How to Run 50 Miles: Part II – Beyond Pure Fitness

Read Part I Here.

I’m going to expand on the first principle I stated in Part I, that I think the outcome for endurance events are more driven by factors beyond raw fitness than of fitness itself. Nutrition, mental focus, pacing, gear and other factors are just as (if not more important) than how high your VO2 max or lactate threshold is.

Let me explain. In my last 50K race, The North Face Endurance Challenge in Marin Headlands, I was never once out of breath on the course. However, I clearly suffered greatly and my result did not reflect my fitness. How could this be? Simple. I did the following things:

  • I went out way too fast, running the first 8-10 miles about 10-15% faster than I should have. It didn’t feel that way during the run, but in hindsight this was the case.
  • I bonked hardcore after 16 miles. I hit mile 16 having consumed a couple gels and a few pieces of banana and boiled potato. This might seem enough calories, but given the course severity it took almost 3 hours to get this far and that was way too few calories. Also, given I was running faster than normal my caloric burn rate was far higher than normal training.
  • I had terrible shoes for this course. I wore Mizuno Waverider running shoes. They are lightweight training shoes, meant for smooth pavement. I also wore them for the Ron Herzog 50K and realized they weren’t great on trails, but I didn’t remedy the problem. I was slipping and sliding all over, given how wet and muddy the North Face course was. Footing was a real issue during the race.  I would slow down my pace at times and it just took way too much mental energy to focus on where my feet were going.
  • I ran carrying a single water bottle. Big mistake, as I slowed down in the second half of the race, I would run out of water/calories between aid stations and just suffer. Rookie mistake. I should have carried two bottles or used a hipflask system. Had I not bonked I would have been fine with 1 bottle, but the slower pace after mile 16 meant I was running/walking slow and needed more fuel between aid stations.
  • I wore a great Gore-Tex running jacked which kept my upper body warm, but my legs were freezing cold given the rain and the fact that I slowed so much. Studies show that cold muscled perform worse – far worse – than warm muscles. My legs were frozen for most of the race. This was of course exacerbated by my bonking and slower pace after mile 16.

Had I addressed these things by wearing appropriate clothing, using proper trail shoes, carrying more fuel and starting out more slowly (and using walk breaks early on); the result surely would have been very different! Live and learn! Addressing the non-fitness related variables has a big impact on race day. The longer you plan to go, my opinion is the more these other things count. Especially, bad footwear can easily take someone out of commission in an ultra-marathon (a bad blister or foot issue can bring down the toughest runner!). Same goes with an incorrect fueling strategy.

Will continue this multi-part post later.


Going for a 90 minute run on some flat dirt trails today. I trail tested my new Inov-8 Roclite 295’s yesterday. They are too small…back to the store they go!

Weekly Training: Jan 10-16, 2011

Now that the training season has begun, I’m going to share my weekly logs with you. If you care less about what kind of training I do, just skip these posts :). I know some of you are also training for running, cycling, triathlons or other events…and might be interested in knowing what I am up to. Here’s this week in review.

Monday Jan 10. Rest day.

Taught 2 yoga classes. Some light stretching was about all I did, in addition to tons of hands-on assists during class (as usual). Felt like crap so didn’t push it.

Tuesday Jan 11. Kettlebells. Time = :17:08.

10 sets of 20 swings (16Kg bell) with 1 minute rest between sets.  Still felt like crap, was wiped out after the swings.

Wednesday Jan 12. Eastside Runner’s Track workout, 4×1200’s! Time = :45:00

800 warm up. 4 x 1200’s in ~4:42 each w/ 400 jog between each, 800 warm down. Hit each interval right on time. Felt great. Ran with “group 7” which is people running a 19-20 minute 5K pace right now.  Almost didn’t go to the run since I felt pretty sick and my head hurt like crazy. Stuck it out and felt better after the first few 1200’s. Amazing what a few hard turns around a track will do!

Thursday Jan 13. Rowing Tabata. :15:00.

Concept 2 Indoor Rower “Tabata” style. 6 minute warm up, 8 x 20 all out sprints with 10 seconds rest between each, 5 minute warm down.

Friday Jan 14. Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, Level 2-3, 1:30:00.

First yoga practice in several weeks. Plenty of inversions and arm balances. Starting to feel close to normal again and shaking off this cold.

Saturday Jan 15. Cougar Mt. Trail Running and Hill Repeats. 1:04:00.

Went running with Alison. She’s quick for having not run very much! Did 1 pretty quick lap of my usual 4.3 mile loop (lots of hills), followed by 4 hill repeats up the main hill at Red Town Trailhead. Each repeat was ~85 seconds and all out, followed by a slow jog back down the hill. Felt pretty good but my shoes were definitely not suited to the wet and muddy trail.

I love the Brooks Green Silence for road runs (super light!) but they have zero traction on wet rocks and trails and my heels slides around too much for tight trail cornering. I just bought a pair of Inov-8 F-Lite 195’s from the new Born to Run store in Bellevue. Super minimal shoes with more aggressive tread and far more snug in the heel. Will give them a shot for my next trail run. They felt awesome walking around town in them today.

Sunday Jan 16. AM: Heavy Deadlifts and Bench Press (:30:00). PM: Kettlebells and Easy Run (:40:00).

AM: Deadlift 3 sets x 3 reps with 135, 135, 185lbs. 3 mins rest between sets. Bench Press 3 sets x 3 reps with 135 lbs. 3 mins rest between sets. When I lift heavy I take a TON of rest between sets. The idea is to fully let the muscles recharge. I have zero desire to get cardiovascular benefit from strength training. It is all about raw strength/power.

PM: Kettlebells = 3 x 12 swings with my brand new 53-pound bell! 1 minute between sets (time = <4 minutes). Immediately headed out for easy run (:21:20).

Total Training Time = 4:46:29. (Running = :2:10:12)

This week was pretty undisciplined in terms of training. My total training volume was low, and while I had some good intensity in the workouts, I was sick from my recent trips to Ecuador and Vegas. Decided to lay low a few days and get back to 100%. I have less than 7 weeks until the Copper Canyon 50 Mile Ultramarathon….which means 1-2 more long runs (over 20 miles / 3 hours). As long as I nail those, I’ll be a happy camper.


In other news, I’m using Trainingpeaks to track my workouts. My Moleskine has served itself well. Time for an upgrade!