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what I can tell you about 50k training so far

what I can tell you about 50k training so far

November, heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!

Things have been movin’ around here, though my relative dearth of posting might indicate otherwise. By now, we’re just about five weeks out from the Woodside Ramble 50k on 12/14, my target race for the autumn (winter? It’s in December…), and while I haven’t nearly talked as much about my training for this race as I have for any of the previous marathons this year (Oakland, Newport, SF, Santa Rosa 3:35 pacing), things still have been full-throttle in these parts.

When I began training this cycle–one in which I can’t really pinpoint a beginning… after the Santa Rosa Marathon pacing gig? after San Francisco in late July? something around those parts–things were a little screwy. I knew that there were generic 50k plans out there because I had read and researched tons of them, but I didn’t find one that I was super keen on; though I haven’t yet done a 50k, for some reason, I was convinced that every sample plan I had come upon was grossly inadequate or wrong. For my first few weeks, I made all of my runs time-based: 50 minutes here, 120 minutes there, 100 minutes here, whatever. I quickly discovered that I really didn’t like training in this way, probably just because the mileage became too unpredictable, and the unpredictability threw off my long-term, week after week, month after month training schedule that I was patching together. To be sure, I can cover significantly more mileage in 120 minutes on roads than I can on trails, so I quickly scraped those plans, read Relentless Forward Progress, and based the remainder of my training on that book’s generic 50k plan.


Now, as we’re just a few weeks away from beginning to taper down for the 50k in Woodside, I thought delineating how this training (so far) has mirrored or differed from marathon training could make for an interesting discussion. Of course, your mileage may vary–quite literally–depending on how you train for marathons or 50ks, so don’t take my words as gospel. Besides, unlike many other runner bloggers on the interwebz, I won’t feign expertise. 🙂  Seriously, do what’s right for you, and tell me all about it because I’m really intrigued.


1. Mileage is my BFF…still. Ever since my Eugene ’13 training, when I began following a Pfitzinger 55/12 plan (and later bumped that to 70/12 for Chicago, NYC, and all of my subsequent 2014 marathons), I have very strongly believed in the benefits of fairly high mileage for me. Prior to 2013 (and really, prior to having my daughter in 2011), most of my long runs would top out at 20 (and I’d only post 1, maybe 2 20s per cycle) and my weekly volume wouldn’t go beyond 50.  Really, since early 2013, it has become standard fare for me to go longer (farther) more often and to somewhat habitually average at least 50/55 mpw and peak around 70-75. Going into 50k training, then, it’s really been much the same in terms of volume; the biggest difference has been back-to-back long runs (like doing 22 on Saturday and 12 on Sunday, 24-12, 18-10, 20-13, whatever, ensuring that one is on roads and the other, trails). RFP maintains that you can run a 50k on <55 mpw, and I’m sure some people do, but for me, I honestly think I run better when my volume is higher. Naturally, this depends on you as a runner, your history, your injury propensity, and all those extremely important variables–in other words, if you haven’t been running, please don’t go drop a 75 mile week and a substantial weekend double–but this seems to jibe with me. For 50k training, higher mileage coincides with acclimating your body to run  through fatigue (which is also a cornerstone of Pfitzinger’s philosophies with his training), so fortunately, my body already knows what this type of fatigue-based running feels like and how to navigate it appropriately.

2. Figuring out how to eat on the run is critical. Another lesson from marathoning that has had transferable effects. In marathons, I basically rely on AccelGels for my on-course nutrition, and whatever real food that I can grab (bananas, oranges, any real food that’s vegetarian) and fluids simply supplement the calories my body can quickly derive from the gels. Literally everything I’ve read regarding ultra training, and every bit of advice I’ve gleaned from experienced ultra runners, all point to the necessity of figuring out how to fuel on your runs (and thus, in your ultra) so you don’t completely crash and burn. A key difference in ultras, of course, is the slower paced running compared to road marathons, so it’s not uncommon for ultra races’ aid stations to be stocked, Old Country Buffet-style, with tons and tons of real food offerings. Can you fathom how your stomach would feel if you ran 31+ miles on nothing but gels, electrolyte-rich sugary beverages, and water? vom.  During this training, I have stuffed a ton of food (super salty pretzels, pepitas, pb bagels, and more) into my UD vest so I can experiment with eating on the run (literally) and figure out what my body can quickly digest and absorb and what it, uh, quickly drops…

3. It’s always funner with another. Absolutely. If I’m running 24 and a friend is running 16, I can guarantee you that I’ll figure out a way to work the logistics so I spend as little time running by myself as possible on those long runs. On average, 5 of my 6 weekly runs are sola, so I treasure the company when I can get it. It’s the same as marathon training (or probably with any type of running)–it’s more fun with a friend.

in Alum Rock during a weekend double
in Alum Rock during a weekend double


1. Difference type of event = different type of speed. It all depends on whom or what you read, but some folks maintain that still doing straight-up formal speed stuff for ultra training, the same type of stuff that you’d do for marathons (tempos, threshold, intervals, repeats, and such) is necessary. Others say the opposite. For me, for my first 50k, I’ve not done a lick of formal marathon workout-based speedwork but instead, throw in stuff like hill repeats or hill sprints on trail runs, pick-ups/strides on GA runs, or GMP miles whenever I want to run in a different gear. My thinking is that if I choose to do another 50k in the future, perhaps I’ll incorporate a more formal speedwork regiment, but for this first iteration, I’m more concerned about time on my feet, which brings me to…

wheeze wheeze hill sprints wheeze wheeze make you a stronger runner, right? wheeze wheeze
wheeze wheeze hill sprints wheeze wheeze make you a stronger runner, right? wheeze wheeze

2. Time on my feet reigns supreme. The most significant area where this differs from my way of training for marathons is in my long runs. During marathon training, it’s normal for me to make most of my LRs into progressions, with mileage sometimes changing from recovery-GA-GMP or down from recovery-GA-GMP-HMP-10kRP or some other variation. With this 50k training, though it has been challenging to specifically **not** make my LRs into big cut-down runs, I’ve deliberately chosen to make nearly all of them as comfortable (think: recovery or GA-paced) as possible to maximize the amount of time I am spending on my feet (again… fatigue-based training). I read somewhere that for ultra training, pretty much all of your runs should be at a very conversational, low heart-rate pace, so that’s what I go for. If I can run 20 miles in 8:50s or in 8:00s, for 50k training, I’m going for the 8:50s, but for marathon training, I’d surely be after the 8:00s. Of course, this all depends on the terrain of where I’m running (because believe me, a ‘recovery’ pace on roads can feel like all-out sprinting on some of these trails here!), so again…. your mileage may vary.  This is just how I’ve been doing things.

3. Trails, climbs, views, and learning how to walk. Kinda weird to say that I’ve needed to learn how to walk because, well, I’m in my third decade of life, but with ultras, pretty much all but the pros walk at least some during the race. Just like road races though, trails/ultras still have time standards, so learning how to walk efficiently (read: with a purpose) is critical. If a climb warrants a walk, I’ve had to learn how to hike the thing instead of just meandering, as I’m probably more wont to do (hey look! a pretty flower! wow, look at that view! and oh, what’s this?! oh nature, you’re so lovely, swooooooon…). And, naturally, since this 50k I’m doing is on trails, I’ve made it a point to make nearly a third of my weekly volume be trail-based each week… specificity FTW, my friends.  Running trails has its benefits though, and while the work might be significantly more than on roads, even with the slower paces, fuckin’ A if the views don’t compensate for the air-sucking ascents and the seemingly out-of-control descents.



follow the pretty lines
follow the pretty lines
en route to Monument Peak in SJ, CA (11/14)
en route to Monument Peak in SJ, CA (11/14)
not a bad place to be before 8am on a Sunday (cred: @8hasin)
not a bad place to be before 8am on a Sunday (cred: @8hasin)

I’m sure there are other things that I’m forgetting in this quick and dirty list, but as an exclusive road racer (and marathoner) before this training cycle, let me assure you–if you’re thinking about going for your first trail race, or training for your first 50k, you absolutely, totally should. It might be premature for me to say that, seeing as how I’ve actually not done my event, but details… And! If you live in a place that makes it nearly impossible to run trails in the winter, you have a friend in the fine state of California, where there is no shortage of trails and races available year-round. 🙂

What differences have you noticed in your training for roads versus trails-based races? Which is your preference?

Race recap: Nike Women’s San Francisco 13.1 to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Race recap: Nike Women’s San Francisco 13.1 to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Hello, very long race name and blog post title!

Just over a week ago, I ran the Nike Women’s San Francisco 13.1 in San Francisco as a member of the Greater Bay Area (specifically, the south bay) chapter of Team in Training. Team in Training is the world’s oldest and largest endurance sports organization, and since it serves as the fundraising arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, race participants fundraise in the upwards of ~$2k in exchange for being properly trained for their endurance event–in this case, a half marathon.


As I’ve written earlier, when I lived in Chicago, it was through my involvement in TNT that I dove head-first into marathoning back in 2007, so when an opportunity to run NWSF as a TNT fundraising participant presented itself to me back in July, I was all over it. I hadn’t fundraised for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society since the Chicago Marathon ’08, and I figured it was high time to do so–and especially since I wanted to do something to memorialize Traci’s mother who had just passed nearly a year ago to the day that I was asked if I’d be interested in doing this race for LLS. Honoring Traci’s mom and my own was the primary and initial reason why I forayed into long distance stuff back in the day, and fundraising with TNT this year for the first time in many years, seemed an appropriate and timely way to focus on the bigger picture, on the reasons that inspired me to begin to lace up my shoes a few years ago and start to do this crazy shit.

Team Ackron, or Team Awesome, with Mrs. Ackron, at the Chicago Marathon.
Moms are good at giving us perspective. Traci with hers + her siblings, post-CM ’08.
they rule. (also, don't mind the lady feeding the penguins).
she rocks.

Thus, this race was pretty meaningful to me, and I knew early on that it’d really just be part of my long run that Sunday, moreso than it would be a true half marathon-effort race. Plus, ahem… more miles for the day = a more comfortable pace during the 13.1.  (I’m totally drinking this 50k kool-aid now when it comes to my LRs and slowing the fuck down on ’em. Time on my feet FTW these days, friends).

Saturday: Team Yahoo! meet-up and Inspiration Dinner

With the race being in SF on a Sunday morning (and with a 6:30 start time), it gave me a perfect reason to get there a touch early and crash at my E-twin’s for the night. Shortly after I arrived, I met-up with the other folks from Team Yahoo! in the lobby of the Hyatt before heading over to the Inspiration Dinner at the Moscone Convention Center. It was also at the Yahoo! meet-up that I was finally able to meet the TNT coaches for the first time all season. I never made it out to any of the team practices because of schedule/family conflicts, but just as I suspected, the coaches were cool. They generally are. 🙂

Not long after our Yahoo! rendezvous, we all ventured over to the MCC for the typical and sacrosanct pre-race pasta dinner. Again, I was in the somewhat weird position of meeting all my teammates for the very first time, since I hadn’t trained with anyone at all for this event, but all good. Generally speaking, runners are fantastic people. The dinner was hilarious, thanks to John ‘the Penguin’ Bingham, and, appropriately inspiring, thanks to the patient honorees and their families who shared their stories, and we learned that:

  • Yahoo! earned top corporate honors by raising over $70k between this event and the NYC triathlon earlier in the summer;
  • this  year’s NWSF had approximately 1,500 TNT runners/walkers;
  • and finally, this year’s NWSF raised $5 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This race is  BFD for the LLS, and since the race’s inception a decade ago, it has generated over a billion – with a B – for the organization. Pretty awesome stuff.

Once the inspiring dinner concluded and the south bay team piled in for a picture, it was back to Erin’s for the night for a very brief snooze before race morning.

hello, team south bay!
hello, team south bay!

Sunday, race day

With Erin’s help (go here, don’t go here, this street is a big hill, this area is sketchy…), I ran to the starting line from her house without climbing any monstrous hills and safely in the dark dark dark pre-dawn morning. It ended up being about 3 miles to the start, and it was actually kinda cool because I ended up covering part of the race course along the way, kinda like a little accidental preview.

Once I got to the race start, I realized I missed the all-TNT group picture by about 5 minutes, so I focused on just figuring out where I needed to go and, of course, where I could use the bathrooms one more time. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I had gotten assigned to the 9-9:59 minute/mile pace corral, so I knew I wouldn’t be toeing the line right at 6:30, but I figured I should still plan everything as though I were. I dropped my bag at gear check, stood in a very slow-moving line for the porta-potties before saying ‘fuck it’ and deciding that I’d either a) go find an alley or an unsuspecting shrub or b) join the not-oft talked-about group of female runners who piss themselves mid-race. TMI, sorry, not sorry…

Even from my brief jaunt over to the race start, I surmised quite quickly that it was humid–but not hot, just kinda… moist. Standing around in shorts and a LS was pretty comfortable, so I hoped that the sun wouldn’t come out at all during the run. Since moving here, I generally don’t look at the weather because it’s always the same (cough cough perfect cough cough), and race day mornings are about the only times when I realize that I should have… especially if I’m standing around for a while. At any rate, I made my way over to my 9-9:59 minute corral after having a flash of brilliance that I could go use the facilities in the Hyatt, the same place where I was just 12 hours earlier, therefore narrowly avoiding the necessity of pissing myself on the run. Phew. (Ed. note: I generally don’t wince much when it comes to bodily functions and running, but I wasn’t super keen on smelling like piss for more than 20 miles on Sunday morning. I knew you’d understand).

from the race's fb page. this gives you a good idea of how crowded things were on narrow SF streets with 25k runners and walkers. It definitely was pretty, though.
from the race’s fb page. this gives you a good idea of how crowded things were on narrow SF streets with 25k runners and walkers. It definitely was pretty, though.

Sooooooooo anyway, everything worked out–I didn’t have to piss myself, I was able to get to the very front of my corral and get outta dodge quite quickly, and I just had a super fun time at the race and as you can judge from my pictures, just had a fuckin’ blast and cruised cruised cruised with most of my miles ranging between HM-MP, depending on the course topography at the moment. I’m not super familiar with the ‘hoods of SF, but the first few miles took us from the start through downtown (ish?), then through the Panhandle, then through Golden Gate Park, and eventually, up the Lincoln Ave hill and down to the marina. This year’s course was brand new, and it seemed like parts of it were the same as Bay to Breakers or the SF Marathon course, though I’m not entirely sure; things kinda start to look alike, especially in GGP.

green = fast; red = slow parts of the course. giddyup!
green = fast; red = slow parts of the course.
running is fun! yay, running! (free race pics FTW. thanks, gameface media! I think this is somewhere in GGP...)
running is fun! yay, running! (free race pics FTW. thanks, gameface media! I think this is somewhere in GGP…)

While I wouldn’t recommend starting in a corral that’s several minutes slower per mile than what you’d usually run, it actually was kinda fun to try to chase down as many people as possible in those initial miles. Wearing a purple TNT singlet with my name on it was also a blast because people were yelling my name–as I was theirs–and when I’d see the many other TNT coaches on the course, it was a little pick-me-up to have them come over and chat with me on the run. I really had a blast and never really felt uncomfortable, as is the norm in a true HM effort run for me, but for a couple minutes somewhere around mile 6 or 7, my R ITB gave me some solid “what’s up now” scolding–frustrating but okay, but mostly frustrating because it happened on a downhill when I wanted to pick up the pace! Dammit! In fact, after a while, the ascents on the course became more comfortable than the descents. Kinda strange but kinda makes sense.

The hill up Lincoln was long but manageable, maybe from miles 9.5 to 10.5ish, if I remember correctly, but fortunately, I saw one of my chapter’s TNT coaches, and she just ran alongside me for a few minutes and just BSed with me and let me know how all the other runners and walkers on the team were doing. After I crested the hill–which, shout-out to the SF chapter of November Project because they were throwin’ it down up top with a crazy dance party for all the runners–it was a long descent down to the marina before a final more flat miles along the water and into the finish line.

running ascents is fun! (Karl the Fog showed up in full force on race morn and totally obscured all the views. Damn you, Karl!)
running ascents is fun! (Karl the Fog showed up in full force on race morn and totally obscured all the views. Damn you, Karl!)
somewhere along the marina, circa miles 10/11, apparently doing mental math (with some counting on my fingers for good measure)
somewhere along the marina, circa miles 10/11, apparently doing mental math (with some counting on my fingers for good measure)
props to Paulette for finding this one in the hw94134's flickr stream. probably around mile 12 or so, post mental-math. this gives a great glimpse into how foggy it was!
props to Paulette for finding this one in the hw94134’s flickr stream. probably around mile 12 or so, post mental-math. this gives a great glimpse into how foggy it was!

Somewhere around mile 10 or 11, the volunteers gave out truffles to the runners–how’s that for a crazy aid station–and shortly after I finished, a very sweet high school volunteer gave me the coveted blue Tiffany & Co. that held my race “medal” (read: a Tiffany necklace). I guess traditionally, suited-up firemen gave participants their Tiffany necklaces, and while they were there–you could go infield and have your pictures taken with them (awkward?)–I opted to instead go get the rest of my premiums (food food food galore, including vegan options *yay!*) and gear so I could get back on the roads again to finish my LR, get back to Erin’s, and get back to SJ so the family and I could leave for our Disneyland vacation. Serious Sunday funday!

tiffany box
all about the presentation. Paulette has a good photo close-up of the actual necklace on her RR here:

At the end of the day, the HM was a 1:39 effort and completely comfortable and cruise-ish, even with the hills, so I walked away feeling actually really satisfied with how I felt after the race, if that makes any sense. I finished with gas in the tank–exactly how I wanted to feel–and though I’m more focused right now on my 50k fitness than I am on my marathon fitness, the NWSF half actually gave me a bit of confidence for a probably-in-the-kinda-near-future marathon just due to how I felt cruising. I haven’t done a lick of speedwork with the 50k cycle–again, folks, time on my feet is what I’m after these days–but to comfortably run 7:30s or subs, even on some hills, when I haven’t trained for that or those paces, was refreshing and surprising and…well… nice. By the time I concluded the day’s running adventures, I had posted just shy of 23 miles, so it was a good day, and I got a hell of a tour of SF in the process and some nice hills, to boot. 😉

Overall, I really enjoyed this race, considerably more than I thought I would. I don’t often run all-women or women-centered events, but it seems that the few times I do run them, I actually end up enjoying them more than I anticipate I would. I think this race was considerably more special to me just given my connection to LLS and the fundraising I did for the organization since this summer–and for that, THANK YOU for contributing nearly $2,500!–and while my expectations of “racing” were non-existent, I’m really quite happy with the day’s effort.

pace and race

Again: thank you, thank you, thank you for helping me in my fundraising efforts this year for this race, on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and for all your support. It means the world!