Special thanks to Cory Hall for providing this guest post! — Jeff
Signing up for your first 50K can be both exciting and intimidating at the same time. I was an avid trail runner for several years before finally getting up the courage to try a 50K. Actually, truth be told, my decision to run my first 50K was less about courage and more about my wife saying to me “I signed us up for the Rock/Creek Stumpjump 50k today.”
I was somewhat nervous, but mostly relieved that a decision had been made for me, and I could no longer make excuses as to why I was not adding 50Ks to my list of outdoor pursuits. Luckily, I had a very enjoyable “rookie” season and would like to offer insights into some of the mistakes that I either witnessed or personally experienced along the way.
Mistakes to avoid:
- Trying to do too much on your long-mileage training runs. When asked about how much mileage is best for your longest training runs, a veteran ultra runner simply told me: “Don’t do more than 20 miles on any given training run.” I think people get nervous about trying to tackle so much mileage on event day and sort of panic 3 or 4 weeks out.
I recently ran into a group of three or four guys that all looked liked death out on the trail. They were staggering through the last six miles of a 26 mile training day leading up to the Stumpjump 50K. They were out of food and water. We luckily had stashed some water at a road crossing, and they graciously accepted our offer to refill their bottles.
One of them confessed that this was the longest run any of them had ever done. Ultimately, trying to tackle such a taxing training day can be difficult and timely to recover from. Unfortunately, this can be more detrimental to your training than helpful. Keeping your big mileage training days from 15 to 20 miles is easier to recover from and makes for a less intimidating and more attainable plan! If you feel good after doing 15 to 18 miles, try linking up another 10 to 12 mile run the next day!
- Feeling like you don’t have what it takes to run a 50K if you feel really bad on one of your big mileage training days. When you have a bad day it can have a negative impact on your morale leading up to the event. The good news is that EVERYONE has a bad training day leading up to the race. It is mostly due to the fact that you have been working your tail off to get ready, and your body is adjusting and becoming more efficient with your new workload requirements.
When you are having a bad training day, it is mostly better to use it as a positive experience that you were able to push through than spending a lot of wasted time beating yourself up about it mentally. Remind yourself that everyone has a bad training day, and focus on the core reason that you signed up for your event which is simply to spend time exercising and exploring the beautiful places that trails lead to! Also, remember to eat and drink every 30-45 minutes on all training runs even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty.
- Not getting out and learning the course before race day. This is, understandably, not possible if you are traveling from out of town, but locals or semi-locals should make every effort to get out and train on the actual race course beforehand. Most trail running races have tricky spots to follow no matter how well they are marked. Adding this to the fact that your thinking process will continuously be getting fatigued throughout an ultra race can quite possibly lead to some off-course and extra-mileage running.
It is ultimately your responsibility to make sure you can navigate a course come race day, and most trail race websites have really good and detailed course maps and descriptions to study. This can also be very helpful in planning how, when, and where you are going to be taking in food and water during the race. Besides, I think that most trail runners learn that signing up for a 50K is less about racing and more about having a good excuse to explore a new and most often spectacular area!
Are you considering running the Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k as your first 50k, too? Check out this great article by R/C Race Team member Matt sims: Make the Rock/Creek Stumpjump your first 50k.