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Surviving a 50 Mile Marathon Distance, Tips and Pearls

After my recent races at the Prairie Spirit Trail 50 miler in Ottawa Kansas in March 2015 and the Osage Hills Trail Marathon in June 2015, I wanted to share some tips on how I survived.  This post will talk about pre race nutrition, muscle strengthening exercises, training and about racing strategies, fuel, supplements and shoe gear.   I was able to successfully survive both races injury free and live to post and share my experiences. 

Prairie Spirit 50 Miler

The decision to try a 50 miler should be on your mind after you have completed several marathons and a few 50K races. My decision was fueled by my two "Okie" running buddies who both signed up, so the decision was easy. I got to run my first 50 miler and train with two good friends. For training, I kept it easy: the goal was 50 miles a week, which was obtainable and challenging  depending on my work schedule. This is what worked best for me. I wanted to go hard Thursday through Sunday, completing ten miles each of the four days, and any extra mileage obtained Monday through Wednesday would be a bonus.  I didn't incorporate strength training, and I had minimal cross training during the two months prior to the race. Basically, just lots a logging miles.


For hydration I like Skratch Labs out of Boulder Colorado. For distance and hot events I choose the Exercise Hydration Mix. They state, "It replaces both the fluid and electrolytes you lose in your sweat while providing just enough calories to help fuel your working muscles." I add the mix to the water inside my hydration pack. If I'm going further, like a 50 miler or the Century 100 mile bike ride, I will also use Hyper Hydration Mix. They promise, "The high sodium content helps increase your body's reserve of water and sodium so you can perform at your best when conditions are at their worst". 

I could not have finished the race without Hammer Nutrition's Endurolytes Tabs.  Endurolytes  S-tabs fulfill such a crucial component of your fueling by supplying your body with a balanced, full-spectrum, rapidly assimilated electrolyte source. I started taking the Endurolyte tabs at 6-8 hours into this race and 3 tabs every hour until finished.  This was appropriate for my weight (I was over 200lbs) during that race as the dosing is weight based. The S-tabs help with cramping during exercise and helped me finish my race. I'll note that when I became nauseous I drank ginger ale at the aid stations. It helped.

Fuel - Calories:

I'm going to tell you all the food I tried and what worked and didn't work. The main fuel I used for calories and energy was Hammer Nutrition's Sustained Energy. Sustained Energy with its 7:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio and a few carefully selected micro-nutrients all work synergistically to provide consistent, long-lasting energy. The concept is called "hour bottles". You add enough powder into a hand held bottle based on your running hours to give you enough calories/energy. I calculated mine and made hour bottles to use and refill at the designated aid/drop stations. 

So I had Skratch hydration in my pack and fuel calories in my hand. I had several other actual foods in my drop bags. Tanka Bar Buffalo Bar was good early, but didn't set well after 3-4 hours. Stinger Chocolate Wafer is an excellent choice for the entire race. Zico Coconut Water was excellent the entire race also.

Carb loading and Hydration pearls:

Carbohydrate loading is an important part of storing energy pre race.  Carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. Glycogen is your body's most easily accessible form of energy, and when you run out of it you "hit the wall". The agreed upon recommendation is to start carb loading 2-3 days before the race. You cannot load/fill your muscles with just one meal. Same with hydration. I have had success with trying to drink more water two days before the race. Also, the day before the race switch or add sport drinks and coconut water. Personally, I'm not a fan of sugar. My own hydration mix is pink sea salt and stevia sweetener. This works best for me, as well as plain coconut water.

Now to the race... In the past I have ran hard until I hit the wall then walked it in, which resulted in good time overall but wasn't very satisfying. This race I wanted to keep the most consistent pace possible. The early plan was to run until the turn around at 27 miles, then start a 4/1 technique (walk 1 minute run 4 minutes) until we finished.  During the race, at mile 24 we were going the same pace as the other groups already utilizing the 4/1 technique. So, we joined them. Wow! I'm a fan. There is something magical about the 4/1 technique. After running 6 plus hours and knowing you have 6 plus more to go, it's nice to give your mind and muscles a break. I found that 1 minute was enough of a break to walk and that 4 minutes of running worked well. Late in the race we switched to 3 minutes run 2 minutes walking as needed. We were able to pass most runners after the turn and no one passed us. We finished under 12 hours.

On a side note: from March to June I decided to try a weight loss boot camp. In another blog I'll explain my journey. I lost 25 pounds from weighing 205 to 180.  I've read that for every 10 pounds lost your time will drop on average by 30 seconds per mile.  Well, so far so true. After 25 lbs. lost, I'm 1 minute per mile faster on average.

Osage Hills Trail Marathon.

This race preparation was very different from my past pre race training.  I had just finished a 42 day weight loss and strength training boot camp. Therefore, I was lighter and stronger.  I had not put in the typical amount of mileage for marathon training, but my core and legs were still strong due to weight training. The strength training and core exercises that I did for the 42 day boot camp was noticeable in regard to running form and running hills. In the past I would experience musculoskelatal fatigue in the quads. The way to prevent this fatigue is to incorporate more hill training or leg strengthening work outs. The result of my weight loss/more strength training was a 3rd place overall finish and 1st place age group finish. 4th and 5th place were only five minutes behind me and it was a race for the last ten miles. The down side of having logged less miles for the marathon is that the recovery took longer. 


Hydration and Nutrition

The hydration for this race was Skratch and Coconut Water.  The fuel I used was Sustained Energy with 3 S-tabs every hour or as needed to prevent cramping. 


Hoka is the best for long distance running over rocky, rough technical terrain. I wore the Hoka Stinson ATR for this race and all races.  I have tried multiple types of Hoka shoes including the Conquest and Speed Mafate, and I prefer the Stinson. 

Tips and tricks to take away:

Have a tested fuel and nutrition plan. Never try any thing new during a race. Always practice it before and during training. I feel I have an advantage over the other runners because I have proven fuel and hydration plans, which for both races was very successful. 

Incorporate core and full body muscle strengthening exercises into your pre race work outs.

Buy a pair of Hoka's... joking. Have good pair of running shoes that match the race profile in regard to technical terrain, water, mud, ect...

Lastly, try and practice active recovery, which basically means slowing down and resting while still making forward progress. Allow yourself time to walk and rest.

Hope this helps you, and remember running and racing are fun and should be a way to get out and explore.

Until next time...

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