First 50k Lessons Learned

Posted by on March 21, 2012

Here are just a few things I have been thinking about the last few days after my first 50k. I wanted to get these written down so I could read them again before my next race.  Some of these are pretty basic stuff that I have already known but never paid  much attention to. Others are new things that were a revelation to me during or after the event.

Food & Water Intake
I thought I had the food intake down after a few recent long runs. I was wrong. Before the race I bought 30 gels. I wanted to take about 2-3 per hour plus what food I could pick up off the aid stations. Even after the race I though I had the food part or running licked. But in looking back I now don’t think I did very well. I ended up only taking 8 GUs the entire 6+ hours. One of them I took right before we started. So that means I really only had 7 gels. I almost need another watch that buzzes me every 20 minutes to take a gel.


In addition to gels I ate no more than 2.5 PB&Js the entire race. The first lap I took two quarter squares at each aid station. Looking back now I don’t think I eat very many the second lap. Maybe a half to three-quarters of a sandwich the entire last 15 miles.

I drained my 1.5 liter bladder on the first lap. I also had a good number of Gatorade and Heed Dixie cups at each aid station.  I only peeed one time on the side of the trail when no one was around. That was a quarter into the second lap.  One time I felt pretty bloated from the liquids on the second lap.  On the second lap I drained about 3/4 of my water bladder plus one full bottle of Gatorade just before the last 3 miles.  It seemed to feel okay but I certainly did sweat much more the first half.  I was also working harder on the first lap based on heart rate.  I also took about 6 orange quarters. Those were so good!

Salt Tabs
I have never taken salt tabs before. I was surprised how big they were.  I took two at two  different aid stations on my last 15 mile lap. Both times they gave me abdomen pains.  A few people told me to take them with food. Of course, as I already mentioned, I was not eating a lot the last 15 mile lap. 

I’m in 25k Shape
I ran the first half of the race without much issue at all. I felt pretty good in fact. If I ended the race at the 25k mark I would have felt just fine and not needed much recovery at all after the race.  I certainly could have pushed harder if I did not have to do another 25k to finish.  After looking at my heart rate and speed the second 25k it dropped significantly.  As soon as I left the halfway point in fact. I did not even have the energy give my normal sustained 9:00 – 9:15 pace. I couldn’t raise the heat rate to give a decent effort. I  had to employ a run then walk, then run, then walk, routine to finish the 50k the last lap.

I desperately need to get comfortable running 20 miles straight at my normal pace or quicker. When I can do that then I will have a lot more confidence in my racing ability. More longer training runs are in order!

I have the mindset of an ultra runner
When the day had ended and we were all tucked into bed at the hotel Terra, my wife, asked me if I had a great sense of accomplishment by completing my first 50k.  I though about it and said, “No, all I can think about now is how in the heck am I ever going to run a 50 mile race?” 

The 50k was hard and I have several more to do this year but I am looking past the 50k at next year.   I want a 100 miles race in two years.  I want a 50 miles race next year!  The 50k hurt bad but I am not afraid of that pain.  I am an introvert and this plays well to the racing/running long distance mindset.  If my body can only match my mindset then I will be in good shape. Pun intended! I may have the mind of an ultra runner but I have a lot of work to do to have the endurance of an ultra runner.

I race better with other people
This might seem like a no brainer but the times I did latched on to people, whether they knew it or not, I ran better and easier.  The times I let people pass me I gave up.  Especially the last lap. The time I met Michael on the trail and introduced myself I really wish I would have attempted to keep up with him longer.    Note taken for next race.  Get in where you fit in and make it a little more social and I will do much better next race.

I won’t be very successful if I can’t lose another 10 pounds
I downed 20 pounds from last year from running. I need to drop another 10 and get lighter still. This will be a huge benefit to me in the long races and training runs.   This will come but not without starting to do 50 mile weeks.  I have yet to break that nut consistently.  Focus on the 50 miles weeks and the weight will drop for sure.  I know I have a sub 6 hour 50k in me.  It is just a matter of time but the weight loss needs to pick back up.

Running with a pack v.s. water bottles
I ran the race with my Nathan Endurance pack. I am wondering if I really need to have a pack for the 50k distance. Most experienced ultra runners don’t use a pack at that distance. I have posted before about running with a water bottle in my hand. It drive me nuts. Still, I am going to pick up two bottles this week and start training with them more. Something big enough that I can have 10 gels in the pockets of the water bottle handles would be a better option I think at the 50k distance.  The weight of a full 1.5 liter back is a lot. Even if I had to refill the bottles at each station I’d be better off losing the pack weight with full water in it.

Running in the Altra Lone Peaks
All I can say is I love them!  Even after getting them wet at the knee-high water crossing in the 50k and having to immediately do the hardest climb of the course, on all fours, they performed well beyond my expectations. I will be making an update on my thoughts of the Lone Peaks in the next few days with more details.

Race Happy
There is no point racing unhappy.  Several people told me to “Race happy” on Daily Mile.  When the race was its worst and I had nothing left I forced myself to smile. I really did, if you were in the wood watching me you might thing I was a little crazy when I did this. But every time I did things got better. Keep smiling!

Leg Pain
I was not expecting the leg pain post race.  It started within 15 minutes of when my legs stopped moving and the race ended that the pain was intense!  Nothing like I have ever experienced before. I don’t know if this is normal or a result of being 6’2” and 202 but WOW is all I can say. 

It was not foot pain. I never even got a single blister in my Altra Lone Peaks.  It was not shin splint pain or pulled calf pain either. It was between my ankles and the mid calf.  It lasted a good 2 hours after the race at an intense level. I almost did a little man cry from it. I wonder if compression socks would help this?  It won’t hurt to try them I guess.

Family Fun
Having Terra and the kids at the race was great. I can’t imagine how empty it would be without having them cheer me on, ringing their cow bells, and getting me water and food. I am going to get my son registered for 5k trail races this summer at a few of my events.  Even Terra said she would like to try training for a race.  We just might turn into a trail racing family in the near future.

Well I think that is about it.  I know his is another long post but maybe someone else might pick up a thing or two from it.  If you have any comments or suggestions please post a them below.

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9 Responses to First 50k Lessons Learned

  1. Mike Place

    You’re not going to like this answer, but that post-race leg pain could be the Lone Peaks. Lower leg, right above the ankle is the area that a zero-drop shoe is going to put stress on. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t run in them, but I’d look at them as a potential cause. Could well have been from building up too quickly to longer distances in a zero-drop shoe.

    Agree with you about a bulky hydration pack, especially at that distance. That’s nearly 3.5 pounds of water. That’s just a silly amount of weight to carry around for a 50K, especially with aid stations around. You might look into some hip-belts as well, which is what I normally use. Nathan makes some nice models and I’m very impressed with the Ultraspire offerings as well.

    Good work out there, Ed.

  2. Ed

    Thanks Mike. I have a little bit of a history with hurting lower legs. It has plaged me in pretty much all the shoes I run in. From a 12mm drop to 4mm it has been there just in different degrees. It only happens in distances longer than 16 miles. I am sure it is a combination of things from my weight, to the zero drop, to not getting in enough long distance runs. I am really interested to see how this improves over the summer as I continue to get fitter and lose a little weight. Also, getting in some consistent long runs in the Altras as well.

    Ouch, 3.5 extra pounds is a ton. I need to get used to the bottle(s) and just refilling. I bought bottles last night and they have pockets big enough for 5-6 gels in each one.The pack will come in handy on races/runs when I don’t have a aid station every 5 miles or when bad weather is in store and I need to carry some extra gear with me.

    Thanks for the comments Mike. I appreciate the help!

  3. Julia

    Nice run down!

    Couple of comments:

    There is zero evidence the compression socks help with performance BUT, they do make my legs feel better so I run in them when it’s cool out but not hot, as they will def. inhibit your coolng capacity. Always remember heat is the biggest stress the body has to deal with when running long distances. Anything and everything you can do to help with that will be beneficial. Wear a white hat, wear as few clothes as possible and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Personally I don’t believe everyone needs to take salt tabs – only those that have issues with cramping and electrolyte imbalance. If you can tolerate electrolyte drinks and don’t get the heat cramps, you don’t need salt tabs. Also as long as the course has the fluids you need you don’t need to carry a huge pack, had I done the 50K I likely would have just carried a small bottle and filled it at the stations, as for the 25K I got all I needed at the stations so carrying anything for that distance was just extra weight.

    It is easy to get caught up in other poeple in a race but the best advice I ever got was to run my own race, if you out pace your ability you will run out of glycogen and bonk like hell. Run happy however is sooooo true, just having the right mental attitude and being happy to have to legs that you can run on sometimes will carry you through a lot and get you to the finish in great shape!

    Try taking some ibuprophen or other NSAID before the run and on the run if your stomach can tolerate it, it will help with the pain.

    You didn’t get to do a lot of mileage in preparation for this race, so when you do it will likely be much, much better next time, you may not need to make a lot of adjustments at all – training will be your biggest friend!

  4. Joanna

    Hi Ed,

    I run with a pack on 50km races, however I wear it for almost all of my trail runs so it is second nature to me. This is a very interesting article comparing handheld waterbottles with packs. If anything it will give you food for thought,

    http://runningtimes.com/​Print.aspx?articleID=18677

  5. Ed

    Thanks. Julia. More great information. I did not even notice you were not carrying anything. How much water do you think you drank at each aid station? Those cups were pretty small they had. The heat advice also makes a lot of sense. I am pretty much running in all black but I did have a white hat on. I’ll be trying to lighten up my running wardrobe this spring!

    Thanks for commenting and the great advice.

  6. Mike McElmeel

    Was good running with you too buddy. We will do it again. I was taking GU every 20-30 minutes and I started to bonk at the end as well. I think I need to make it a hard and fast 20 minute rule. I always wear a hydration pack, hand bottles irritate me as well. I am doing another 50K next month and trying to finish my 1st 50 miler in May. I attempted one last year and missed the cutoff so had to finish the 50K. I am right there with you great comments

  7. Ed

    What race are you doing? Is the 50 mile on in the area?

  8. Julia

    Let’s see I downed 2-3 cups at each station and then got 2 waters in at the extra station. Guidelines are 28-40 oz for every hour of exercise. If you assume 8 oz per cup then I got in about 75 oz I’d say, a little on the low side for 2.5 hours since it was kind of warm. I also grabbed a bunch of organge slices and ate them on the run which ads a little fluid. Glad you asked I should calculate it more often and analyze! I also forgot to mention if the salt tabs didn’t sit well with you and you want to supplement electrolytes they make some Jelly Belly Sport Beans – electrolyte jelly beans that I’ve used when I can’t get gatorade and just water and I have had good tolerance for those.

    • Ed

      This is great information on the 28 to 40 oz. of water per hour. I never knew that. This is the kind of details that help me tremendously and allow me to put a little more science behind the races. Good stuff.

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