hoping to PR two of three half marathons I ran during February and April prior to the ultra, so ended up just training specifically for the halves using Hansons Half-marathon Method. This 6 day a week run training included speedwork, easy running, long runs and tempo runs. I was expecting to be underprepared when race day finally came since my longest run since the marathon had been 13.1 miles, but everything actually went really well!

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Training

In addition to training runs, I did strength work, put in time for near daily stretching and rolling and tested some fuels, hydration and gear. I also made a lot of new running friends.

I wasn’t looking to bulk up, I just used strength training in hopes of avoiding injury. Each day I alternated between 50 sit-ups and 30 push-ups. When I began marathon training, my arms would sometimes get tired, but adding push-ups every other day completely took care of that. On push-up days, I also incorporated hip strengthening work. These consist of three sets of 10 reps on each side, so 60 reps total that take about 3 minutes. Do each of the following three exercises 10 times on each side. From your hands and knees, lift your knee straight out to the side like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant. Then, from hands and knees, lift the knee forward and make a giant clockwise circle. Then do those circles counter-clockwise on each side. These helped prevent pain in my hips and IT band from overuse.

My stretching and rolling recovery routine takes 20 minutes.  I’ve combined common stretches that target my running related areas, foam rolling, stick rolling on major leg muscles and ball rolling on my feet. Target areas include calves, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, glutes, IT band/piriformis, insteps, and back. I hold stretches and roll each area for 35 seconds.

With fuels beside whole foods, I’ve learned to combine many different types including hydration mix-ins, gels, chews, salt tabs, and recovery bars to serve my needs. I’ve found the following products especially helpful:

Finding the right trail shoes was challenging for me, but after testing various models I settled on the Inov-8 Terraultra G 260, the best fit for my foot. Make sure you are able to test your shoes on trail before you decide whether you want to keep them or not. Check return policies at your local running store, and if they are too strict, maybe try an online seller like Running Warehouse that will allow returns on shoes after you’ve had time to try them.

When you have to run for several hours at a time, hydration is something key to figure out. Beside figuring out that I wanted hydration mix-in to fuel me pre-run and keep me energized longer, I needed a way to take water with me. Some runners like handheld bottles or waist belts with bottles that are quick to refill and don’t trap extra heat on them like a hydration vest can. These didn’t work for me in testing, so I found a vest that did. With many options out there, it’s important to find one that is a good fit and you’re comfortable with. I lucked out with the Ultimate Direction Race Vesta 4. Having the front bottles hold a liter of water and be easy to drink from while running meant I could skip the large back bladder and hose for the minimal running I was doing. It also allows me the option if I decide to train more remotely in the future. Some people don’t like the sloshing sounds that can come from hydration vests, but with these bottles I was able to run almost silently.

Picking up a running buddy, or six, was also incredibly helpful to my training. There will definitely be days when you don’t feel like getting out to run. Having a friend to chat with or just quietly brave the bad weather together will be a huge benefit. Training in the northern midwest in winter meant we were out running in 7 degrees Fahrenheit. If you can’t find someone to run with in your neighborhood or through a group run at your local running store, check out Instagram. While this may sound far fetched to some, I was able to pick up some awesome run buds there who were not specifically runners within my normal circles, but people training for an Ironman who were more than glad to have the company on run day. Switching up buddies can help vary paces, conversations, types of runs, and run locations, all of which will serve your training well.

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Using a race as part of your training can be super helpful. I used the Free State Trail Half Marathon in April to test out my trail shoes, my hydration vest, my clothes, my combined real food and crazy running fuel routine and just running a race on terrain similar to the big race. I found out I needed to make a few changes and learn how to deal with a few issues. Make sure you are equipped to handle hot spots and blisters on your feet, any chafing from clothing or gear, and how to quickly access everything in your drop bag. The drop bag part I didn’t get to mess up until ultra day.

Prepping for Race Day

Use the week prior to your big race to get all your ducks in a row. Read through the race rules, they probably aren’t very long and will give you helpful information. If you find out you have questions, you’ll have time to work out where to get the answers before race morning. Talking to people who have run the race in previous years can be very helpful in reducing race day jitters. I was super lucky to have a friend who sent me photos from the course and explained the terrain so I knew what I would be running despite having never been there before. Obviously, training on course or the terrain you can find that will be most similar to your race course will be most beneficial.

  • Be familiar with the course, terrain, elevation changes and aid station locations
  • Prepare what needs to be in your drop bag(s) and where on course you need them
  • Make sure to have all the fuels and hydration supplies you need ahead of time
  • Have warm clothes available for yourself at the finish line
  • Know who and where your supporter crew will be, they make a huge difference
  • Sleep, eat and hydrate all week. Try to minimize stressors.

Race Day!

Hopefully you will feel prepared and excited going into your first ultra. Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude. The Ultra community is incredibly supportive and your shared passion with the strangers around you will turn you into comrades, if not friends.

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Race recap to come in the next post!

Huge thanks to Mile 90 Photography for providing all of these awesome images.

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Book Review | Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

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Three generations of Lee women occupy Oyeyemi’s latest novel. Perdita is a high school girl in London. Her single mother Harriet teaches classes at a night school to support them. Grandma Margot is a strong willed interior designer of sorts. Gingerbread focuses on a brief retelling of Harriet’s childhood. Growing up in a sort of fantasy land, she is “rescued” from her poor crop farming family and whisked away to the big city where she becomes a “Gingerbread Girl” in a tourist attraction. From there she again needs rescuing and is brought with her mother Margot to London by their benefactors.

This is the straight forward part of the story. Talking dolls, semi-imaginary friends, and powders that allow travel between the real/non-real world are some of the aspects of fantasy Oyeyemi employs. There are also family quarrels, mysterious characters and a few loose ends. The text is well written, and the plot can be followed, but it may leave the reader wondering what the point really was. Probably best to judge for yourself, check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Kids These Days : Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcom Harris

kids these days book cover.jpgHarris has written a well researched piece about the woes of the economical and political environments in which millennials exist. The book gives an explanation for how and why millennials have turned out the way they have. Harris provides sound, well-backed arguments in a thought-provoking text. There are many footnotes and an extensive notes section at the end with source details. This said, a reader must be open to hearing new ideas and appreciate a non-fiction, research piece in order for this book to be a worth-while read.

The subtitle of Kids These Days was changed at some point from “The Making of Millennials” to “Human Capital and the Making of Millennials”. The description also changed slightly to emphasize the socio-economic focus of the text. Without this information originally, this book was not what I had been expecting, but I was able to appreciate it for what it was. There are similarities in reading this book for leisure and reading a research paper in grad school. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Book Review | Family Trust by Kathy Wang

family trust book cover.jpgPerhaps rather than Family Trust this novel should be called Family Drama. Wang’s book centers on the Huang family in the Bay Area. Patriarch Stanley has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and his time is drawing near. His two children, Fred and Kate, from his first wife Linda are very interested in finding out about their inheritance as they have their own problems with which to deal. Mary, Stanley’s second wife and caretaker, has been told that she’ll be well taken care of. As chapters alternate focus among these central characters, their issues are revealed in detail.

This story could have been told in possibly half as many pages. There are many superfluous details included and few of the characters’ sub-plots are of much interest. This type of book may be appropriate for fans of soap operas who appreciate melodrama and self-absorbed characters. Maybe it would be a good book for women to read at the beach if they are trying to pass lots of time… You can see if it’s available from a library near you!

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Book Review | The Address by Fiona Davis

address book cover.jpgWith the opening of The Dakota building next to Central Park in the 1880’s, Sara Smythe is brought over from England to work as the manageress by architect and resident Theo Camden. Their relationship blossoms and despite his family, she finds herself pregnant. In the alternating chapters, Camden’s heirs of the 1980’s are still involved in The Dakota and preparing for trust money to arrive. Bailey is an interior designer fresh out of rehab for alcoholism, seeking to establish her clouded family tree background. Sara and Bailey’s tales intertwine and unwind with unexpected consequences.

For fans of historical fiction looking for an involved piece with twists and turns, The Address will be a winner. Chapters vary in length and combined with clear writing make the book easy to pick up and put down. References to the time period are frequent enough to educate readers who are unfamiliar with the 1880’s. This book may hold particular appeal for those interested in reading about affairs or lifestyles of different classes in New York City during the 1880’s. Check it out from a library near you!

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading The Address, you may be interested in The Good Guy by Susan Beale (2017).

Book Review | The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

italian teacher book cover.jpgBeginning in the 1950’s in Rome, Italy when protagonist Pinch is just a boy, The Italian Teacher follows his life growing up and through adulthood. His father, Bear Bavinsky, an American painter has taken his third wife in Pinch’s mother Natalie and won’t be staying too long before moving on to begin his next family in New York. Pinch, as everyone, is exceedingly charmed by his father and wishes nothing more than to the be the apple of his eye. After Pinch tries his hand at painting and is discouraged by his father, he heads to study in Toronto where he meets his first girlfriend. They visit his father in the south of France. The story traces Bear’s aging through Pinch’s eyes while sharing Pinch’s own journey.

Rachman’s novel is a bit of a ramble that cannot easily be summarized in a few sentences. Pinch is not a very likable character, but his life journey is described in a believable manner. The book is art fiction in that it deals with an artist and touches on parts of the artistic process, incorporates galleries and exhibitions, and includes art criticism. Though art is a main pillar of the book, it is also has a strong focus on the theme of a broken family and consequences that may result. Check it out from a library near you!

*Fans of The Italian Teacher, may enjoy The Woman on the Stairs by Bernhard Schlink (2017).

Book Review | After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel

after the winter cover.jpgAlternating focus between a male and female protagonist, After the Winter is a story of the human conditions of obsession, love and loneliness. The Cuban man lives alone in New York City with his OCD and gets together once a week with an older girlfriend. The Mexican post grad lives in Paris and loves her apartment’s view of the cemetery as she falls for an ill Italian neighbor. Both the man’s and woman’s stories are compelling, forcing the reader to question if and how they will intersect.

Nettel’s writing style is immediately inviting. Though not overly simplistic, her sentences are clear, evoke imagery and create dynamic characters. The book flows smoothly while still being easy to pick up and put down with frequent chapter breaks. Recommended for introspective romantics or those who appreciate a well written, quick read. After reading this text, I would be interested in reading other works by Nettel. Check it out from a library near you!

*Fans of After the Winter holidays, may enjoy The Story of a Brief Marriage by Geir Gulliksen (2018).