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Ultimate Guide to 50K Ultra Training: From Marathoner to Ultra Runner

ultra-marathon running 50k training plan

Congratulations on your remarkable achievement as a marathoner! Now, it’s time to embark on an even more extraordinary challenge: your first 50K ultra. 

There are unique demands and mindsets to excel in ultramarathons. And the 50K is a distinctive distance in itself as it is a long race, but it is short enough to run somewhat close to your marathon pace.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of ultramarathons, explore different types of 50K races, and equip you with key training and racing strategies to optimize your performance and make the most of your 50K training journey.

Understanding the 50K Ultra

A 50K ultra refers to a race distance exceeding the standard marathon (42.195 kilometers or 26.2 miles). Ultramarathons can range from 50 kilometers (31 miles) to 100 miles or even longer.  Many ultras can even be multiple-day events up to 200 miles. 

What sets ultramarathons apart is the combination of physical endurance, mental resilience, and a profound connection with nature or urban landscapes. These races often take place on trails, offering awe-inspiring natural vistas or through urban areas, challenging runners to navigate city streets and neighborhoods.  There are many different options depending on the runner’s preferences. 

Optimizing Your 50K Training Plan

Depending on your current level of fitness, your 50k training plan may range from 12 weeks to 20 weeks, or more. The key to getting the most out of your training is incorporating the right amount of stress to achieve optimal adaptations, all while cultivating the ultra-ready skills and mindset to execute come race day.

1. Build a Strong Endurance Base

As a marathoner, you already possess a solid foundation of endurance. However, gradually increasing your weekly mileage is critical, depending on your athletic history. Aim to boost your long run distance by 10-15% each week, allowing your body ample time to adapt and develop load tolerance. 

2. Embrace Trail or Urban Running

If your 50K ultra is on trails, incorporate trail running into your training to acclimate to varied terrains, focusing on race specificity – including hills and technical sections. For urban ultras, focus on simulating the race environment by including long runs on roads, streets, and sidewalks. Whether on trails or in an urban environment, your 50k will include some lateral movement, so make sure you mimic this in training and your strength routine. 

3. Incorporate Back-to-Back Long Runs

Replicate the fatigue you’ll experience during the ultra by scheduling back-to-back long runs during the week (this will be weekends for most working athletes). For example, completing a long run on Saturday, followed by a slightly shorter long run on Sunday, is often a good option.  

4. Hill Training

Whether your race is on trails or through an urban setting, hill training is crucial. Integrate hill repeats and sustained hill efforts into your training routine to enhance strength and improve climbing efficiency.

5. Practice Race Day Fueling and Hydration

Use your long runs to experiment with various nutrition and hydration strategies.  Fueling is individualized, so what works for someone else may not work for you.  Discover what works best for you, ensuring optimal energy levels and preventing dehydration during the race.

6. Mental Toughness

Cultivate mental resilience by incorporating visualization exercises, positive self-talk, and mindfulness techniques throughout your day, especially during training. These skills will prove invaluable during the latter stages of the 50K, when fatigue sets in, and self-doubt may arise. An excellent book on the topic, and one I recommend to the athletes I coach, is The Brave Athlete by Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson.  

Effective Race Day Strategies

Even if your training goes exactly as planned, it’s easy to overlook simple race day strategies that can either make or break your target result. Here are some effective race day strategies to keep in mind when the gun goes off.

1. Begin the Race at a Conversational Pace

Avoid the temptation to sprint off at the beginning of the race. In ultra-running, it is often best to use Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) as your primary gauge of effort. RPE should also be used in partnership with heart rate to better indicate effort. Pace yourself wisely, particularly during those initial miles. Remember, it’s a long race, and conserving energy early on is essential.

2. Maintain Fueling and Hydration

Regularly consume fuel and fluids throughout the race, following the nutrition plan you practiced during training. Opt for small, easily digestible portions and maintain a steady intake to avoid energy crashes.  

Develop a strategy around primary calories, perhaps some sort of sports product like gels, chews, or liquid calories, but also have your go-to “comfort foods” on hand – the foods you have tried before in training, and you know work well. 

3. Leverage Aid Stations

Strategically utilize aid stations to replenish supplies, hydrate, and take brief mental and physical breaks if necessary. Familiarize yourself with the race course and plan ahead to know where aid stations are located.

4. Pace Adjustments

If you’re feeling strong and confident, you can gradually increase your pace or effort during the latter stages of the race. However, listen to your body and avoid pushing too hard, which could lead to premature burnout.

5. Maintain a Positive and Focused Mindset

During challenging moments, remind yourself of your training, preparation, and progress. Stay positive and focused on your goal.  Breaking the race down into smaller, manageable segments is often the best strategy for energy management. 

Crossing the finish line of your first 50K ultra will be an extraordinary achievement. Remember that this journey encompasses more than just the destination—it’s about embracing the process, conquering personal limits, and experiencing the joy of 50K training and racing. Train consistently, respect the distance, and, most importantly, savor every step of the way. 

Wishing you the best of luck on your ultra-running adventure!

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Jeff Lukich Triathlon Endurance Coach
Jeff Lukich
Endurance Coach at Drive Multisport | Website

Jeff Lukich is the owner and head coach of Drive Multisport and leads Better Triathlete's coach match program. He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Level 1, USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2, and USA Track & Field (USATF) certified coach. A 10x Ironman finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier, Jeff specializes in coaching long-course triathletes, ultra-runners, marathoners, cyclists, and athletes with unique events, such as double Ironman, staged races, and SwimRun events. Learn more about Jeff.