I am very slow downhill, a matter of age. You can really get hurt running fast down hills, young or old, especially if it is really rocky and steep. When I hit a technical section in a race I slow down, take my time and carefully pick my way. It always amazes me though, when I am running along in a race on really rocky sections, whether they be up, down or flat, I pass a lot of 20 to 30 year old runners that should be going much faster. Part of it may be conditioning but I think it is mostly that they just don't train on rugged trails like I do. The more you run up and down rocky and "rooty" trails the better you get at it and the more comfortable it becomes.
As I have said earlier, there is little difference between running a marathon and running a 50K. Of course the 50K will take longer but at the end, you will feel about the same. So if you have run a marathon or two or more then sign up for a 50K trail race in your area and run it.
I am going to step back in time and talk about how I selected my first 50k and what I did to get ready for it. I really thought it would be a lot worse than it was and I did way too much planning and most of that planning was a total waste of time. I would have run just as fast if Friday night I decided to get up early Saturday Morning and drive to Huntsville and run the race with NO PLANNING. There is one difference now. There are not many 50K runs or any ultra races that allows race morning registration. In face, if you don't register weeks or months ahead you may not even get in. Read an earlier post called "A Moment of Enlightenment."
Two local examples of races that fill quickly are the Stump Jump 50K in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Mountain Mist 50K in Huntsville, Alabama. These races are very popular local races and both are tough. They both fill within few weeks or days of the opening of registration. Another comparable race is Mt Cheaha 50K that I have mentioned several times. If you live anywhere in the southeast I would highly recommend any or all of them. I would not recommend any of them as a first 50K, however. All three end with brutal, climbs in the last few miles. Mountain Mist has two, 700 ft climbs in the last 7 miles. (At the top of the first climb, a slip could be fatal.) I know a 700ft climb or the 1000 ft climb near the end of the Mt Cheaha 50K is short climbs if you live out west but that is about a high as a climb gets around here.
The first three pictures are from the Mountain Mist 50K. The start was in the fog with mist falling and the temperature was about 34 deg.
Back to choosing the" right," first race
It is a good idea to pick out a relatively easy 50K for that all important first ultra. Of course, I strongly recommend my race, the Run for Kids Challenge, here in Birmingham, May 5th at Oak Mountain State Park. It is everything a first race should be. The trail is smooth, most of the time, and relatively flat compared to other 50Ks. The trail surface is hard packed dirt with just a few roots and almost no rocks. You don't even need trail shoes. The trail is a new "beginner" bike trail and circles the swimming and canoeing lake. The course is just over 3 miles around so a 50K will be 10 laps. That means you pass by the aid station every 3 miles. Below is a shot of a section of the lake.
So pick out a good race that is not too far from home. My first 50K was the Dizzy Fifties, a multiple loop course on Monte Sano in Huntsville, Alabama. (The location of the Mountain Mist.) It just happened to be coming up a few weeks after I decided to try a 50K. That is literally how I chose it. I had trained all summer on trails for he Imogene Pass run held in early September. I decide it was time to try something a little longer.
My only experience with long endurance events was on a few bike rides I had done around the southeast. I knew peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were really good after struggling up a 7 mile climb and bananas, which I really don't care for, even tasted pretty good. I filled a water bottle, made a few sandwiches, gathered some cookies and about 20 GUs. (I had no idea how many I would need so I took plenty.) When I got there, everyone had brought a cooler or bag for their supplies, except me. I never thought about a bag, I planned to leave it all in the car since parking was close to the course. That worked OK but it did cost a little time.
Actually, I only went to the car twice during the race to get a couple of gels and 1/4 of a sandwich. There was plenty of stuff to eat at the one aid station you passed through twice each lap. The only electrolytes I used back then were Enervit tablets which are great when you started to cramp up on the bike. The course is a double loop with a 4 mile and a 5.59 mile leg and 700 feet of elevation gain each 9.59 mile lap. (They throw in a 2+ mile section at the first to reach the 50K distance. I realized real quick that one central aid station really simplified things if you plan to use drop bags. Pile everything you could ever need in a cooler or bag, or both, and it is right there every lap. Another plus is you can also drop whatever you don't want to carry the next lap. If it is cold at the start you can wear a jacket, hat and gloves which I often do. As it begins to warm up pull off a layer and leave it. If the weather changes and it gets cold or starts to rain, grab a jacket the next time by.
There is one other reason a multi loop course is good, but this should not be a consideration. If you do have to drop out, it is never too far back to the car. Of course you would never DNF for any other reason than a serious injury, well, I guess death would be acceptable.