50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan For The Wannabe Runner
Give Me The Fish (GMTF): A 50-mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan is not that complicated and doesn’t have to consume your entire life. As long as you are already somewhat active and know how to push through pain you can do it too. Training for an ultra marathon is no different than training for strength. The same principles apply:
- Training specificity (goal, terrain, gear, nutrition)
- Consistent and Progressive Overload (incremental improvements over a period of time)
- Recovery (Mental and Physical)
- Enough Nutrition (Different than good nutrition)
- Understanding what works for you
- Knowing the difference between hurt and injured
I trained and ran with two close friends for the entire process. We all started at various levels of fitness and each had a different 50 Mile Ultra Marathon training plan, and we were all able to train to the point of being able to run a 50-mile Ultra Marathon in just 16 weeks. If you want this, you can have it.
*This is my 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan Excel Sheet if you want to cut to the chase. Or, you can skip to the bottom for my two buddies’ plans, along with tips and tricks.
Table of Contents
How Do I Even Get Into Running Ultra Marathons?
For me, it all started when I messaged two friends about getting breakfast the following Sunday. One of them just moved into town from Florida and I hadn’t seen him in 3-4 years.
As usual, time apart means nothing and the ragging immediately started. Mostly spurred by Brian showing up on a motorcycle, who happens to also be a fighter pilot. Having come to California, he has officially cleared the mark of being a typical pilot and wannabe Tom Cruise.
After a couple of cups of coffee, a lot of catching up, and breakfast on the way, I mentioned how I finished an Ironman in the previous year and wanted to take on a 100-mile Ultra Marathon next (I had yet to find out that you had to do a 50-mile race first). In most friend groups this is followed by an “oh, that’s cool” and then moving on. Us… not so much.
They are immediately stoked about it. Partially out of the challenge, and mostly because of typical male competitiveness.
The three of us had met 10 years earlier while in college and had immediately hit it off. A friendship built off a shared love of pain and an unspoken belief that we were bad@$$es (still up for debate). We spent the next few years working out together and going on really stupid outdoor expeditions until the military had us split separate ways.
Which led us back to this point.
Starting Ultra Marathon Training From Scratch
As soon as I told them about my plans, they were in. The only problem. Neither of them had run more than 3-4 miles in the last year and a half. Brian was coming off of an injury. And, I had stopped my serious running after the Ironman 12 months earlier, running once a week for eight miles every Sunday. Needless to say, we had some work to do.
We decided to each train our own way, except for Sunday’s which would be our long run for the week.
Also, for most 100 milers you have to complete a 50-mile race first. Due to time constraints, we agreed to just do a 50 together, and then if we had time before some upcoming deployments, we would do a 100 mile race.
The First Day Of Our 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan
The following Sunday we meet up and are standing around at the trailhead talking about how much we ran the previous week. Brian zero, Andrew three, me nine. Saying we wanted to do an 11-mile mountain run that day, this was going to be interesting to say it mildly.
We head out. Andrew, no different than 10 years earlier, takes off at an 8-minute mile pace. My only thought, “I’m hosed if he is already at this level”.
We are on a serious incline and he is moving fast. Brian and I are not ones to back down from a challenge, so we take off after him.
15 minutes later, still climbing two miles in, and my muscles are starting to burn. I look over at Andrew. His face is pure determination.
I know that look.
Most people would think he is in the zone. But we are all Marine Corps Officers with years of practice hiding pain. Andrew is in sheer agony.
I ask him if he wants to slow down. He looks at me with a look that says “f#@$ you”.
No way in hell is he going to seem weak.
I’m not offended, that’s standard. Brian and I look at each other, knowing we are both in a little better running shape and wanting to make a point, immediately start driving up the mountain, rapidly picking up the pace. We quickly leave Andrew in the dust. 10 more minutes and we are all seeing red, gasping for air, and keeled over on the side of the mountain. Andrew comes walking around the bend 5 minutes later with a face of pure defeat.
And, honestly, Brian and I probably look no different.
Learning From Mistakes
Lesson 1: Train the way and pace you are going to race
Lesson 2: Don’t bite off more than you can chew, small increments are key
Only 3.5 miles in and exhausted, we’ve definitely bitten off more than we could chew. We finish the run that day having turned around at that spot and went for breakfast.
After that disaster, we spent the course of the next few months correcting our training. In the end, we each developed our own 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan. All developed off of the mistakes we made that day. While we all had different plans, they all worked. It really comes down to what works for you.
Below is the 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan that we built. Despite the plans, we would take off any day we felt too exhausted or too worn down to run. This included taking off an entire week if needed.
I also had to include rowing in my workout due to my Grand Canyon trip I was preparing for.
In total, our training took 4 months.
My 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan
While my original plan worked well, and I finished feeling pretty good. I would definitely make some adjustments off some lessons learned, mostly due to the outcome after the race. It’s also important to keep in mind that lifting is supplemental. I wasn’t afraid to ax a lifting day if I was exhausted (mentally or physically) and neither should you.
If I did it again, I would swap out the pushups and jumping squats with just benching and squatting. I would also switch to larger sets and smaller reps. This is mostly due to the amount of strength I lost while training for the race. I also would have better synched my lifting and running. While this worked for the race, minor injuries (just hurt) seemed to compound if I wasn’t careful to back the intensity off. Intensity x volume = way too much.
- Download my 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan
- This plan reflects some minor changes I have made with clients and myself over the years. Feel free to swap around Saturday and Sundays. I find most people have more time to train Sundays and want to still enjoy their life outside of running.
- Squat 2 x 10 at the heaviest weight I could do with good form
- Bench 2 x 10 at the heaviest weight I could do with good form
- 30 minutes of weighted Barbell rows (whatever felt good and taxed my upper back, usually a heavy 3 x 3 at 90% 1 RM and then sets of 10 at 75% until failure)
- 10 sets of pushups, stopping each set just before failure
- 200 jumping lunges alternating each side
- 10 sets of pullups, stopping just before failure
- 30 minutes of inverted rows, resting every other minute
- Something else active (swimming, sprints, sports, climbing, etc.)
My plan had to be cut short due to leaving for rowing the Grand Canyon. I missed the long runs on weeks 7-9 in the attached 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan due to not having places or time to run and changed week 12’s Sunday into a 41-mile run (not recommended, stick to the plan). By combining those runs I knew I was playing with fire and ended up developing some bone pain that turned into a stress fracture during the race. I still finished but it put me on crutches for two weeks after. Then I took the following week off and resumed the plan on week 14.
Brian’s 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan
This style of running is for people that don’t like rigid schedules and that need a lot of recovery time. Honestly, I could never train this way, but to each their own.
- By far the simplest, twice a week he would run between 3 and 10 miles depending on injury level and feel. Literally, whatever he felt like. Sometimes he would run a total of 6 miles for Intra week runs and sometimes 12 miles.
- Sundays: He ran with the group, increasing Sundays run by usually 2-4 miles every week until he did a massive jump up and did the final 41 mile run at the climax of the 50 mile ultra marathon training plan (again not recommended). For the last 4 weekends, he did: zero miles (recovery), 25 miles, 15 miles, 10 miles, Race.
- He stopped lifting weights and moved to body weight. Every week he would roughly complete 500 pullups and 1000 pushups, completing them in small sets.
Andrew’s 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan
- He followed the Ultra Ladies 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training plan with the exception of Saturda/Sundays. Which is the below:
- Saturday/Sundays: He ran with the group, increasing his weekend run 2-4 miles every week until our jump to a 41 mile run at the climax of our training program.
- If you notice the plans are very similar. The real difference came down to time. I needed more flexibility in my schedule.
- He kept lifting throughout, including increasing his lifts following the Juggernaut Method.
- Andrew after the fact did not recommend combining these training plans, with the same conclusion as me. Higher sets and fewer reps along with a more simple plan. It was just too much to train at once with a lot of recover issues.
While he did not get in as good of shape as Brian and me during the run, his lifting was impressive. Though, he struggled with injuries throughout and following the run. This makes sense. A heavier body is a lot harder to move, along with not getting as specific adaptations. In addition, the added stress made recovery difficult. His training plan is what gave me some insight into my 100-mile training plan.
A Few Lessons We Learned Along the Way
These lessons apply not just to building a better 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan, but also to run a better race.
Go way slower than you think.
- The distance is way more important than time. Especially when starting. To complete a 50 miler you only need to hit a little over an average 16-minute mile pace, to include, walking hills, eating, refilling camelbacks, etc.
Figure out a chafing plan.
- We found using excessive amounts of Vaseline before we started and then carrying a small tube of Carmex for areas that started rubbing worked well. We nicknamed this “Ballmex” for obvious reasons.
Ensure you are always drinking water.
- Twice we had to leave someone behind so we could run and get a car for heat injuries because they did not drink water before we started running. Which was stupid and is completely avoidable. Always carry water and have plenty of stops planned along the way.
Eating food is extremely important.
- While I usually don’t eat sugar and processed food ( I was actually eating keto before this), all of that went out the window. For me, sweet and salty granola bars and Skittles became my go-to. I rotated between the two and ate one of them every hour. Andrew was a big fan of using gels. And, Brian likes eating energy waffles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Don’t be competitive on your long days.
- Distance always comes first. Time should not be a factor, or you will quickly find yourself burning out long before you hit the needed distance.
The mental part is the hardest part.
- We ended up running a 41-mile training run a month out from the race. Unfortunately, due to some outside factors, this was also pushed to just 3 weeks out from the race, which was an awful mistake in terms of injury. But, this mentally made us feel prepared going into the race.
- I would not recommend this for everyone, and definitely not this close to the race. But, if you are nervous about the distance and it’s well planned, it might be worth it.
- Running this long is hard and during the race itself, you are going to doubt yourself, no if’s or but’s. You need to have a way to overcome it. Having done the distance this close to the race beforehand on your own turf in your own way might be the deciding edge. That being said, it’s not the only way and in terms of injury, I don’t actually recommend this option.
- Audiobooks can also help as can having a running partner and even making friends during the race on the trails.
- Make the race your sole focus.
- This is some advice I should have followed. We didn’t, and it made training way harder than it needed to be. Hell, I was forced to take 16 days off due to my trip down the Grand Canyon a month and a half from the race. Andrew kept lifting, but he will be first to admit that his running and health suffered. But, Brian actually took this advice, and he looked strong on the training runs.
- Don’t be afraid to walk.
- 50 miles is a long way and there is no use in draining your energy on up-hills. A lesson our first run taught us in the form of a lot of pain and embarrassment.
- This kind of running is way more doable than you think, just go slow and enjoy the run. We B.S.’d and talked every step of the way.
Buffered electrolyte salt pills are a godsend.
- I used them on my Ironman too, they stop cramps in their tracks. They also can make you feel like gold again.
Sunday long runs were essential.
- They not only boosted our confidence, but they were the only time we could truly train our bodies to be on our feet for that amount of time.
Find a 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan that works for you.
- As long as it is practical and keeps you motivated and improving it’s a good plan. There are a million plans out there, all of them are extremely different and they all tend to work. Don’t over-analyze it.
Ultra Marathon Running Is Within Your Reach
While we have been extremely active in our lives and have ranged between being active and not so active. The time leading up to our race training was almost completely devoid of running with the exception of my own Sunday runs.
We made a lot of mistakes, but each 50 Mile Ultra Marathon training plan was sound, despite their differences. Our 41-mile training run was done in a little under 11 hours, including having to move our cars (took 15 minutes). Having to go into gas stations and buy food and water for stops and getting distracted in the parking lot and talking about random things for 25 minutes. And while we were tired, we weren’t exhausted when we finished. We knew we were ready for the race.
If you follow a solid training plan, you are going to feel the same. Training for an Ultra Marathon is not that complicated. If you have a reasonably active lifestyle and are willing to put up with some pain, a 50-mile Ultra Marathon is well within your reach. All it takes is the willingness to make the effort, find a 50 Mile Ultra Marathon Training Plan that works for you, and just get out there and run.
***If you need help building a plan or coaching through this, don’t hesitate to reach out. I don’t care what your athletic ability is, as long as you are physically able to run, you can do this.