5 things I learned from running my first 50-mile Ultramarathon

As I begin to shut the (mental) door on my first 50-mile ultra, I decided to reflect upon the 5 most important things I had learned from the journey. I had originally written this post the day after the race, but wanted to wait and come back to it to see if these lessons still rang true a few weeks later – and they do. Needless to say, below are the 5 most important things I learned from running my first 50-miler.

Respect the distance

I have no doubt you’ve heard those words many times before. The truth is, they take on a whole new meaning with you’re talking distances of 30, 40 … 50 miles. You can pay your respects in many ways: by constantly being aware and of—and honest with—your pace (both during your race and in your training), making sure your weekly mileage and long runs have been sufficient, and allowing for adequate recovery. The last point is something I wish I had paid more attention to. I gained little from the junk miles I ran when I wasn’t feeling 100%.

50 miles is a long way. Be sure to give it the respect it deserves.
50 miles is a long way. Be sure to give it the respect it deserves.

Study the course, and train on it if possible

Most races provide course maps and elevation profiles – and you would be wise to study them. I was lucky enough to get out on the course several times prior to the race, which helped astronomically on race day. Running for long stretches of time is demanding enough. If you can at least “know what’s coming”, you stand a better chance of mentally (and physically) overcoming the miles ahead. This was especially true for me in the later part of the SD50. Long story short: Get on the course if possible. If not, study the maps.

If you can’t train on the course, studying the course map and elevation profile is the next best thing.
If you can’t train on the course, studying the course map and elevation profile is the next best thing.

Don’t use race day for experimentation

Be a mad scientist all you want on your training runs, but make sure that by the time race day comes you’ve got everything figured out. This goes far beyond just nutrition. Make sure you’ve run in (and like) your race shorts, shirt, shoes, etc. Also, be sure to utilize a drop bag if the race allows so you don’t have to carry everything with you from the start of the race.

Stick with what works on race day, Einstein. No need to shake it up.
Stick with what works on race day, Einstein. No need to shake it up.

Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to adapt accordingly

No matter how ready or prepared you are, there’s a good chance something will come up. It may be something you planned for, but in many cases it’s something completely unthought-of. For me, it was losing my footing on a rock and getting my feet soaked in the early part of the race. Definitely wasn’t expecting that. For you, it could be nutrition, a fall, or even a wet foot. In any case, be ready for it – and be ready to react in such a way that you can keep moving forward.

Soaked feet at mile 12? You don’t say!
Soaked feet at mile 12? You don’t say!

Keep a strong (and positive) frame of mind

The importance of a strong/positive mentality is paramount. It’s the foundation of which your entire day will be built upon. Keep negative thoughts out of your head and remember just why you’re out there. While I know this sounds pretty obvious, I was surprised how “aware” of my thinking I had to be later in the day.

The mind is a powerful thing. Be aware of how you’re thinking.
The mind is a powerful thing. Be aware of how you’re thinking.

As I said in my race recap, I learned a lot about myself that day. The most important lessons I learned, were, undoubtedly, the personal ones.

That said, as I begin to close the door on this race and file it away in my mind, I wanted to pass along these 5 tips to you. My hope is that by taking them into consideration on race day, you’ll be able to spend more of your time experiencing the more important life-lessons that can come out of running your first 50-miler.

Thanks for the memories, SD50. *closes door* Looking forward to what’s next.

G

27 thoughts on “5 things I learned from running my first 50-mile Ultramarathon

  1. I’m bookmarking this post! So many great tips, and it was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Since getting the flu, I’ve been pushing through runs and I think I need an additional day off this week!

    Like

  2. Great post! Each point is so true. I chose my first 50k course because I know it well and I have the opportunity to practice it. It will definitely help me feel more confident.

    Like

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it! I completely agree – my confidence rose 10-fold by running the course in training runs — the importance of which can’t be understated when it’s your first race at a new distance!

      It looks like week 7 of training went well for you. Great work, keep it up! That race will be here before you know it! 🙂

      Like

    2. Thanks! I couldn’t agree more — being able to run the course in training runs gives an added amount of confidence come race day. Something that is definitely beneficial when running a race of a new distance like that.

      Looks like week 7 of training wrapped up nicely for you! Great job! That race is going to be here before you know it! 🙂

      Like

  3. Going into my first 50 miler, I had a profound respect for the distance I had never felt before a race. 5 miles beyond a marathon for a 50K is one thing, but 19 miles beyond the 50K is a whole different animal.

    And I’m a huge fan of getting out on the course in training if it’s feasible. I just spent a weekend where my next race will be. It was a 6 hour drive, but beyond worth it from what I learned.

    Great post!

    Like

    1. Thanks for the comment, Joey! Following your blog has been educational, inspiring and fun!

      I like you idea of spending a weekend at the location of an upcoming race. I’d imagine you can spend some quality time out there learning the course and enjoying the scenery. I’ll be keeping that in mind!

      Hope training is going well for the 100!

      Like

    1. Thank you! How’s the training going up in San Francisco? I’d love to get up there to run sometime this year.

      (sidenote: I absolutely love the name single-tracked mind. Freakin’ awesome.) 🙂

      Like

      1. Thanks! Luckily I have nothing booked because on my run yesterday I took a nasty spill and my knee hit a big rock, now it’s all swollen and not very moveable. Sad face.

        Like

    1. Thanks! So glad you found it helpful! I’m going to be doing the “San Diego Ultra Slam” which starts with another 50-miler in May, 100-miler in June, 50K in September and a 100K in October! Needless to say it will be a busy year!

      Like

  4. Love the tips! I will definitely keep them in mind for my first 50k this spring! My race is in Arizona and I’m in Virginia, so I’ll be spending a lot of time studying that course map 😉

    Like

  5. Fabulous! I really like the last one and it is the one I have to put the most effort into. Being down and negative seems harder to pull out of than a nutritional low or a tumble. Thanks for the key reminders!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s