Tag Archives: 50K

The Long and the Short of Running

A couple Januarys ago I had breakfast with my running coach, going over my planned race schedule. It would follow a pattern I’d established, of a target race in late May or June (100-miler or more), with shorter ultras in the spring to leapfrog up to it. So we mapped out a 50K and a couple of 50-milers. “Now we can plug in your shorter races,” he said.

And by shorter races, we were including marathons.

Even at the time we laughed about it, imagining what a standard recreational runner (or any non-runner) would be thinking if they’d overheard us. But that’s how I think of it. There are ultras and there are non-ultras; there’s a clear line. By definition, a marathon is not an ultramarathon. (Unless you get lost. I once asked a race director if I could get credit for an “ultra-half” for running 14 miles on a 13.1 course.)

This attitude has some funny characteristics. For example, every April there’s a trail marathon in my area. (Present-year disclaimer, etc.) Anyway, I work it as part of my zero waste events gig. And before I get down and dirty with that, I run the marathon.

Thing is, there’s also a 50K option, which means you run an extra five-mile loop following your 26.2. And for me, those five miles mean the difference between a fun “short race” and an “ultra” which on those trails is, well, hard. As in automatic bonk afterward, while I can finish the marathon and get right to sorting Gu wrappers out of the water bottle bins.

Me (far right) after a measly ol’ marathon.

And after those five extra miles on the trail.

Why? Who knows? It has to be mainly mental, although you’d think someone who’s run multiple 100s wouldn’t feel that little extra. Heck, I even pitch 50Ks to skeptical folks as “just a marathon with a five-mile cooldown.” But there we are.

I’m sure none of this makes any sense to runners who’ve never run this kind of distance. This morning my run group included someone training for her first marathon. Like most folks in her situation, she did a half first, and was now trying to wrap her head around getting from 13.1 miles to double that distance. It ain’t easy. I was there once.

The good news is once you’ve done it, the second is easier. The bad news is, you just might talk yourself into an ultra. Then you’re really screwed. Trust me. I’m there now.

At least I would be, but my local fall ultras were cancelled, and I still don’t trust airplanes yet. So I’ll have to content myself with shorter races until things improve. Maybe I can find a marathon around somewhere.

Mt. Hood? Nope! Neighborhood. The Adventures of a Stay-At-Home Runner

THE BAD NEWS I SUSPECTED WAS COMING arrived a few days ago. The Mt. Hood 50, the other UTMB qualifying race I’d signed up for, has been cancelled.

It’s a July race, so I was holding out hope. But Oregon has extended its group restrictions through September, so that was that. It’s not such a bad thing, though. It meant either driving across the country and back, or risking a plane flight, something my wife was definitely NOT in favor of.

So I’m now officially committed to no races at all. I’m a stay-at-home runner for the foreseeable future, and my tales of adventure will be confined to my house and my neighborhood.

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of adventures could a stay-at-home runner possibly have? Well, here we go.

Virtually as Good

The running event companies may not be doing actual races, but virtual races are going strong. For a lot of people they are better than nothing, and they like the “bling” that comes with them. I don’t need more T-shirts or medals, but if that’s what gets you out and moving, by all means go for it.

Confession time: I did one virtual race, and because of the medal. But only because it struck right at my heart. I’ve played D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) for over forty years, and this virtual 20K came with a medal shaped like the 20-sided die (the icosahedron, for you geometry geeks) which the game is famous for.

BTW, I’m still playing D&D through all this, with my regular gaming group, via the “roll20” video app instead of meeting in person. It’s nearly as good, and has saved me countless calories from binge eating at someone’s house. Something about group D&D begs for continuous eating. Less of a problem at home.

Going Streaking

RF Events, a racing company that would be going all out normally right now, is offering monthly challenges instead. May’s challenge, dubbed “50K in May” is to run at least one mile every day of the month. At the end, you’ll have at least 31 miles, which, as all trail runners know, is a 50K. Not a bad plan, and they could use the income, so I signed up. It’s a “pay what you want” challenge, with swag you could buy if you wanted to.

Some of us (ahem) far prefer to do the entire distance at once. And nothing says I can’t go out there and do a 50K run for fun. But the “run every day” part is enough of a challenge. I have never done a running streak of any meaningful kind, and I take total rest days pretty seriously. Since I decided to take on the challenge, I need to define “rest” at least for this month.

So far, so good. I’m averaging about 5-6 miles per day, with a Saturday long run as usual, and “rest days” of two miles or so. Most of it is slow and easy, but I’ve included some tempo work and hill work, too. My legs are feeling the cumulative fatigue, but that also keeps me from training too hard right now.

For those of you who don’t think this is quite enough of a challenge, I’m following a blog of someone (longruntom) who’s running 1K per number of the day. That was 1K on May 1, 2K on May 2, and so on, up to 31K on May 31. The daily distance is getting interesting for him now. Have a look at his progress (May 17), if you dare.

Ticked Off

My run club leaders continue to put out a weekly email, with suggested routes (solo) and encouragement to keep running. In a recent email, they warned us about how bad the ticks are around here, and to check carefully after a run.

I’ve seen some in our yard from time to time, but have never worried about them. Until today. I’d done some weeding in our garden beds, in blue jeans, and when I took them off a little bit ago, I found one happily attached to my calf. That was after this morning, when I removed one from my hair. How it got there is anyone’s guess. My cats profess total innocence, and perhaps I brought it in myself.

Both of them got the alcohol bath treatment, as recommended by websites everywhere.

The only good tick. . .

These little forkers are Hard. To. Kill. I even slammed a book on one (on our table) last night, and it still kept crawling along. And they can go months without food, so don’t try to starve them out, either. Alcohol or high heat is about the only thing that does the trick. So put your pillows in the dryer if you’re worried about it.

A Novel Approach

And, finally, (for now), I have been hard at work on a novel. That’s the good news. The bad news is that what takes place in it would be impossible under current circumstances. Hopefully by the time I finish it, life will have returned to a semblance of normalcy. Either that, or I’ll have to set it in 2015, or 2050.

I am now releasing the first two chapters to a select few intimates for review and feedback. Perhaps sometime soon I will expand my review audience. If you are interested in such things, drop me a private email – jeff (at) runbikethrow (dot) net, and I will keep you posted. Only if you really want to. In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog, and please stay safe out there.

The Double Dog Dare

OH, WHAT HAVE I DONE NOW.

It’s a new year, and with that comes the feeling yet again that all things are possible. And in that blithe, careless frame of mind, I signed up for my first ultra of 2020.

Make that two ultras, actually.

On the same day.

I have no excuse for this. I did it of my own free will, being of sound mind(?). I wasn’t even hungover.

A bit of history: back in March 2018, I ran a 12-hour race called the Dogwood. It’s a 3.47-mile trail loop with rolling hills. It’s a pretty course, but running it over and over tests one mentally as much as physically. It reminded me of a short roller coaster loop I was subjected to as a kid at a local carnival, the difference being I could stop when I wanted instead of at the whim of a sadistic clown holding the power lever.

I managed 16 loops in those twelve hours, and in an unexpected surprise, came in third! (My prize was a bottle of beer, which I accepted once I recovered from my bonk.)

The “podium group” of 2018. I’m in the center, being held up by the 1st and 2nd place finishers. (I’d recovered enough to stand, but not much more.)

I don’t often repeat ultras (I like variety and have only so much time and money) so I wasn’t planning a return anytime soon. But the Dogwood has changed. First, a 24-hour option was added. Makes perfect sense; just add more loops, and a psychiatrist to the medical staff. But the following feature was what grabbed my attention:

Interested in a different challenge this year?  How about running two 50k’s in the same day?  At different locations.  We have teamed up with our friends at Single Track Maniac to offer the Virginia Tour Challenge.  The concept is simple.  Start your day in beautiful, scenic Williamsburg Va.  Run Single Track Maniac 50k.  Get in the car.  Drive to Twin Lakes State Park.  Run a 50k here.  Participants will receive a special award.

That’s right. Two races in one day, totaling 100K in all.

As I made 2020 race plans it kept poking its head up. And the more I thought about it, the more intriguing it became – a You know you wanna… kind of thing. So I finally bowed to the inevitable and signed up.

I see the challenge as not so much the distance, though it sure isn’t trivial. Rather, it’s how I’ll handle the time between the two races. It’s a two-hour drive from Williamsburg to the Dogwood, which gives my fatigued muscles lots of time to tighten up and remind me how sore they are. It helps that I know the Dogwood loop very well, so I know what’s in store. Getting started will be the biggest hurdle.

But the registrations are paid and the airline ticket is booked, so I suppose I’m committed. (Or ought to be.)

Assuming I survive race day I can also look forward to spending some time with my daughter Tori afterward, who lives in Richmond with her wife and two charming pooches. She ran a loop of the Dogwood with me last time, and says she looks forward to doing it again!

Tori and I enjoy my 3rd place prize. Best pacer ever!

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P.S. I just thought of another good reason to run this event. It will be great practice for when I do a 200-mile race. Since I’ll most likely need to take at least one extended break during it (you know, sleep and all that) this race will be excellent training. Man, this is just making more sense all the time!

Oh, excuse me, gotta go. There’s some guy in a white suit outside my front door carrying a giant butterfly net. Wonder what he wants…

Cardiac Kid

Last month’s North Country Trail 50K was a reversal in my usual race routine: I ran an ultra as a fun break in my regular training.

This year I’m working on getting faster, and frankly it’s been a struggle after three years of training to “go long” so I looked forward to this 50K as a diverting return to familiar territory. No pressure to put the hammer down; quite the opposite, in fact.

Rarin’ to go at 6:30 a.m.

For this was the first race I ran entirely by heart rate instead of pace.

Why? To see how I would perform by staying “aerobic” which means maintaining a pace where the body is receiving enough oxygen to keep the muscles fueled. At a certain level of effort you go “anaerobic” where the body is using up oxygen faster than it comes in. This condition is standard for sprinters, but bad for distance runners if it happens too soon.

The key number to know is your Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate (MAHR). Go above that, and you’re running on borrowed time. It can be precisely determined in a medical lab, but there are ways to estimate it based on general assumptions on age and fitness level.

Physical age, that is, not emotional maturity. (Well, THE SIGN SAYS “Howling”!

Using the popular “Maffetone method” I estimated my MAHR to be around 130 beats per minute (BPM). I decided I could go slightly over that for a 50K and set my target average heart rate for 135 BPM, slowing down if it hit 140 or more. After twenty miles I felt strong enough to step it up, so I ran the final 11 miles at a target BPM of 145.

The result was one of the smoothest 50K I have ever run. I felt good throughout, and by focusing on BPM I could ignore my competitive instincts when other runners passed me or I saw one up ahead. I’d hoped for a finish under six hours and somewhere in the top half of the field, but got a surprise: a time of 5:36 (near my best) and a top 10 finish, too!

And a finisher’s medal that would send a horse to the chiropractor!

One more smart move was staying hydrated, learning from my digestive issues at the Potawatomi Trail 50. As it was a cool day I drank “ahead of my thirst” to make sure I was getting enough, and had no problems.

Now in the spirit of balance, here’s something I screwed up.

The race was on a Sunday, and Monday is a Body Specs gym day. Naturally I gave myself the day off, right? Umm….not quite.

Okay, I’ll admit I was partly motivated by wanting to show off the humungous finisher’s medal. But I was also feeling good enough to go. A nice, light recovery workout would be great, right? And so it seemed to go, until my legs tightened up later, and for the next two days I had to press on my quads just to sit down. (At least it was good power hike training.)

So I suppose you could say my heart was in the right place, but the effort was in vein.