I am not the first person to run 50 miles in one stretch. There are many significantly more talented ultrarunners who can sleep-run that distance while experiencing not a single night terror. But the number of people who have done it is definitely in the long-end of the normal curve tail . . . if “normal” is word that can be used in this context.
About 0.5% of the U.S. population has run a marathon according to Statistic Brain. That’s 1 in 200. This number approaches 1 in 2000 for the 50-mile distance. How do I know this? I don’t, I just made that up following a fruitless Google search.
You learn a thing or two about your body and your mind on your first 50-miler in 80+ degree temps. And, if you try something like this in the first place, Lord knows you need to learn a thing or two. So, here are a few 50-mile epiphanies to keep in mind when you take on your first half-century run without benefit of wheels or wings.
Sloooow Doooowwwwnnn. I am not Kenyan. You are not Kenyan. If you were, you would have written your own blog . . . in half the time it takes me to write this one. The longer the distance, the more deliberate you must be. And if heat or trail conditions or elevation are involved, sloooow dooowwwnnn even more. If properly trained, I shouldn’t have too much trouble holding an 8:00 min/mile pace for 26.2 miles. My normal training pace will be in the 8:30 to 9:00 min/mile pace. For this 50-mile training run on a warm day with a technical section of trail, my average pace was over 11 min/mile. And for the Leadville 100 with serious elevation, limited oxygen and detours to avoid bear maulings, it will be over 15 min/mile. Elite athlete or not, you will go slower on a longer run and you will have to pick the correct pace right from the start. How do you pick the correct pace at Mile 1 of a 50 or 100 mile race when you’re not really sure how temp, elevation, humidity, wind, hydration, mental preparedness and too much rigatoni are going to combine to treat you? Good luck! If you hit it right, go buy a lottery ticket because it is indeed your day. Here’s a pic of the first pacer I picked up on the trail near Mile 10 of that 50-miler . . . he kindly reminded me to slow down so that I wouldn’t, uh, croak later on.
“Skate to Where the Thirst Will Be.” This was one of Wayne Gretzky’s less-famous but certainly more runner-helpful quotes. If you are in the middle of a 50-mile run (or skate) and feel hungry or thirsty, it is too late. There aren’t many 7-Elevens on the route, so it took some planning to avoid a bonk with 20 miles left to go. 10 Hammer gels, 1 Clif Bar, a 1.5 liter Camebak, a 20-ounce handheld water bottle and the best PBJ sandwich ever (bless you, Dan & Linda T) combined to propel me through 48 miles. The last two were tough . . . but that had more to do with temps approaching 90 degrees than with a faulty fueling strategy. All-in-all, I believe if the Great Gretzky were to share another quote, it would have been “well played, Eric, well played.”
Aye, There’s the Rub. After a loooong run, the true extent of chafage is never fully revealed until you step into the shower. This is the moment when you learn the painful truth about the inadequacy of your pre-run Bodyglide application. Water, dried sweat and raw flesh combine in an alchemy of brilliant, miniture nuclear explosions to highlight the need for more attention to lube detail the next time around.
The other the other thing you learn is that it is tough to do 50 miles on your own. You might be able to, I’m not sure I could. Having a support crew to meet you with food, water, encouragement and Bodyglide (next time) really makes all things possible. Many thanks to Tami, Dan, Linda and the Augusta Brewing Company for their help along the way.
Training Update: A light 50 miles this past week to recover, including a 20+ miler at 10,000+ feet in Breckenridge. More about running at altitude in a future post. No major aches/pains other than a tender hamstring from pretending I am 16 again running a 400-meter relay with our corporate team. My pace team is rounding out with the addition of my cousin and very talented distance runner Susan Strand Vickerman! 1412 miles ytd.
Life & Hope Fund Update: $2742 donated so far with 80 days to go until the Leadville 100 Trail Run. Special thanks this past week to Twitter buddy and super-fast runner Mark Volkmann and Team Casler for their support!