How to train for your 50km race ?
Welcome to the Ultramarathon 50K plan for the Tuwaiq Trail Race 2023. This 12-week program is designed to benefit runners looking to move beyond the classic 42 kilometers and 195 meters marathon distance, specifically a 50K ultramarathon. Does the thought of running an “ultramarathon” race frighten you? Perhaps it should, because only well-trained athletes running a minimum of 40km per week should consider venturing into Ultra Territory. This training plan is not ideal and is slightly cut short, so if you are not currently running that high of a mileage, consider moving down to the 20K category race.
The key to the program is the long run on weekends, which builds up to a maximum of 42 kilometers. Consistency is most important. You can skip an occasional workout, or juggle the schedule depending on other commitments, but do not cheat on the long runs. Notice that although the weekly long runs get progressively longer, there are “stepback” weeks, where we reduce mileage to allow you to gather strength for the next push upward. Rest and recovery are important components of any training program.
Normally we recommend that runners do their long runs anywhere from 20 to 60 or more seconds per kilometer slower than their race pace. This is very important. The physiological benefits kick in around 90-120 minutes, no matter how fast you run. You’ll burn a few calories and trigger glycogen regenesis, teaching your muscles to conserve fuel. Running too fast defeats this purpose and may unnecessarily tear down your muscles, compromising not only your midweek workouts, but the following week’s long run. Save your fast running for the race itself. There are plenty of days during the rest of the week, when you can run race pace. So simply do your long runs at a comfortable pace, one that allows you to converse with your training partners, at least during the beginning of the run. Which brings up my next point.
Toward the end of the run, if you’re still feeling fresh, you may want to pick up the pace and finish somewhat faster. This will convert your long run into what I call a 3:1 Run. That means you run the first three-fourths of your long run (say the first 18 kilometers of a 24-kilometer run) at an easy pace, then do the final one-fourth (6 kilometers of a 24-kilometer) at a somewhat faster pace–though still not race pace. This 3:1 strategy is advised for only the most experienced runners, and I don’t recommend you do it more than once out of every three weekends. In other words: first weekend, easy run; second weekend, 3/1 run; third weekend, step back to a shorter distance. It’s better to run too slow during long runs, than too fast. The important point is that you cover the prescribed distance; how fast you cover it doesn’t matter.
Walking is a perfectly acceptable strategy even for ultramarathon runners, and it works during training runs too. While some coaches recommend walking 1 minute out of every 10, or walking 1 minute every mile, a good strategy is for runners to walk when they come to an aid station. This serves a double function: 1) you can drink more easily while walking as opposed to running, and 2) since many other runners slow or walk through aid stations, you’ll be less likely to block those behind. It’s a good idea to follow this strategy in training as well. (You may want to use a water belt if you don’t have easy access to water on your training course.) You will lose less time walking than you think. Walking gives your body a chance to rest, and you’ll be able to continue running more comfortably. It’s best to walk when you want to, not when your (fatigued) body forces you too.
What is meant by “race pace?” It’s a frequently asked question, so let me explain. Race pace is the pace you plan to run in the race you’re training for. If you were training for a 4:00 marathon, your average pace per kilometer would have been 5:41. A 5:00 ultramarathon 50K would have a similar race pace. So you would run that same pace when asked to run race pace (sometimes stated simply as “pace” on the training charts). If you were training for a 5K or 10K, “race pace” would be the pace you planned to run in those races.
Training during the week also should be done mostly at a comparatively easy pace. As the weekend mileage builds, the weekday mileage also builds. Midweek workouts on Tuesdays build from 8 to 16 kilometers. There are similar slight advances on Mondays and Wednesdays. The program is built on the concept that you do more toward the end than at the start.
Rest and recovery are important components of this or any training program. Scientists will tell you that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also state that you can’t run hard unless you are well rested. And it is hard running (such as the long runs) that allows you to improve. If you’re constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential. This is why Sundays and Thursdays are designated as days of rest for ultramarathon runners. It allows you to gather forces for hard running on Fridays and Saturdays. If you need to take more rest days–because of a cold or a late night at the office or a sick child–do so. The secret to success in any training program is consistency, so as long as you are consistent with your training during the full 12 weeks of the program, you can afford–and may benefit from–extra rest.
Modifying the program
This training program is not carved in concrete, and you can make appropriate changes based on your experience, or to suit your convenience. One frequent request made by runners is to modify the order of the weekend runs, particularly those who want to run long on Fridays instead of Saturday because that’s when their friends or community clubs do their long runs. Running with friends is certainly more fun than running alone, but the pace runs are placed on Fridays ahead of the long runs on Saturdays for a purpose. The main reason is for you to learn to pace your self in the long run so that you have enough left in the tank to run a tougher effort the next day. Some runners ask if they can split these two workouts, for example, running long on Thursday and pace on Saturday. They can, but it defeats somewhat the purpose of two “hard” workouts back to back on Fridays and Saturdays. Most runners have more time for their training on the weekends. So modify the program if you want, but if you make too many modifications, you’re not following the program.