plan or if you can run a 10K (run the entire race - no walking) then you are ready to start this plan. If you cannot, then I would recommend doing some speed work and running a few 5Ks, then come back and start training for the 50K. It would also be a good idea to run a 10K or two during your training. Count the 10K as a long run in the early weeks of your training. You should train on trails as much as possible if you plan to run a trail ultra. There are a few ultras on pavement, but you will not catch me running one. Well, maybe Badwater!
The plan I outline below is the absolute minimum amount of running I think you should consider if you are training for any ultra. If you can squeeze in additional runs or some cross-training, that will be even better. I will break the post into four parts. I think most people could follow this plan, and successfully complete a 50K in 30 weeks.
The general rule is that anyone attempting their first 50K should have run at least three marathons. This seems like a reasonable measure of your ability to handle the discomfort of endurance running and you should have little trouble running for an additional 5 miles, especially at a reduced pace. The time factor in running a 50K is, however, more significant than the distance. If you run a marathon in 4 hours, a 50K will likely take you 6 hours or more. The time factor can become even grater if the course is especially hilly or technical, as are most in the southeast. This is one reason I emphasize time, not distance in training runs. If you have never run a marathon I really don't think it is that important. The key to all ultras is "time on the trail." If you can complete three or four long runs (4 to 5 hours) on consecutive weekends, several weeks before you first 50K, you will most likely be able to finish the 50K with no trouble. By "no trouble" I do not mean "No Pain." It will hurt.
So go out a do a trail run. See how long you can run without overdoing it. This is an evaluation run and it should be run at a comfortable pace. You will note I always talk about time not distance. (Am I repeating myself?) To me, distance is irrelevant in training runs. I will sometimes spend 5 hours running at my local state park and cover about than 16 miles. That is because I am doing hill repeats and all I do is going up and down a very steep 3/4 mile climb. The workout is much harder than if I had run a marathon in 4 hours. If you prefer using miles, that is fine. Just figure out how many miles you cover in an hour and run the appropriate number of miles to get the necessary hours.
Below I have outlined how I would train for a 50K if the longest I could run, with a reasonable amount of effort, is one hour. After your evaluation run, just plug your time into the training schedule according to how long you ran. That is, if you ran 2 hours, start at the 2 hour weekend runs. If you ran 4 hours, run a couple more 4 hour runs, taper of two weeks and run a 50K race. You are ready!
Starting your Training if you were able to run 1 hour:
By the way, the long weekend runs should be hard. Even though I suggested doing the first run at a comfortable pace, the actual training runs should leave you tired or maybe just plain worn out! At the end of each run, weekend and mid week, you should be tired. In face, the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the run should be fairly difficult. Only running three times each week, you don't have the luxury of casual runs. Make each run count.
The 11th weekend is the shorter run. Now, on the the next three weekend again increase your distance to 2.5 hours (weekends 12,13&14). On weekend 15, drop back to 2 hours. On weekend 16,17 and 18 again increase you distance up to 3 hours with an easier 2.5 hour run on week 19. Now we make a big change. On weekend 20, don't add 30 minutes to you weekend runs, add one full hour. The four hour run should not be too much harder than the three hour runs from the previous cycle. If however, you find 4 hours is just too much right now, then drop back and run 3 hours the next weekend, then move up to 3.5 hours instead of 4 hours for the next four week cycle.
By the time you complete one full cycle of four, four hour runs, you should be ready for your first 50K. If you have time, go ahead and add a set of 5 hour runs, before the first 50K. The longer your your training runs are, the better prepared you will be. By the way, following a five hour training run you will not be tired, you will be totally exhausted. You will feel like you will never be able to run again. But guess what, when you go out for your next mid week run, you will actually feel pretty good. The legs may be a little heavy, but you will be able to run near you usual pace. Before each 100 mile race I have done, I build my weekend runs up to very hard 8 hours. That will leave you zapped!
As you increase the length of you weekend runs also lengthen the midweek runs. By the time you are running four hours on the weekend you will probably want to be running for one to one and a half hours each run. Remember, these runs are not "strolls." Make them count.
Here is an outline of what I just covered.
Week 29 and 30 - Taper (We will discuss this later)
You may be able to increase your training run distance much quicker than I have outlined above. A strong runner may actually be able to condense the early stages of the training into just a few weeks. Some people may be able to run, for example, one hour on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday of week one and jump right to 1.5 hours the following week. Run 1.5 hours on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday and go right to 2 hours the next week. At that point you really should slow down. The general rule for increasing mileage (or time) is 10% per week. This is a save level to increase distance without causing some type of overuse injury that can stop you in your tracks.
Below, I have copied a 16 week training schedule for running a marathon from a website, Marathon Rookie. Look at it and compare it with my schedule. In reality, training is like racing. You have great plans and you end up doing what you can make work. There is only one critical link to successful training and running any ultra. (Time spent running on the trail.)