On Saturday, I run my first 50 mile race. Am I crazy? Nope. Am I ready? Yup! Let me tell you how I prepared for The North Face Endurance Challenge – Wisconsin 50 mile race. Then, you can make the decision if I’m crazy.
Let’s rewind to the spring. After learning more and more about the ultrarunning world, I began to get the itch. I had finished a 50k in February, and despite falling from 2nd to 5th in the last five miles, I was ready to go further. Before I could plan my big fall race, I needed to concentrate on my second marathon. Once I happily ran a 2:39:44 in rain and wind at the Illinois Marathon, I knew I was ready to train for something different throughout the summer.
Mark Thompson, a fellow Thorsday member and veteran ultrarunner, and I began making plans. First, we joined a trip to Colorado to run up and down Pikes Peak in July. Then, we signed up for TNF WI in September. My plan was to spend early summer on hill work so I could handle Colorado. After Colorado, it would be time to build up the distance. Here is how our ‘Summer of Field Trips’ went.
Week 1: 79 miles. I started summer with a killer 15.6 miles at Lake MacBride. It was on one of the first hot and humid days of the year.
Week 2: 90 miles. Twelve Thorsmen attacked Swiss Valley Nature Center, which includes the largest hills in Iowa: a measly 250 feet. The run was 17.1 miles with 2,500 feet gained.
Week 3: 80 miles. Four Thorsmen hit up Wildcat Den for 18.7 miles with 2,200 feet of elevation gain.
Weeks 4 and 5: 72 and 70 miles. These two weeks included a last second trip to Wyoming and Colorado. Fellow Thorsmen, Brett Rosauer, his roommate Nick, and I spent two days in Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming, four days near Denver, and two days in Fort Collins. We ran places such as Medicine Bow Peak, Mount Evans, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and Magnolia Road. The seven run trip ended with 80 miles and 13,000 feet gained. In Colorado, I learned that I handle altitude very well. I even did multiple 2-mile repeats at 14,000 feet on top of Mount Evans.
Week 6: 80 miles. Five Thorsmen visited Lake Darling. While there, we got in 19.5 miles of mostly flat trail. I needed that after Colorado.
Week 7: 112 miles. Three Thorsmen ventured to Colorado Springs. Mark, Joe Lahart, and I joined an adventure trip led by Scott Gall and The Runner’s Flat. It just so happens that Mark, Joe, Scott, and I are all running TNF WI. Since Scott was originally from the area, he knew the best places to run near CO Springs. The highlight of the trip was a run up and down Pikes Peak on Barr Trail. The up, which is 12.6 miles with 7,300 feet gain, took 3:08 running time. Running back down was a quick 2:00 (Strava).We even got to meet Zach Miller at Barr Camp. Pikes Peak was a huge confidence booster. By the end of this trip, I learned I run up hills pretty well for an Iowan. My 72 hour stats from CO Springs included 68 miles with 16,000 feet gained.
Week 8: 62 miles. Colorado destroyed my legs, so I backed off until the weekend, which was a trip to Decorah. On Saturday, we did 18 miles on the beautiful trails around town. On Sunday, we ran 17 miles at Yellow River Forest. These two days added another 3,600 feet of elevation gain to my legs. This concluded a 30 day stretch where I ran for at least 2 hours and 20 minutes on 9 of the 30 days. I was hurting.
Week 9: 55 miles. At this point, I’m just trying to recover from Colorado.
Week 10: 70 miles. I’m still hurting but ran a hilly (for Iowa) trail half marathon called Mines of Spain. It included 13.1 miles with 1,300 feet gain. The hills felt great, but I couldn’t keep up with speedster Devin Allbaugh on the flats. I finished 2nd in a little slower time than I wanted. Colorado still wouldn’t go away.
Weeks 10, 11, and 12. 86, 89, and 85 miles. I called these my BIG weeks. Even though they weren’t peak mileage, they include my longest runs at peak time. These weeks were a struggle to get my legs back, but the main goal was hitting the long runs. In a 15 day stretch during these three weeks, I went 25, 31, and 26 miles. The 50k was a Thorsday event done on the track. We called it mental training. The last 44 laps (11 miles), were challenging. I ran the 26 miler on my 26th birthday at the end of these three weeks. Through these long runs, I learned how to get into a rhythm and fight through my dead legs.
Week 11. 60 miles. This was the first week of my taper. A 20 mile run in the Black Hills at 6,000 feet altitude was another big confidence booster. That run on the Mickelson Trail gained 1,500 feet.
Week 12: 53 miles. I decided not to do a long run this week. I probably tapered more than usual for an ultra, but my legs were on the edge. They needed all the taper they could get.
Week 13: Race Week. I’m ready!
My Final Analysis: Overall, I’m very happy with my training. The mileage wasn’t crazy high, but I’ve only been running seriously for 1.5 years, so I need to be careful. Also, the two Colorado trips were invaluable, and the elevation gain only made me stronger and put more time on my feet. I also successfully completed my key long runs. If I could make one change, I would have added more tempo runs. However, I’m not sure my legs could have handled it, and the long runs were my top priority anyway. I can’t wait for Saturday!
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