On April 20th, 2013, I completed my latest impossible goal — a 50k ultra-marathon.
I did it in 7:32:36 — not exactly blazing fast (it’s about 15 minute per mile) but my goal was not to set a record but to simply finish.
Of course, I had to choose one of the hardest ones out there — the Diablo Trails 50k that benefits Save Mount Diablo.
Save Mount Diablo’s mission is to preserve the wilderness around Mount Diablo so that generation after generation can enjoy it’s beauty. They have been doing this since 1971. I’m glad they are preserving this beautiful place because the picture below is the view from one of the breathtaking vistas.
A 50k That Feels Like 50 Miles
A 50k is exactly 31.0686 miles but if you’re doing the Diablo Trails 50k, those 31.0686 miles feel like 50.
The reason is simple — hills, hills and more hills.
My calves started to burn early and it only got worst. Lung wise, I faired pretty well but my legs were screaming for mercy which resulted in a combination of light jogging and walking — thus the 15 minute pace.
Mount Diablo is a Devil of a Course
I’m going to sound a little like my dad (who used to tell me he would walk to school, in the snow, both ways up hill), when I say that the Diablo Trails 50k is literally all up hill.
The elevation gain is well over 7,500 feet with a lot of single track trails through meadows, along ridges, tree lined valleys and cow pastures.
The natural beauty of Mount Diablo makes it worth the pain and suffering.
Well, I would not really call in pain and suffering per se rather just embracing the suck and getting the job done!
Train to Finish Not to Set Any Records
My training schedule was not that crazy. I really did not do anything different than what normally do for a Tri or a Goruck except I did a lot more long runs.
What I mean by long runs is anything over 2.5 hours. I typically train for time and not distance since that makes scheduling my world a whole lot easier.
I feel that trail running is the ultimate type of running. You just never know what will be around the next turn, up the next hill, down the next valley or the obstacles you might have to cross (a couple of times, we actually had to hop some locked gates and ran into the occasional cow that was curious about what was going on).
One counter intuitive training method I would do is to go for a ruck.
Rucking is putting on a ruck sack full of bricks and hiking around. It’s really good for both cardio and leg strength as well as getting used to being uncomfortable.
Romans Must Have Had Pretty Toes
As most of you know, I run Roman Style (e.g. In Teva sandals). Running in sandals allows my feet to breath, swell and stay cool while I run. I have been running Roman for the better part of 2 years and it’s worked out well for me.
One of the upsides for running in sandals is that you don’t get the black and blue toenails that pretty much every endurance athlete seems to get.
Black and blue toenails (and the eventual complete loss of them) occurs because when your feet swell, they bump up against the front of your shoes. This bumping literally smashes your toenails so that they start to fill with blood.
Eventually, the toenail lifts off and falls off. It’s ugly and painful.
With sandals, no bumping or grinding against your shoes, so no ugly toes.
So every time some passes me (or I pass them), they usually say:
1) Wow, I can’t believe you are running in sandals and 2) Man, your toes look so pretty :).
I came into the Diablo Trails 50k knowing that I was not fully prepared to run fast. My whole goal was to finish and not get hurt which I accomplished.
The hill runs I did to train were great and more of that would definitely improve my time.
More distance (the longest run I did was something like 15 miles) would also help out a lot.
Nutrition and hydration were critical to finishing. I must have consumed like 8 liters of fluids (the temperature topped out at 85 F) and ate something at every rest stop (Payday’s are my new go to energy food. Salty, sugarery and pure bliss).
For my next 50k (or longer distance), I’ll definitely get more miles in but I think I’ll also do some speed work as well. I experimented with that his time and it seemed to help getting up the hills.
In summary, this is what I learned from my first 50k:
Hydrate early and often
Eat even when you don’t feel like it
Train on the trails if it’s a trail run
Stop at every rest stop
Smile, wave and chat with other runners
Enjoy the view
I have not yet decided what’s next for me. Maybe another 50k on some flat terrain or maybe a Goruck Heavy. Whatever it is, my training approach will be exactly the same — cross train, remember to eat and drink, embrace the suck and always have fun!