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How To Train For Your First 50 Mile Race (with Training Plan)

“Why do you run?” Ask this to a runner and you’ll get a world of different answers. Some people run to achieve specific goals. Others run to stay healthy. Some runners have a bucket list of marathons that they want to complete.

So what do you do when you’ve run your personal best in a half-marathon or full marathon? What’s the next step if every race that was on your bucket list has been completed?

You find a new challenge, a new personal best to set, create a new bucket list of races to run, and take your running to the next level! Some runners set goals to run faster. Many others, though, set distances as their mark of progress. It used to be that the marathon was considered at the outside edge of human possibility. Now, about 600,000 people complete marathons every year. It’s not exactly old hat, but it is no longer the ultimate accomplishment it once was.

What’s beyond marathons? The whole world of ultramarathons. Technically, it’s any distance longer than 26.2 miles, and one of the most popular distances is the 50-miler. Nearly twice the distance of a marathon! While it might sound daunting, it’s not as hard as  it seems.

Here’s how to train for your first 50-mile race if you’re ready to take that leap!

50-Mile Race: What You Need to Know

Most 50-mile races are done on trails. You can find 50-mile road races, but they’re fairly rare.

These 50-mile trail races will usually take you through breathtaking scenery, over challenging terrain, and through all kinds of weather. You’ll cross the finish line with an epic story to tell your friends!

But before you head out the door to start training, there are a few things you need to know.

Almost Twice the Distance of a Marathon

While you’ll be running almost double the distance of a standard marathon, this shouldn’t be intimidating. You’ll be conserving your energy by running at a slower pace and walking some sections of the 50 miles.

Yes, you read that correctly – there will be walking! Sections of walking are almost a requirement when tackling hilly trail races. Even the elites hike some of the hills.

You may choose to walk up steep hills or schedule your walking breaks once you’ve run a certain distance. These breaks are key to a successful pacing strategy!

Walking for a bit allows the muscles some time to recover and also allows your body to return to a relaxed breathing pattern.

Part of your training will involve finding out which run/walk pattern works best for you. You may find that it works best to take a hybrid approach to certain sections of the course, where you’ll have stretches of uninterrupted running and long periods of walking.

How Long Will It Take to Run?

The amount of time it takes to run 50 miles depends on a few factors. This includes the course you’re running, whether the terrain is flat or hilly, weather conditions, your running performance, and even how your stomach is holding up.

There are runners who have completed the distance in 6 hours, and then there are runners who’ve taken 14+ hours to finish.

The current world record for the fastest 50-miler is held by Jim Walmsley, who ran a jaw-dropping 4:50:08 in 2019!

Training Is Essential

When you start preparing to run your first 50-mile race, you’ll need to set specific goals and rearrange your schedule. There’s more planning to be done when it comes to training, and especailly fueling, compared to running a 26.2.

The time needed to train for a 50-miler will be different for every runner. There isn’t one right way to train, either. One thing for certain is that training for “time on feet” is absolutely essential.

If you decide that you want to run your first 50-mile race in 6 months time, then you can expect to work up to running between 30 and 50 miles in your first 3 months. You’d then increase the distance to between 50 and 70 miles for months 4 to 6.

This period of time will allow you to build up the endurance you need, prevent overuse injuries, and develop a new running schedule in which you can increase your weekly running volume.

If you’ve been running consistently for the past 6 months and have run marathons before, you may need less time to prepare for a 50-miler.

Reasons to Run a 50-Mile Race

If you tell people that you’re going to run 50 miles in less than 12 hours, they’re going to have a hard time wrapping their heads around the distance.

So why should you run a 50-mile race?

For a Bigger Running Goal and Challenge

Running a 50-mile ultra is a completely different experience than running a road marathon, and it’s a really big challenge!

It’s wildly intimidating, and there’ll be moments where you’ll wonder whether you’re crazy for attempting it. But when you think about it, it’s not really that much farther than some of the marathons you’ve already run.

Once you’ve set the goal, trained for it, and left it all out on the course to cross the finish line, you’ll have pushed past any perceived limitations you may have had. You’ll have discovered new things about your body and how far you can actually run.

In the end, when you’re tired and exhilarated, you’ll be left wondering just how much further you can actually run!

Create a Once-in-a-Lifetime Memory

You may have decided to run the 50-miler just once as a bucket list item.

This won’t just be a nice upgrade from the marathons that you’ve run. You’ll be creating a once-in-a-lifetime memory! Not only will you have run almost double the distance of a marathon, but you’ll have memories of the amazing runners you met who helped to keep you motivated.

You’ll also never forget how you feel when you cross the finish line, knowing that you ran farther than you ever have before, and that you’ve set a new personal best!

Am I Qualified to Run a 50-Mile Race?

There’s an adage in the ultrarunning community: if you can run a half marathon, you can run a 50k. 50 miles is another 19 miles further, but the same logic stands. Running ultra distances is not a physical feat as much as it is a mental one. If you’re wondering if you’d be able to complete a 50-mile race, there are some things to consider. But we believe that you’d be able to complete the 50-miler if you:

  • Have been consistently running 30 to 40 miles a week without injury.
  • Have recently comfortably completed a marathon.
  • Are an experienced runner.
  • Feel that it’s time for a new goal and a bigger challenge!

Training for a 50-mile race is going to need to be a priority in your life. You’ll need to dedicate time for increasing your training volume. You’ll also need to make sure that you can cope with the longer training period.

You may need to reconsider your daily commitments, so you can achieve your goal without creating unnecessary stress.

Diet and nutrition needs will also be important. You’ll need to be able to fuel yourself well on long runs so that your stomach won’t give you any issues.

What Race Should I Sign Up For?

With the 50-mile distance becoming increasingly popular, there are many races to choose from – you may find it a bit daunting to pick a race!

One of the best ways to choose a race is to speak to your running friends who’ve already completed a 50-miler. They’ll be able to tell you about their experience and suggest an event that’s not only fun, but also well-organized.

You can check out websites like RunGuides, that post about upcoming races. This way, you can choose a race that’s in your region, or combine the race with a weekend getaway in another area.

You’ll also have to take your budget into consideration, as 50-mile races can have high entry fees.

Once you’ve narrowed down a few race options that look like a good match, have a look at the races’ websites. They’ll provide information on the course, the type of terrain you’d be running, and all the race information. Then, all that’s left to do is to pick one and sign up!

I Signed Up – What’s Next?

Congratulations! You’re signed up for your first 50-mile race! Making the commitment is a big achievement.

Now, you can tell your friends and family about your new running challenge. This will help to keep you motivated, and on days when you may be questioning your sanity, they’ll be able to support you!

The next step is to start planning and preparing for your race. Here are our best tips:

Find a Training Plan

You’ve trained for marathons before, which means you already have a good idea of what needs to go into a training plan.

Training for a 50-mile race doesn’t need to be complicated. To help you get started, we’ve put together a free training plan, which you’ll find at the bottom of the page.

We’ve made sure that it’s easy enough to adjust to your current lifestyle and still train efficiently for a successful ultra.

Find A Running/Training Partner

Training for long runs alone can become lonely! To help you stay motivated, find either a running buddy or a running group. This will help to keep you focused and motivated to achieve your running goal.

If you’ve only ever been road running, having someone who’s experienced with trail running can help you better prepare for what to expect.

Plan Your Weekends in Advance

Planning your weekends in advance will help you prioritize training – especially the all-important long run – and help to reduce the stress from your daily life.

You’ll find that planning in advance will help you to fit other activities, like birthday parties or special occasions, around your training schedule.

Restructure Your Diet

Diet and nutrition are important when it comes to running long distances. You’re going to have to prepare your gut for running 50 miles!

By restructuring your diet, you’ll be “training” and building your gut’s tolerance to the amount of carbohydrates that you’ll be consuming.

This will help you find the best balance between fat and carbs that you’ll need on the day without experiencing any gut issues. Restructuring your diet can also help you to shed excess weight before the race.

Remember, you will be running basically all day. You need to consume your normal calorie intake plus quite a bit more while running. Consuming that much food while running is something you need to get your body used to.

Ask your ultrarunning friends about aid station food. Whereas road races have water stops with typical fare such as water, sports drink, and maybe gels or bananas, ultra aid stations are…different. It’s not uncommon to find a wide assortment of candy, burritos, grilled cheese sandwiches, and if you’re really lucky, the fabled boiled potatoes with a dish of salt to dip them in. 

If you’ve never run an ultra, the thought of eating these food mid-race might churn your stomach. But mid-run high-salt, high-sugar food not churning your stomach has to be part of your training. You will need to eat – a lot – during your 50-miler. That grilled cheese will be a near-religious experience at mile 40, and might be the difference between finishing and DNF. You do need to train to be able to keep it down.

What Running Gear Do I Need?

When it comes to running gear, you’ll need to take into consideration the type of terrain you’ll be running on.

A good pair of trail running shoes is a great place to start. Using two pair is an even better idea. Check if the 50-mile race you’ve chosen allows a drop bag. If so, you can store another pair of running shoes with extra cushioning, and change shoes halfway through your race.

Don’t overlook comfort when it comes to your feet! Really good socks can make a really big difference. Make sure that you take a few pairs with you. If you’re running through streams or wet areas, you can change them when you get to an aid station.

Experiment with clothing when you’re training, so you can find clothing with very little friction. Consider shorts, tights, and shirts that are seamless or have flat seams.

Considering the distance you’re going to be running, it would also be wise to experiment with and invest in running-specific underwear, as opposed to relying on your shorts’ liner.

Packing an anti-chafing product is also a great idea – maybe even a must have! You’re going to be moving for a long time and something is bound to be rubbed wrong!

As a last detail, having a good GPS watch will be very useful. You won’t just use it for tracking mileage and pace. A watch with navigation features means that you’ll have an additional layer of help to stay on course. And remember all the watch reviews that harp on battery life. Remember thinking “Why in the world would I need my battery to last more that 10 hours in GPS mode?” Ultramarathons are why.

The Importance of Having Your Gear Just Right

Consider this equipment baseline: if you’re running a 5k, something a little bit off with your gear – a sock that doesn’t fit quite right, some kind of something poking your foot inside your shoe, a pair of shorts rubbing your leg weird – is a mild annoyance for a short period of time. If you’re running a 10k, maybe it’s a problem for an hour. Up the distance to a marathon, and a little problem like that can cause real damage – severe chafing, agonizing blisters, and more. At the 50-mile level, where you might be running for 10 hours or more, a little problem with a sock can ruin that day.

Which is to say, make sure your gear is perfect.

How Much Time Do I Need to Prepare for The Race?

Training for your first 50-mile race will be different for every runner. However, we recommend that you take 4 to 6 months to prepare. That’s about the same as for a road marathon.

4 months, if…

  • You’ve been consistently running more than 30 mile per week.
  • You aren’t able to train for longer than four months.
  • The race is beginner-friendly and fairly flat.
  • You’re planning on running at a slower pace.
  • You’ve been injury-free for at least 4 months.

6 months, if…

  • You’ve been running less than 30 miles per week.
  • You need to increase your fitness level and endurance.

Remember, it’s always better to take more time to train than to rush it. This will allow you time and space to prepare better, build your endurance, and reduce the risk of injury.

What Does a Typical 5-Day Training Week Look Like?

Day 1. Long Run

It’s important to do some planning before you head out the door for a long run. Part of this run is to test any new running gear you may have, as well as to test what you’re fueling your body with.

While road running has a focus on speed, in this run you’re going to slow your pace and focus on distance. As many experienced ultrarunners will tell you, just getting your body used to staying on your feet all day is as much part of the training as the running side.

See if you can do at least some of your weekly long run off-road. This will get your body used to what it feels like to run trails farther without stopping.

To get the best out of your run, keep a running journal where you can keep track of what works and what doesn’t work on a run.

Day 2. Mid-Distance Run

Day two will be a mid-distance run. One week, this should be 10% faster than your race pace. This will allow you to get used to it so that it becomes comfortable, and your race pace becomes easier.

The second week, you should go 10% slower than your race pace. This will help your legs adjust to running more miles slower, as opposed to running fewer miles faster.

If you are new to trails, take into account that your pace off-road will be 25-50% slower than your road race pace.

Day 3. Intervals or Hill Runs

You’re going to have to build strength in your legs, and the best way to do this is to incorporate intervals or hill runs into your training. As your legs gain strength, you’ll notice that you’re also gaining speed. Suddenly, slower runs will become a lot easier!

If you feel that the hills or intervals are becoming too easy, pick routes that have steeper climbs to challenge your legs.

Day 4. Mid-Distance Run (easy, slow pace)

By now, your legs are going to be sore. Taking an easy, gentle run at a slow pace will not only help your legs recover, but it will help your leg muscles get used to running for long periods.

This will also help you to increase your lactic threshold.

Day 5. Easy, Short Run (recovery run)

On day 5, you can choose to go for an easy, short run, or you can take part in a low-intensity cross-training or strength training workout.

Cross-training will allow you to work other muscles while letting your leg muscles rest and recover.

Week-by-Week Mileage Increase

Every week, increase the previous week’s total running mileage by 15%. You do this by slowly increasing the distance you run every day.

“But wait!” you say. “What about the 10% Rule?” Yes, it is common wisdom in road running to not increase mileage by more that 10% weekly. Trails, even though they slow you down, are actually easier on your body, so a little more distance is probably ok. But you know your body best. Listen to it and adjust accordingly.

The only exception to the 15% increase would be in the 4th week of training, when you cut back on the intensity. Here, you’ll run shorter distances at a slower pace. This will help your body to recover from the intense first 3 weeks, and adapt to the training.

Should You Do Flat Intervals or Hill Runs?

You’ll reap serious benefits by including intervals and hills in your training. You’ll find that your endurance and strength increase quickly.

Your training will depend on the race that you’re preparing for, but intervals are worthwhile either way.

If the terrain is hilly, you’ll be prepared. If it’s mostly flat, then you’ll find that your legs won’t fatigue as quickly, as they built strength doing intervals and hills.

The interval program we’ve included can be used on the track or flat terrain. All you’d need to do is shorten the distance by 30 to 50%, based on the steepness of the hill.

Should You Cross-Train or Strength-Train?

Strong yes. We recommend incorporating cross-training or strength training into your training routine. It helps to train different muscle groups while giving your body time to recover from runs.

These sessions should be between 45 and 60 minutes, at a low to moderate intensity, and should supplement your running. Cross-training can also be used to target specific muscles that can help improve your running performance.

What About Stretching?

Stretching post-run is highly recommended. Not necessarily for increasing flexibility, but as a part of your cool-down and the start of the recovery process. Your muscles will be warm from the run, and this makes them more pliable – the best time to stretch.

You should do dynamic stretching, and you should stretch all 5 major leg muscles for a minimum of 10 minutes. Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds, and then repeat.

If you really don’t have time to stretch after your run, have a shower before bed. This will warm the muscles up again, and then stretch before you get into bed.

What If I Miss a Training Run or Workout?

Life happens! There will be times when you miss a training run or workout. The great thing about our training plans is that they offer a fair amount of flexibility, and you can always switch a run with a cross-training workout or move it to the weekend, when you have more time.

Depending on your training schedule, your missed run or workout could even be counted as a recovery day. You’ll need to think about how to make it up, as you also don’t want to over-train by having two long runs on two consecutive days.

If you haven’t been able to train for five days in a row because you’ve been unwell, then schedule the first two or three days back to be easy running, at 80% of your normal distance and speed.

Muscle memory is a marvelous thing, and you’ll find that your legs will respond to the workout quickly!

Getting Ready for the Race

4-6 Weeks Before the Race

If you’ve been keeping track of your running data in a journal, you’ll be able to analyze your progress to help you to prepare for the big race.

At least 6 weeks before race day, analyze your running progress so that you still have enough time to make adjustments. This will let you know if you’re on track with your runs and how you’ve been feeling after each run.

It will help you to identify if there are still weaknesses you need to work on or if you still need to tweak your diet. Consider your pace, mileage, and other metrics that could be impacting your form.

At least 4 weeks before the race, start calculating your race pace so that you can set an achievable goal. Around this time, start tracking the quality of your sleep, too (many running watches now have this feature built in). Sleep plays an important role in achieving our goals, and a bad night’s rest can have a negative impact on your run.

If you’re sleeping badly, you may need to do a process of elimination to identify why. Is it because it’s too hot in the evening? Is daily stress affecting your sleep patterns? Are you working late at night?

By eliminating possible issues that could be affecting the quality of your sleep, you can work towards getting that much-needed rest and preparing for race day.

What About Tapering?

Start tapering at least 2 to 3 weeks before your 50-mile race. The best way to do this is to reduce your training load very quickly at first, and then more gradually as your race approaches.

Note that specificity and intensity are the two most important keys to taper successfully. You can reduce your training volume and time spent at interval intensity—volume at intensity— but don’t reduce the actual intensity of the intervals that you’re doing.

You’re still going to run hard, you’re just not going to go for as long. You can start by shortening your runs, then reduce the frequency of the runs. Then you’ll start reducing the number of intervals, but maintain specificity.

You should find that your body is fully recovered by the time the race comes around! Make sure that you also take some time to prepare yourself mentally for the race ahead.

Day Before The Race

Most runners like to carry a hydration vest or waist pack during the race (hopefully you’ve been training with one!). Aid stations can sometimes be 4-6 miles apart, and you want to be able to refuel and hydrate between them.

The day or night before the race, get all your gear and clothing together. This should include what you are going to wear, an extra set of clothes (especially socks), and any other restocking supplies if you are allowed a drop-bag mid-race.

Make sure to pack anything special you’ve found you needed while training. This could be extra lubrication like BodyGlide, salt tabs, a headlamp and extra batteries if the race starts or ends in the dark, and any special food or hydration requirements you have.

It’s always a good idea to check what will be available at aid stations, so you know if you can eat or drink that – or need to supplement your own food or hydration. Most races are good with providing plant-based and allergy-aware aid station food options.

Get everything ready and put it in an easy spot to find before you go to bed. 50-mile races often have very early start times, so you don’t want to be fumbling around in the early morning looking for your clothes and gear.

Also, review where you should park, the check-in process, and if either of those are far away from the start line. This is your last chance to confirm logistics before your race.

Race Day

All that’s left for you to do is to dress in your running gear, strap on your running watch, and eat a healthy breakfast that your stomach can handle.

Smear generous amounts of anti-chafing cream virtually everywhere, double-check your drop bag, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen!

Check your hydration bladder packs and make sure you’re stocked up on snacks and energy gels before you go.

The moment you’ve been preparing for is finally here! Have fun, run your heart out, and trust in all your training. It will carry you across the finish line.

Training Plan – 26 weeks

Running a successful 50-mile race requires dedication and commitment. If you can stick to this training plan for 26 weeks, you’ll be extremely well-prepared!

Remember to always warm-up and cool down. Mix up terrains where you can to challenge yourself.

Most of all, have fun!

This article was written with help from Chris Bachmann, running coach and personal trainer. Chris has run over 25 marathons and ultras. Based in Europe, he has traveled all over the world running and coaching clients and is available for online coaching. Learn more about Chris and his coaching programs here.

Week 1

  • Steady state: 2 miles/3.55 km
  • Intervals: 100m fast, 50m slow
      • 12 rounds, 3 minutes rest and repeat

Week 2

  • Steady state: 2 miles/3.5 km
  • Intervals: 200m fast, 100m slow
      • 6 rounds, 3 minutes rest and repeat

Week 3

  • Steady state: 2 miles/3.45 km
  • Intervals: 300m fast, 150m slow
      • 4 rounds, 3 minutes rest and repeat

Week 4 (cutback week, 80-90% intensity)

  • Steady state: 2 miles/3.4 km
  • Intervals: 400m fast, 200m slow
      • 3 rounds, 3 minutes rest and repeat

Week 5

  • Steady state: 3 miles/4.5 km
  • Intervals: Pyramid
      • 100m fast – 50m slow
      • 200m fast – 100m slow
      • 300m fast – 150m slow
      • 400m fast – 200m slow
      • 500m fast – 250m slow
      • 3 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 6

  • Steady state: 4 miles/5.6 km
  • Intervals: 800m fast – 400m slow
      • 3 rounds, 3 minutes rest
      • 2 more rounds

Week 7

  • Steady state: 4 miles/6.6 km
  • Intervals: 1.2 km fast – 600m slow
      • 2 rounds, 3 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 8 (cutback week, 80-90% intensity)

  • Steady state: 4 miles/6.4 km
  • Intervals: 1.6 km fast – 800m slow
      • 2 rounds, 3 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 9

  • Steady state: 6 miles/9.6 km
  • Intervals: Pyramid by 100m
      • 100m fast – 100m slow
      • 200m fast – 100m slow
      • 300m fast – 100m slow
      • 400m fast – 100m slow
      • 500m fast – 200m slow
      • 600m fast – 200m slow
      • 700m fast – 200m slow
      • 800m fast – 200m slow
      • 5 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 10

  • Steady state: 7 miles/9.8 km
  • Intervals: 2 km fast and 600m slow
      • 2 rounds, 5 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 11

  • Steady state: 8 miles/13 km
  • Intervals: 2.5 km fast and 1 km slow
      • 2 rounds, 5 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 12 (cutback week, 80-90% intensity)

  • Steady state: 8 miles/12.5 km
  • Intervals: Build up by 200m
      • 200m fast – 100m slow
      • 400m fast – 100m slow
      • 600m fast – 200m slow
      • 800m fast – 200m slow
      • 1,000m fast – 300m slow
      • 1,200m fast – 300m slow
      • 1,400m fast – 400m slow
      • 5 minutes rest
      • 1,600m fast – 400m slow
      • 1,800m fast – 500m slow
      • 1,000m fast

Week 13

  • Steady state: 9 miles/15 km
  • Intervals: 4×3 km with 1 km jog in between (try negative splits)

Week 14

  • Steady state: 9 miles/14 km
  • Intervals: 3×4 km with 1 km jog in between (try negative splits)

Week 15

  • Steady state: 12 miles/20 km
  • Intervals: 3×5 km with 1 km jog in between (try negative splits)

Week 16 (cutback week, 80-90% intensity – repeat week 11)

  • Steady state: 8 miles/13 km
  • Intervals: 2.5 km fast and 1 km slow
      • 2 rounds, 5 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 17 (repeat week 9)

  • Steady state: 9 miles/14 km
  • Intervals: Pyramid by 100m
      • 100m fast – 100m slow
      • 200m fast – 100m slow
      • 300m fast – 100m slow
      • 400m fast – 100m slow
      • 500m fast – 200m slow
      • 600m fast – 200m slow
      • 700m fast – 200m slow
      • 800m fast – 200m slow
      • 900m fast – 200m slow
      • 1,000m fast – 200m slow
      • 5 minutes rest
      • Repeat

Week 18

  • Steady state: 12 miles/20 km
  • Intervals: 5×3 km with 500m jog in between

Week 19

  • Steady state: 9 miles/15 km
  • Intervals: Triplets
      • 3x400m with 200m jog after
      • 3x600m with 300m jog after
      • 2 minutes rest
      • 3x800m with 400m jog after
      • 2 minutes rest
      • 3×1,000m with 400m jog after
      • 2 minutes rest
      • 2×1.200m with 400m jog after

Week 20 (cutback week, 80-90% intensity – similar week 10)

  • Steady state: 9 miles/15 km
  • Intervals: 2 km fast and 400m slow
      • 2 rounds, 5 minutes rest
      • Repeat 3x (so total 6×2 km)

Week 21 (repeat week 13)

  • Steady state: 9 miles/15 km
  • Intervals: 4×3 km with 1 km jog in between (try negative splits)

Week 22 (similar week 12)

  • Steady state: 9 miles/15 km
  • Intervals: Build up by 200m
      • 200m fast – 100m slow
      • 400m fast – 100m slow
      • 600m fast – 200m slow
      • 800m fast – 200m slow
      • 1.000m fast – 300m slow
      • 1.200m fast – 300m slow
      • 1.400m fast – 400m slow
      • 5 minutes rest
      • 1.600m fast – 400m slow
      • 1.800m fast – 500m slow
      • 2.500m fast

Week 23 (repeat week 14)

  • Steady state: 9 miles/15 km
  • Intervals: 3×4 km with 1 km jog in between (try negative splits)

Week 24 (cutback week, 80-90% intensity – repeat week 16)

  • Steady state: 8 miles/13 km
  • Intervals: 2.5 km fast and 1 km slow
      • 2 rounds, 5 minutes rest
      • Repeat
The Wired Runner