Training Plan for the Big 5-0

Only eight weeks left until I run 50 miles at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Washington, D.C. !

Sometimes that’s exciting; other times it makes me want to soil myself.

As a coping mechanism, I’ve written out a training schedule.  (This is something I normally don’t do, since I prefer to play it by ear, depending on how my body is feeling on a given week.)

But I have this terrible fear that somehow I’m going to wake up on race day morning completely unprepared for the distance, so at least this will prevent that.

Just add miles!

A friend of mine who has notched several 100-milers gave me this advice regarding ultramarathon training:

Just add miles to a regular marathon training program.

That seems to embody the spirit of ultramarathoners and trail runners; other advice I’ve received includes the rigid “Do a few 50K’s (31 miles) and then just go out there and do it.”  Sweet.

With these gems in mind, here’s the schedule I’ve put together for the remaining eight weeks.  Keep in mind that I ran a 50K about four weeks ago, and another one back in January, so this isn’t just starting from scratch.  Then again, my week-to-week training over the past few months has been a little bit spotty.

What the workouts mean

Tempo – 30-45 minutes of running at a moderately uncomfortable pace (around 6:30-6:50 per mile, for me), plus warmup and cooldown miles.

Speed – intervals of 400 meters to 1600 meters at the track.  See my post about my three favorite track workouts.

Lift – the simple (but exhausting) power-endurance workout I wrote about a few months ago.

All other miles are at comfortable pace, 8:00-10:00 per mile, depending on distance. And don’t forget, there’s a baby coming soon, so that will require some flexibility.  I guess I’ll sleep once the race is over, if the baby lets me.

The plan

Week Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Total
11-Apr Rest Tempo (5-7 mi) Lift + 4 mi Speed (5-7 mi) 7 mi 4 mi 25 mi 52 mi
18-Apr Rest Tempo (5-7 mi) Lift + 4 mi Speed (5-7 mi) 7 mi 4 mi 15 mi 42 mi
25-Apr Rest Tempo (5-7 mi) Lift + 4 mi Speed (5-7 mi) 7 mi 4 mi 30 mi 57 mi
2-May Rest Tempo (5-7 mi) Lift + 4 mi Speed (5-7 mi) 2×7 mi 4 mi 21 mi 55 mi
9-May Rest Tempo (5-7 mi) Lift + 4 mi Speed (5-7 mi) 7 mi 4 mi 35 mi 62 mi
16-May Rest Tempo (5-7 mi) Lift + 4 mi Speed (5-7 mi) 2×7 mi 4 mi 15 mi 49 mi
23-May Rest Tempo (4-5 mi) 4 mi Speed (3-4 mi) 7 mi 4 mi 10 mi 29 mi
30-May Rest Tempo (4-5 mi) 4 mi Speed (3-4 mi) 4 mi 2 mi 50 mi 68 mi

My biggest concern here is that the weekly mileage is relatively low. I’ve never been a high-mileage guy, choosing instead to focus on short, hard workouts so that I can spend more time drinking beer on other pursuits than running.  Certainly a different approach is required for ultra training, and I’m wondering if what I have here is enough.

Any experienced ultrarunners have suggestions for what I can do better? Do I need more mid-week miles?  I’m kinda looking to not die.

Finally, I’d like to mention that Charm City Run Bel Air (follow them on Twitter @CharmCityRunBN) has been awesome enough to get me a free entry to the race, saving me some serious scratch.  I’ll be wearing a singlet from them in the race.

Thanks a million to CCR and The North Face for hooking it up.



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  1. “Kind of looking not to die” was how I felt the first time doing Bikram yoga, and also how I feel about doing my half marathon later this year! So obviously I’m no help to you, but I am very impressed you can get all these miles in with a new baby coming (any day now right? Wow now I feel like a stalker). I guess the fact that you run fast (IMO) helps. Good luck!
    .-= Hallie´s last blog ..Health Goals…and Pizza? =-.

  2. Your training regimen doesn’t say where you’ll be putting in all those miles. Get as much trail/hill time as you can, more than just Thursday night RUT runs. Not sure what’s convenient for you but Susquehanna is a great training ground. Mike, Tim, or Brian can all tell you about the conditions on the North Face Endurance Challenge if you haven’t talked to them already. I doubt it’s as easy (Flat) as JFK.

  3. um, yeah, 68 miles in a week is not low at all.

    Sounds like you’ve got a good plan though. I know nothing about intense races like that but I can only assume that of all people you’re the one who’d be able to pull it off.

    Get your veggies!

  4. I can’t help out with this, but I’m certainly interested to hear the responses because I’d love to go past a marathon! Plus, I’m getting so nervous about Boston on Monday I’d rather focus on other people’s races!!

    Just out of curiosity, do you generally suffer from many injuries when training with mileage that high?
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Sushi time! =-.

  5. Matt, I think the “ultra” you’re starting today/yesterday is a lot scarier than running 50 miles. But you know how having a dog helps in a very small way to “train” to be a parent. Well, previously running a marathon goes a very long way towards being able to a 50 miler. Back in June 07, I did my first and only ultra — the “Longest Day 100k” a low-key event put on by my friends that goes up the Mason-Dixon Trail from Harve-de-Grace — BTW, a spectacular run up the Susquehanna River Valley.

    I had no training plan, only one “long run”, the Traildawg’s Triple Crown (all trail 1/2, then 10k, then 5k) and really didn’t train besides twice weekly hashes and one other run. But I made it. I walked probably a 1/3 of it, up the numerous hills (on the advice of veteran 100 milers I was running with). It really hurt towards the end (I knew I would probably stop at 50 miles and did). Think my time was ~11 hours (including many stops to check cue sheets). With ultras, my advice is to just be happy finishing your first one. If you want to race them, you’ll have one under you belt – then you can worry about how fast you can do it.

    Congrats, enjoy being a new father, you’ll do fine.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Honestly, that’s not low mileage at all for a 50-miler. If anything I think you could taper a little more before the race, but that’s just me. One thing that has helped me immensely in ultra training is doing back-to-back long runs. So one day I might do 25 miles, and the next day I’d do 15 (and then take a rest day after!). The 15-mile day is *tough* but it helps mimic the feeling of exhausted running that comes at the end of a long race, and is good mental and physical preparation. However, I don’t do as much speedwork as you do, so our training approaches are different. A similar idea is to add a few hours of hiking after some of your runs if you don’t like back to back long runs.

    I also agree with the advice above to do most of your training on trails, preferably trails that are similar in terrain to the race trails. Lots of flat track miles aren’t much help in a very hilly course!

    If you’ve already done a few 50ks this year you’ll be fine! Have fun, walk up the big hills, and as they say, eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will be sore.

  7. I would say the best motivation is promise yourself a big reward after running those 50 miles! Even though finishing 50 miles is a feat in and of itself, sometimes it helps to have another “simple” explanation of why you’re doing something. If at mile 30 you ask yourself, “Why am I running 50 miles?” that can be a complicated question! But if you ask yourself at mile 30, “Why am I running 50 miles?” and the answer is, “Because at the end of 50 miles I’m rewarding myself with (this awesome thing, trip, celebration)!” It might help out on those tough miles. Have you ever thought of going to another Tony Robinson seminar? That’s what got you so pumped to be a vegetarian in the first place! Wouldn’t it be cool to go back to where it all started, and maybe even get another super dose of motivation? I always thought it would be cool to go to one of his seminars, and maybe you’d love to go back to one!

  8. So how did this run turn out for you? I have my first 50 miler in 8 weeks and am looking for a plan to follow

    • Amber, this ended up going really well. It was 95 degrees, so my 10:30-or-so finish time was a little higher than what I think I could have run on a cooler day. But I felt very well prepared. I didn’t do as much speedwork or tempo as is mentioned in this plan though; I focused mostly on distance.

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