50 by 50: A beginner's guide to training for an Ultra-Marathon

By Patrick Meskell

Fifty by fifty. That is… run an ultramarathon, specifically a 50 mile race, by age 50. It sounds simple enough, and at age 47, I actually have more than one year to get it done. But I figure that I better give myself a little room for setbacks such as illness or injury. As New Year’s resolutions go, it’s not going to change the world, but is certainly one of the tougher goals that I have personally made.

“Ultrarunning” as a sport is still in its infancy, but is growing in the collective consciousness of runners at a very rapid pace. An ultramarathon, or “ultra,” is any running event that is longer than a marathon, usually 50K, 50 miles, 100K, or 100 miles. However, this column is not meant to be sage advice from an expert, but more of a trial and error, “don’t-make-the-same-mistake-that-I-just-did,” how-to (or how-not-to) train for an ultra. In other words, “A Beginner’s Guide” means “by a beginner” more than it means “for beginners.”

Each week I will try to cover different aspects of running, using my own training schedule and progress, most of which will apply to running of any distance, but some of which will be specific to running ultras. For example, getting lost during a race… in the middle of the night… on a badly marked trail… lit only by a tiny handheld flashlight… and the nearest runner to you is over a half hour ahead or behind. I haven’t yet experienced this particular thrill, but apparently it’s quite common in the longer races.

Sunday, Feb. 12, I ran in the San Dieguito Half Marathon. I was one of three runners from Ramona out of about 1,300 participants. (A shout-out to my fellow Ramonans — L. Robison and S. Monreal!) San Dieguito is a nice course, though not particularly easy as it winds the 13.1 miles over rolling hills in Del Mar. My goal was to run smoothly, and treat it as a training run, carrying two water bottles with me (a hand-held and one on a waist pack), since aid stations on many of the longer runs are often five to 10 miles apart. I finished in 1:50:50 (1 hour, 50 minutes, 50 seconds), a pace of 8:28 per mile. That’s probably much too fast a pace for me in an ultra, but we’ll see. I was a little sore the next day, but nothing too severe.

Hopefully anyone interested in running, no matter what age or level of runner you are (and admittedly many readers will be far more advanced runners than I), will find this column interesting and somewhat educational. And hopefully I will run and finish the 50-miler a lot sooner than age 50, but it’s hard to know what to expect at this point. Besides, “50 by 49” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Now get out and run.



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