Lessons Learned From My First 50K

Summer is off to a bang up here in Boston. The 95 degree heat we felt earlier this week followed a few days in the 40s and 50s last week. Leave it to New England to have crazy weather!

Last Saturday, June 10th, I ran the North Face Endurance Challenge in Central Massachusetts. It was my first 50k and ultramarathon, a distance I never thought I would be able to run.  After signing up for the race months ago in the midst of Boston marathon training, the reality of the ultra distance didn’t hit me until the eve of the race. At that point, I was decidedly too stubborn to back out (that, combined with a little pressure from others :)). Plus, I had signed up with an encouraging friend (thanks Amber!), so it was the best opportunity to check this one off.

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The course looped around Wachusett Mountain and Leominster State Park and was deceivingly more technical than anticipated.  In fact, I think that the course cutoff times should be adjusted going forward. Many runners missed the strict cutoff times and there was a 30-50% DNF rate amongst the 50k and 50 mile distances. The terrain was quite rocky- to the point that runners were bouldering across some sections. Much of the race was a difficult hike, which I was not particularly prepared for. Though the highs and lows of the race were intensified given the distance, in the end I learned a lot and was so happy to have completed my first ultra!

Photo credit: @stuckinarut721FullSizeRender (1).jpg

Here are some lessons learned:

  1. If you can complete a marathon, you can complete a 50k with relatively little additional training. I had Boston marathon training and racing behind me and felt mostly prepared for the race distance. Time on your feet is what matters here, so if you adequately train for a marathon and run that distance, the additional 5 miles after 26.2 is almost comparable to the additional 10k after you train up to 20 miles in a marathon. If I ever run another ultra, I will be sure to tweak my training a bit so it’s more comparable to the race terrain. I may even include a back to back run or two. Otherwise, marathon training should set you up for 50k success in terms of the distance.
  2. Know the landscape and climate of your race and plan ahead. It is helpful to choose a race that you’re able to train for locally. If you live in the PNW or New England, it’s difficult to run an ultra race in the desert. It is beneficial to review and understand the course profile before you run the race. I mostly skipped this step, and in retrospect, I think that more preparation on that end would have helped me mentally. With that said, I do think it was beneficial to limit the preconceptions of the course in order to experience the race to the fullest.
  3. Walking breaks are encouraged in an ultra. Unless you’re an elite runner, ultra marathoners use walking to tackle those incredible uphills. It’s a good time to take in that scenery! Given that…
  4. Finish time doesn’t matter. Every trail race is different, so it’s hard to compare times. No one will know how you bonked and missed the BQ time after completing a trail race.
  5. In terms of gear- less is more. I ran with a simple handheld and enjoyed the simplicity of it. Many other runners wore camelbacks, which I would like to try out. Otherwise, slap on copious amounts of glide, sunblock, and bug spray, bring the nutrition and hydration that you require and have trained with, and head out.
  6. It’s much easier to run these races with others. My running partners were everything- the first half I ran with Amber, the second with my husband, Mark (thanks again for running longer than you signed up for, Mark!). They provided encouragement, distractions, and assistance with respect to my fueling, navigation, and sanity.
  7. Completing an ultra marathon distance makes you reconsider your limits. Running anything over 26.2 is challenging, but once you cross the finish line- you realize that your boundaries, problem-solving skills, and mental game are way beyond what you think. Believe in yourself. You have what it takes to do this!

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I won’t go into any nutritional lessons learned here, because all I can say is that I gorged on all of the candy/pretzels/chips/pb&j sandwiches that were provided at every aid station. I will think a bit more about my nutrition strategy the next time around, but will note that it differs from a road race nutrition strategy.

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In all, I can only imagine what the highs and lows of a 100k or 100 mile race are, but I am not sure I’ll ever find out. Do I see myself ever running a distance greater than 31 miles? I guess I would never say never! :)

Tell me about your first/favorite trail or ultra experience!

What are you currently training for?!

Hope your summer is off to a great start! xo

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37 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From My First 50K”

  1. Congratulations on finishing what looks like a tough course for your first 50k ! My one and only 50k was around a 2.5 mile (ish) loop – passing by a running track each time to have that lap ticked off. I even tried a 24 hour race once, but I may blog about that sometime, so I won’t give the game away… :-) Well done again – you’re obviously a natural!

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  2. Congratulations on your first 50k! I thought i’d never consider and Ultra until some friends did a 50k last fall and I started thinking “31 miles…that’s only 5 miles more than a marathon. I could do that!” :) I will however, pick an easier course. Well done!

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  3. my 3rd 50 miler is in 6 weeks. i ran my first 50K before i ever ran my first road marathon. i went from 13.1 right to 50K trail since trail races are there to make you successful. i’ve run the 50 miler on the beach in Destin. now you know what is possible the sky is the limit. happy trails.

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  4. Well done on completing the North Face 50k!

    Me I’m currently training for my first 50k over here in the UK. It’s nothing like as technical as the North Face sounds but that comes more from the fact the local area isn’t particularly forest laden. The route is mainly canal / river paths and some farmland, some occasional patched sections as well. But it’s all part of training.

    Following that I have my 2nd marathon a couple of months later. But Ultimately they are both steps in the training for my 1st 50 Miler the North Downs Way 50. Unlike the 50k I’m doing the 50 miler is a lot hillier (5600ft elevation) and more trail based than most of the routes I’ve run previously.

    Once again congrats on finishing

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    1. Thank you very much! Good luck with your 50k- no matter the terrain, it will be tough! You can do it! Scenery sounds beautiful. What marathon are you training for? That distance should be a breeze following your 50k! Good luck with that and your 50m- incredible!

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  5. Really well-timed post for me. Having just BQ’d (and proven to myself I can run fast (relatively speaking)), I’m thinking about changing things up and looking into running long, so your comments are very interesting. Congrats on the 50, and cheers.

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  6. I love your learning points here – so useful. That sounds very testing. I’m very very much the road runner, however I did love my first marathon so much that I would like to do an ultra one day – just need to find a road one! I suspect you found my Dean Karnazes review from his retweet of it, I don’t follow many running blogs but yours looks interesting and useful so I’ll look forward to reading more. Happy running!

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  7. Welcome back to nature! Nothing better than a run through the woods (or desert in my case). You make what I would say is my main point in trail running races: you are there to succeed and everyone is there to help. The friendliest and most supportive people run and staff the races.

    Looks like you had a tough, technical course. Congrats on a race well run!

    Oh and nutrition: F**k it! Eat it all when you’re out there. You’ll need those calories.

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  8. I’m going to wager that apart from will and determination, like elite athletes, you have a physiological edge when it comes to oxygen uptake and an unusual resiliency for muscles and tendons which permits quick recovery. If you can already run a 50k, then a 100 mile ultra run is only a matter of degree. You have no physical limitation. You are inspiring me to push beyond my perceived limits. Keep us posted on your ultra plans.

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