Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to run the Run for Kids 50K

My next several postings will come directly from the website for the run I am putting on here in Birmingham, Alabama as a fundraiser for Camp Smile-A-Mile.  Camp SAM is Alabama's camp for kids with cancer.  I will explain how I would suggest running The Run for Kids Challenge 12 hour run and 50K to be held at Veteran's Park here in Birmingham.   Although it is specifically for running an ultra at the 5K course in the park, the basics are the same.  

If you have run a marathon, then running a trail 50k will be very similar.  The primary difference is your time will be slower.  Even hilly marathon courses like the old Mercedes Marathon route had long stretches that were almost totally flat and the climbs, although long were gentle.  Trail ultras tend to be quite hilly.  Sometimes you actually end up climbing on all fours.  This is the case in Mountain Mist in Huntsville where the climb up "Water Line" is a little scary at the top.  A slip could send you 20 or 30 feet down the side of a waterfall.  Another good example is the Oak Mountain 50K right here in Birmingham.  After running down to Peavine Falls from the blue trail, you cross under the falls and climb up the hill to the white trail headed back to the aid station at the Peavine Falls Parking lot.  You are pulling yourself up that hill by roots and limbs.  Nothing on the Veteran's Park trail is anything like that, but there are several short hills in the trees that will slow you down.  The following sections well tell you how you can cope with the various situations and conditions you can expect to encounter in any ultra, even a fairly easy one like The Run for Kids Challenge. You are still running 31+ miles.

Just a little on how to run the race:
The steepest hill  at Veteran's Park is just before you come out of the woods near the back parking lot of Jeff State Community College.  Certainly in the 5K almost every runner will run up that hill.  The 50K is another story.  Few if any of the 50K runners will run up that hill and certainly none of the 12 hour runners.  Running up a hill like that uses far more energy than the time gained.  In fact, you may notice in the first lap where you will be running along with 5K runners that people are walking up that hill as fast as many are running.  There are three hills back in the woods that you may want to walk up rather than run, especially late in the race.  You may want to walk some even on the flatter section near the lakes.  In ultras it is just fine to walk when you need to.  

In 100 mile runs a lot of very fast people use a two minute "run-walk" plan.
That is, they run two minutes and walk two minutes on flat or very gentle up hill sections.  They will walk up all steeper hills and run down all hills.  I find I am most comfortable running about 3/4 of the flats very slowly, walking all up hill sections and running all downhill to a point.  Ultras in the Rockies (I have run races in Colorado and Utah) have some descents that are so steep, they are downright scary.  I will always walk down things like that.  It is too easy to fall and really get hurt.

Pace is an issue that can cause you problems late in the run.  In a typical road marathon or 10K, you probably try to hit the same pace per mile every mile.  This does not work in trail ultras.  There is so much variation in the trails on an average 50K, a steady pace is simply not possible. (Not to mention there are no mile marks in ultras, only aid stations every 4 to13 miles.) You have to go by "feel."  At Veteran's Park you will be able to shoot for a consistent lap pace, but you will be slower through the woods than on the open areas around the lakes.  You should also run a pace quite a bit slower than you marathon pace, especially in the first half of the race.  The 50K will be 11 laps around the park and if you still feel strong after 6 or 7 laps, you may want to pick up the pace slightly.  BEWARE:  Just like in a marathon, those last 4 or 5 miles can be killers.  If you ran your last marathon at a 4 hour pace you might consider starting at a 5 hour marathon pace.

So here are my rules for how to run an ultra:  
  1.  Walk up all steep hills.
  2.  Walk up gentle hills when you need to.
  3.  Walk anytime you need to.
  4.  Your pace early in the race should feel like you are crawling.

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