My Big Screw-Up: Why (and How) I’m Training for a 50-Miler in Only 4 Weeks

Call it burnout.  Blame the heat in July.  Or chalk it up to trying to do too many things with too little time.

None of that changes the fact that the Vermont 50-miler is less than four weeks away.  And I’m signed up to run it.

I’ve written before that when I fail to train, I alone am responsible.  And failing to train is exactly what I’ve done this summer.

How did I get so far behind?

After the North Face 50-miler, I took a little break from running.  It wasn’t really planned; I just didn’t feel like running.  We all need a break once in a while, right?

This should have been no problem.  After about a month, I woke up one morning and realized my next 50-miler was only nine or ten weeks away, and that I had to start training.  So I started training.

Only it didn’t go very well.

Coming back was way harder than I expected.  I picked the middle of July to start running again, when every day was hot.  And for whatever reason, I didn’t adjust to running in the heat at all.

I managed to run 14 miles during one of my long runs.  But even my “easy” seven milers were anything but.

Done in by one awful run

On the day I planned to run 20, I put on my compression socks, filled my hydration vest, and headed out to the trail, feeling pretty good.

Again, it was hot.  I made it 3.5 miles before I felt like walking.

Usually, when I feel like walking, I keep on running.  But not this time.  I’m not sure what happened, but  I stopped running, turned around, alternated walking and running until I got home.

That day I decided I was not going to run 50 miles in Vermont, and I didn’t think about running for three weeks.

Which brings me to last Friday.  After procrastinating for a bit, I called my friend and sheepishly told him I wouldn’t be running the race we had signed up for together.  I would still be coming to crew for him, but sure as hell not running.  He said it was no problem, but that if I hadn’t run a 50 already, he’d be making fun of me.

And then, in a matter of minutes, I woke up from this funk.

Why on Earth, if I were going to be in Vermont on the morning of an ultramarathon I had signed up for, when I am so grateful to even have the health to be able to run at all, would I not be running in it?  I’ve never quit on a race in my life for any reason other than injury, yet here I was, ready to skip this one for no identifiable reason whatsoever other than “It was hot and I was lazy”?

And I saw the truth in one of the most cliched statements of all time, something we all believe on an intellectual level but perhaps not when it actually comes down to how we live our lives:

It’s better to try and to fail than not to try at all.

Was I afraid of being slapped with my first “Did Not Finish”?  Of having to walk some of the race and finish in a slower time than I did my first 50, even though the conditions in Vermont in September will surely be more favorable than they were in D.C. in June? Or was it just the physical pain I was afraid of, that pain of feeling completely out of gas after a marathon, knowing you still have another one to go?

So the music was cued, a beam of sunlight shone on my face, and there I stood, shirtless and bronzed, as doves fluttered up into the sky.

And then I realized I had only four weeks.  And that I hadn’t run more than 14 miles at once since my last 50.

The plan

You might say I’m in a pickle.  I’m going to try to run 50 miles less than a month from now and I need to get in shape for it, fast.  So here’s how I plan to do it.

Step 1: Start running again.

Done.  I ran 12 hilly miles on Saturday afternoon, then 7 more Sunday morning.

Step 2: Write a blog post about this whole thing so that I’ll feel like an ass if I quit again.

Doing it right now.

Step 3: Run a 20-miler and a longer run, maybe 30, in the next week and a half.

I’m going to do these at a slow pace on relatively flat ground, with the focus on just getting the miles in and not doing anything to risk getting hurt.  Don’t worry; I’ll be smart.  If anything’s wrong, I’ll scrap this crazy plan and just crew in Vermont.

But I have confidence I can do this. I’ve done four runs this year of 30 miles or more, including the 50 in June, and I get the feeling that the ability to run long and slow doesn’t disappear nearly as quickly as the ability to run fast for short distances does.  (If that’s wrong, please let me know AFTER the race.)

Step 4: Taper, kind of.

I don’t have the luxury of leaving a month to recover from my longest run before the race.  I only have a month to begin with.

But I can still get a 25 or a 30 in by the middle of next week, which will leave close to three full weeks before the race.  After that, I won’t do any more long runs, but I think I can still put the time to good use.  With where I am right now, I don’t need to do super-intense workouts to get stronger.  Just running every day will be a big improvement, and that’s something I think I can do without tiring myself out too much in the days leading up to the race.

Step 5: Do it.

I’ll go out slow, walk the big hills, and see what happens.  Mostly, I’ll do what I did last time I wasn’t in shape for an ultra, at the HAT 50K: Do everything in my power to enjoy the day.

I welcome your ideas, feedback, criticisms, and cautions.  Like I said, I’m kind of in a bind here. 🙂

Robert Cheeke Interview

Last week I talked to Robert Cheeke, vegan bodybuilder and quite possibly the most enthusiastic, positive, inspiring guy I’ve ever talked to.  We talked for about an hour and I recorded the whole thing digitally, so barring any technical difficulties I’ll post the interview tomorrow.

Even if you don’t give a damn about bodybuilding, it’s worth listening to what Robert has to say.  He’ll make you want to be a better vegetarian, vegan, or athlete, and to me, that feeling is invaluable.  (Maybe talking to Robert is to blame for this second wind I have to run the 50-miler!)  So look for that one tomorrow.

And of course, on Wednesday I start my one-month vegan experiment, along with several NMA readers.  There’s still time to join us if that sounds like the dietary kick in the pants you need!

That’s all for today.  Go ahead and do something special this week.



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  1. Be very cautious that you don’t ramp up too much and get injured. Trust me on that! You will have the muscle memory to make it through regardless.

  2. Wow wow wow. 50 Freakin’ miles. That’s amazing and you can totally do it. Who cares if you don’t run it as fast as you ran your last one – completing it is better then not attempting at all.

    I heard a GREAT podcast today on ‘human limits’ – you should take a listen (

    It gave me the motivation I needed to get running again setting a personal goal for myself (complete a 10k run one day a week, along with my other exercise).

    You’ve got this – you have 4 weeks to get your sh*t together.

  3. If anyone can do it, you can! Will be curious to read about your mileage ramp up at the same time as trying a vegan diet. Post a lot, please! 🙂

  4. Your post is right on time for me.
    1. I have my first half marathon in 5 years on Sept 18, but I trained so sporadically that I was thinking of quitting a couple of days ago. But I’m going to do it, just walk part way if I have to. I’ll try to get in a few slow runs between now and then
    2. The other thing, yesterday I decided to start a 30 day trial on a raw vegan diet, to see how it goes. I’ve done ok today but I’m wondering what I’ll eat for supper, and I’m hungry, or maybe just unsatisfied. My brother is having a cookout on labor day and we’re supposed to go! My plan is to focus on the result – I’ll be healthier and lighter at the end of the month. 🙂
    Good luck Matt in both of your endeavors! I’ll keep you in mind as I work towards my goals

  5. Please continue to post about this – I am in a similar position – I signed up for the Portland marathon on 10/10/10 but got injured in July and stopped running altogether to give it time to heal (hip flexor)… so now I have just over a month to train for my first marathon and I’m scared shitless. I figure I’ll give it a shot regardless, but know that no matter how much I run in the next month, I won’t be in the shape I want. Need inspiration badly!

    • Beth,
      Wow… did I need to read this today.I was in PT for 3 months with a hip flexor injury. Stopped therapy 3 weeks ago and have been training for my first half marathon for 10 weeks now. Just this week the other hip started acting up…same injury. This morning I could barely finish a mile and was SO dejected. My PT wants me to ice/stretch/ rest for a few days and try again. I’m not ready to throw in the towel for the half yet… but I don’t want to go through another 3 months of therapy either. If I have to walk/drag my butt across that finish line I will… but I’d much rather be running. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m not sure if I can help with inspiration but it’s nice to know it happens to everyone.

  6. one of my twitter friends sent your website to me and i can honestly say its just what i needed. ive been in a funk for awhile now… ive got my 3rd marathon in 4 weeks and ive been on the edge of doing it, not doing it, switching to the half instead… this is what runners do, and were all here to push each other along. no one ever said this was easy… but easy is boring 🙂 good luck with your run, cant wait to read more now that ive found your blog.

  7. This sounds like the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a while :p I hope it ends up being an amazing experience, and that you’re injury free! I’m definitely excited to read about it. You’re very brave! Good luck!

  8. Yeah, I’ve got an almost half ironman tri coming up in 54 days (as a friend’s facebook status so unwantedly announced). I’ve been running, swimming, and occasionally biking, but nothing in direct preparation for this distance. The crazy thing is in my mond I’m convinced I’ll be able to do it. After running a trail marathon in Mongolia while recovering from food poisoning, I have an “I can do anything attitiude”. Hope that holds true! 🙂 Good luck in your 50! Amy

  9. Wow, 50 miles is really amazing! This is a reassuring post because I have about 5 weeks to train for a half marathon after a 2-week running break due to an injured ankle which threw me off my training plan.

  10. I am cheering for you! Love the step-by-step plan you laid out 🙂

  11. Matt – Your blog posts are inspiring and I’m not referring to the fact that you’re aiming to run this 50-miler on less than ideal training. What I find inspiring is how you peal back the layers to find out what’s REALLY going on in your psyche and then lay it out here for us to read. Reading your posts makes me want to be a better runner and a better person.

    It does not, however, make me want to run a 50-miler. Good luck with that!!

  12. That’s the spirit!

  13. Hi Matt,
    You can totally do this. I’m currently training for my first half marathon ( in one week!) and have run a grand total of twice after just coming off a hip injury. I can’t remember which post of yours it was but you talked about running a marathon with no training in the month prior (due to an injury, I think). Buckle down and commit to a conservative training plan (don’t hurt yourself) and you’ll be okay. Sometimes if you have a good fitness base, a bit of adrenaline will give you that extra boost. What am I saying? I can’t imagine running 50 miles….
    Also; since September tends to be just as hot as July is it possible to switch to very early morning workouts? Consider getting up at 5:00 or so to beat the heat. It’s pretty satisfying to bang out a 10 miler before most of the world is awake and you really do get used to it. I know this can be challenging when you have small people in your house who don’t adhere to traditional time-keeping methods but it is temporary, after all.
    Best of Luck!

  14. You can do it, Matt!! Just use your common sense & listen to your body. 🙂

  15. You have a fantastic attitude, Matt! Good luck to you!

  16. I hadn’t ran in over ten years before I ran my first half marathon. I had no clue what I was getting myself into before the race “didn’t even know what a marathon was at the time”. I ran the 13.1, 40 minutes faster than my friends who had trained all summer for it and had a couple other races under there belts. Hopefully you will just have fun with it and breeeze through and maybe set a new PR

  17. Good luck! Step 2 is my favorite 😉 We’ll all be here cheering you on

  18. Good luck! Your posts are always so inspiring and positive! I have been in a running rut lately too and it is good to know I am not the only one. Just need to get out there and do it.
    I want to follow you on your vegan challenge as well. I am veg, but not vegan and am hoping giving this a try would shed a few unwanted pounds and give me a new perspective about food. Keep the posts coming!!!! Thanks and good luck!

  19. Good luck! You’ll be fine. A DNF is better than a DNS as long as you are alive and healthy afterwards, and you probably will finish anyway so it’s a moot point.

    I’d actually recommend not running a 30 miler…you just don’t have time to get it in and recover from it before the race. I’d just do another 20 miler instead, maybe combine it with a 10 or 15 miler the next day.

    As mentioned above, you’ll have muscle memory. Don’t get yourself injured by trying to catch up.

  20. Haha you’re crazy! I’m sure you know what you’re doing though. I’m excited to hear about everything. Good to see you post!

  21. You can do it! I have felt the same way about training for Chicago marathon. it’s my first marathon but I rotate shifts, and it has been SO hard and SO hot in NC this summer that I have had an extremely hard time training… right now my goal is to just finish… which you will do as well you’ll finish 🙂 and kick ass doing it okay thanks!

  22. Matt, You’re not alone…please keep us in the loop on how it goes. After a 2 week head/chest cold, I am so behind on training, I feel like giving up. While sick, I ran my first 10k trail run at River Valley Ranch and came in after they rolled up the timing matts, so now I’m really discouraged. So keep us posted on how it goes.

  23. Thank you so much for this post. I took almost the entire month of August off from running, and now I have the Marine Corps Marathon less than 9 weeks away. First my knee was bothering me. Then I had a summer cold. Then I had poison ivy. Now I’m considering deferring to 2011, but I’m not sure! I’ll be following this blog for inspiration 🙂

  24. Hey Matt, Good luck! I have faith you can do it, mostly because I’ve done crazy things like this… OK not 50 miles, you beat me on that one, but I once did a half-ironman with very little prep. I’d done one before (as in like two years before! with some marathons and shorter tris sprinkled between) and basically I knew what I was in for—-my guess is that you’ll be fine if you remember how the North Face thingy went and prepare nutritionally, mentally, ETC… and, of course, the goal is to try and finish and to finish without injury, nothing more. I agree with the previous poster that DNF is better than DNS, except I am culprit of probably pushing myself through dangerous situations in which I should have quit and didn’t 😡 so be careful!

    Also, you might want to be good with that vegan diet and not go too nuts until you make it through this event, i.e., being vegan is awesome, but no extremes! Stock up on that tofutti cream cheese I told you about 😀

  25. I like your Step 2: Write a blog post about this whole thing so that I’ll feel like an ass if I quit again.

    That’s what I am trying to do too.
    Good luck with the 50miler!

  26. Good luck Matt! I’ll have to show this to my husband who’s been slacking on his half-marathon training, he’s already run 10 miles but isn’t feeling great about our Philly half on September 19th. If you can train for FIFTY MILES he can do 13.1! I’ll see you at the MCM in October!

  27. “So the music was cued, a beam of sunlight shone on my face, and there I stood, shirtless and bronzed, as doves fluttered up into the sky.”

    This sentence made my day! Thanks for putting a smile on my face 😀

  28. I want to do the Vermont 50 miler next year! Race report please 🙂

  29. Ha!! I enjoyed reading your blog. Good attitiude! I have the Northface Endurance Challenge 50 mile coming up December 4, 2010 in San Francisco. I’ve run 6 marathons and ran my first 50-Kin Sept…not too bad and I learned a lot from it.

    I hope I don’t suffer too much…lol! I like to know that there are others out there with a similar mind-set. I registered 7 weeks before the race. Slow and steady….I have 14 hours to finish (lord help me if it takes me that long)!

  30. November 2, 2010

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