Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why I Would Want To Run 50 Miles

I just registered for The Dirty German 50 Miler.  I paid $70 and it's non refundable, so I am really planning on doing it.  I just posted it on Facebook so it's real. Typing this out in my blog is making it even more real. I'm a little nervous, but mostly I'm super excited. The following blog post is my attempt at explaining how I got here. If you just want to get to the "why", just scroll to the bottom of the page.

The Idea of Running an Ultra
I've had the idea of one day running an ultra ever since Pete lent me his copy of Ultramarathon Man. In his book, Dean Karnazes writes about his experience in numerous ultramarathon events, and the incredible difficulty and reward that comes with finishing them. This is the same guy who did 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. 

Dean Karnazes
I found the book very inspiring. At the time, I had just started training for my first marathon so the idea of going farther than a marathon seemed completely out of the question. Like many non runners, I didn't even know that this was something people did, or at least I didn't really think about it.  For whatever reason, the marathon distance was long enough to be as long as anyone would ever run.  In retrospect this is of course very silly, since there are always people pushing boundaries in every direction.  It only makes sense with running and specifically marathons gaining popularity, that folks would want to do something more extreme now that everyone and there mother could finish a marathon no problem (That's not at all what I really think. Finishing a marathon in any amount of time is an incredible achievement). Even with this idea in my head, I had no real plans of ever doing one. I had yet to run even half a marathon, so the distances seemed completely insurmountable.

Scott Jurek with one of the Tarahumara 
After finishing my first marathon, I read Born To Run which was another very inspiring book.  I don't necessarily agree with everything Christopher McDougall has to say about barefoot running, but it was nevertheless an exciting read, and I loved learning about all of these amazing ultra runners.  Not to take away anything from Dean Karnazes, but I realized there was a whole sport of ultrarunning with really amazing runners like Scott Jurek who won the Western States 100 7 times in a row! And, Ann Trason who was completely dominant and won Western States 14 times and holds 20 world records.  Her pace for the women's record in the 50 mile is 6:48! That is completely insane!

After finishing this book, I really started to think that an ultra was a real possibility for me. I wasn't sure when or where, but somewhere down the road I would probably run an ultra.

After my second marathon and a few triathlons, I started to read about ultras online.  When I decide I want to get into something, I tend to do a lot of research.  I read everything I can about the subject.  It's probably a bit overboard, but that's just what I do. I spent hours and hours reading articles about training, nutrition, race reports, race day preparations, etc. I couldn't get enough.  I eventually bought Relentless Forward  Progress, one of the few ultramarathon books, written by the guy from the irunfar website.  I really enjoyed the book, and the training plans he had outlined didn't seem that crazy anymore. The idea of doing an ultra went from being a possibility to becoming a certainty. I started looking for upcoming ultras in the late Spring, early Summer time frame.  I figured I wanted enough time for it to be after the Rutgers half in April but not during the heat of summer. I didn't want to do it in the fall because I really wanted to focus on the Marine Corps Marathon and plus I was excited to do one as soon as possible. 

50K or 50M
When I started looking for ultras, my first thought was to go for 50 miles right away.  The idea of doing a 50K as my first didn't seem like enough of a jump.  For my first ultra, I would be just looking to finish, and the idea of going at a slow pace made me feel like I would be fine to run another 5 miles.  50 miles still seems daunting.  When I think about the distance, I'm not sure if I can do it, and there is something exciting about that. That doubt; the not knowing.

The first race I considered was the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain.  But, as I read more and more about the course, it turned out it was one of the more challenging 50 mile races out there, both for elevation changes and how technical the trail is. 

Too tough for a first time 50.  I'm not this crazy.

This seemed a bit too much so then I considered maybe doing the 50K course there would be a wiser choice. Then I came across another race.  The Dirty German 50 Mile. This was held a few weeks later, which gave me more time to train and more of a buffer from the half.  It was also closer, had little elevation change and the trail was mostly not technical.  Once again, a 50 mile race looked like a good possibility.  I kept going back and forth on what to do and even posted the question to the ultrarunning group at runningahead. After a few weeks of thinking it over, about a month ago, I finally decided on the Dirty German 50 Mile.

Now that I had a race and a date in mind, it was time to figure out what I would do for training.  Runningahead has this great training plan feature.  I was already going to start my 12 week half marathon plan which was based on a modified Pfitzinger marathon plan I got from Advanced Marathoning (Awesome book, by the way). This plan would need to be modified to include longer long runs. I was already planning to do up to a couple 22 milers with this plan, but I needed longer runs including a 50K (31 miles).  I took the 70 mile per week 50 miler plan from Relentless Forward Progress and mixed it in with the existing plan, to create one awesome Frankenstein plan.  I'm hoping this will work OK, and I think it will. I'm not too concerned about following any one plan exactly.  There are more ways than one to prepare, and the key is knowing what pieces of the plans you need, and understanding how they fit together (i.e. don't do a hard tempo run and then follow it up with a long run at marathon pace, because you are just asking for trouble). I'm sure I'll have more blog posts talking about how the training is going, especially when it comes to long runs.  Another huge topic that I will leave for another time is nutrition, which at this point is my number one concern!

The "Why"
I've gone through talking about how I got the idea, how I did some research, I chose the distance, the race and then a training plan. But, I haven't really addressed why. Why do I want to run 50 miles? Most people I talk to would say it's crazy and excessive. A marathon is already too far.  If I want more of a challenge, why not run a marathon faster? Why go longer? Firstly, I do want to get faster in the marathon, and all distances for that matter.  I'm hoping that one day I'll qualify for Boston, and beat my high school self in a 5K. 

An ultramarathon is a completely different kind of challenge.  When I go on my long runs during marathon training and I'm all alone on a trail and the level of effort is low, it feels amazing. I am doing exactly what I should be doing. I love being outside. I often wonder how far I can go. Can I just keep running? How much distance could I cover before I couldn't go on anymore? But, this doesn't really answer the question.  The truth is, I really think this is going to be fun. I know how that sounds.  I know I'm going to be in pain, and there will be times where I will want to stop (most likely multiple times). I haven't read too many ultra race reports where the races went really smoothly and just as expected.  Something will go wrong. But, I'm not that worried about it for some reason, and I'm a big worrier.  I don't know what that means.  I'm going to try to be prepared.  I'll run a lot of miles, and have a plan for what I'm going to eat and drink, but no matter what I do, I will be unprepared by the very nature of the event. Maybe that's the most compelling part of it?  That it will be an adventure. 

So, I guess that's all I have to say about it. It's hard to come up with good reasons for why anyone does anything.  You can always go one deeper with "why". I just know I'm excited, and I'm completely OK with most people not understanding why.  


  1. Russian runner does the dirty German. Awesome! I hope you really enjoy this man. A shame I chose to do another marathon instead of joining you for this, because it should be a blast! Good luck and see you on the trails.

  2. Thanks, Frank. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm hoping that one day we can run an ultra together, or at least part of it :)