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Can I finish the 50 miler?

50.2 miles of fun!

The 50 mile run. Are you up for the challenge? I assure you it is a massive physical and emotional effort. In the marathon you can bonk at 20 miles, and still finish by stumbling and wobbling through the final six. During a 50 mile run, if you bonk at 20 you are "royally screwed", without the benefit of lubrication if you know what i mean. And, you will bonk! I have 24 finishes in 25 starts in the 50 mile run. This means 96% of the times that i've bonked, i've went on to finish. The question is how? Let's explore that and look for possibilities to help you as you attempt this feat.

If you're even considering this distance then it is highly likely that you've completed at least one marathon and have some idea of the discomfort associated with hours of physical forward motion. Also, it is my experience that if you've finished the marathon, then you can complete a 50 mile run. In the marathon training article I suggested mastering just three principles. They were faith, training, and executing a plan. All else derives from these simple initiatives. These I believe also are relevant to the 50. Further, I am convinced that if you have the faith to fill out, sign, and send in a 50 mile race application and personal check and you have the faith to show up on that start line, then you have the faith to finish when things get BAD "out there" at Mile 28 or 38 or 41. And it will get bad out there. You can count on that.

Now let's talk training. Let's make a conservative estimate that you want to finish 50 miles in 12 hours. That is just over 4 miles per hour, or as runners love numbers; a 15 minute per mile pace. Certainly sounds easy, doesn't it? Funny how 10 hours on your feet over hill and dale, can make that 11th and 12th hour so difficult. To train for this type of test you need to spend time on your feet. You don't need to move fast, but you do need to get out regularly and move, and move, and move. And, then, keep going. Long weekend runs "Are the Key!" I'm not talking miles, i'm talking hours. Probably working up to, and completing a few 6 to 8 hour easy run/walks should get you ready. Again, as with the marathon, relax and enjoy these training runs, and duplicate race conditions as much as possible. By this I mean time of day, and terrain covered.

Many of you folks know I am from the Hagerstown, MD area. This means that JFK is my home race. I understand and accept that many of my fellow plodders are not very fond of the canal. I can dig that. However, it does create a great location to train that absolutely matches race terrain. That is, if you choose JFK. During these training runs you need to experiment with fluids and foods. If you are blessed with the good fortune of having family or friends to crew for you during a race you have a tremendous advantage in having your favorite fuels available. Otherwise, you have the option of being at the mercy of the aid stations, or carrying a medium sized fanny pack. Personally, over the years my tastes have become less refined. Maybe it was the year of kimchi and waterbugs in Korea, or maybe i'm just getting old. Without specific needs i am unable at the start line to know what i'll want at Mile 33. I believe this to be a terrific advantage. Some fuels I seldom turn away are de-fizzed coke, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and M & M's. That's what I train with. They may or may not work for you.

Now, let's talk about your plan. Planning for 50 miles. Can you imagine that? It is not something to take lightly. This event is not unlike the marathon in execution of your plan. However, the preparation like the training is a bit more extensive. Most ultrarunners I know study the courses they run. They know the A.T. following the climb out of Boonesboro. They know those switchbacks dropping off to the canal. No doubt, ultrarunner is a Master Logistician. Preparations for a shuttle launch pale in comparison to preparations the week prior to the 50. Every detail matters. It may be the difference between finishing and not. Clothes and running shoes are treated as royal raiments, and packed, checked, and re-packed. Over the period of 12 hours on the race course the weather can change dramatically. Especially at elevation. You need to be prepared. Ultrarunner is an amateur meteorologist. We can smell the storm coming. All that Boy Scout training finally pays off.

So this is the outline of what you need to know as you prepare for this great unknown in your life. I want to share a secret with you now. You see, i know you can do this, you can finish a 50 mile run. Pure athleticism is not a requirement. Mere mortals finish. I am living proof. I do recommend you team up with another runner in this attempt. Prior ultra experience in a partner is good, but not absolutely necessary. Companionship on those long runs has often helped me. Ultrarunners may very well be eccentric, but ultrarunners are not loners. I have read a thousand running articles. To educate and inform yourself is helpful, but to finish this run you need to prepare, and surround yourself with folks who believe in you as much as you believe in yourself.

Congratulations on getting this far. In this adventure called life, that we all share on Earth, some folks are called to explore boundaries. You are one of those folks. Continue to challenge yourself. Do not worry about those voices around you suggesting you stop, or that you are crazy for banging head-on into such impossible odds. Ignore them. Press on and be kind. You are so much stronger than you know. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can assist your effort in any way. Good Luck and God Bless You.
The Hitman

Most Early and Awesome Slugs

Pics from the first two Flatlander 50's held in Va. Beach in 1993 and 1994. 50 miles of pure sun, sand, and fun in Seashore State Park. Lots of great memories came out of that park. In fact, most of our Slug training was done on the series of Dolly Parton's (sand hills) that were buried deep in the swamps of that park. Top photo shows Running Man on far left, and just to his right (hiding), Peek-A-Boo Bob Boeder who went on to Grand Slam just a year later. Bottom photo shows John Clark sneering in the Hitman's ear, while Peanut looks on. Also, on far right is Mike Morton in his first ultra. A short year later the same Morton pushed the entire Western States field to a new course record of 15:40:41. Morton became the first East Coaster ever to win the WS, thus shattering the myth that the race is biased in favor of those who train on the hellish course. Could those Sand-Hills have had something to do with his success? Probably not. This park was also the site of most of our run-ins with Ranger Rick. The famous coconut-covered marshmallow and naked lady incident was cut short by same Ranger. I promise you, Ranger Rick don't like Slugs-Loose-in-the-Night in his park.


Hint: Slug on Left was originally named a Flatlander in the "Downstream Digest" in October 1982, and currently writes monthly UR article for "Running Journal"

Early Track Run