HOW TO RUN A 50 MILE ULTRAMARATHON WITHOUT TRAINING FOR IT
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Posted on June 26, 2018Just Do it. – There. Nike should sponsor me.
With the 2018 Rock The Ridge – 50 Mile Endurance Challenge happening in less than a month, I figured I would finally take the time to explain how I completed a 50 mile challenge without training for it at all.
I think “without training at all might be a tad of an exaggeration”. I did 3 days of training, about 4 weeks before the run, I got on a treadmill and did a couple (less than 5) miles each day.
Food & training I only had one idea in mind for preparation of this run, the Ketogenic diet. From my time living in New York City, I knew that I felt better for long periods of time if I was Keto adapted. That said, I adopted a Ketogenic Diet in the weeks leading up to the race. I should also note that I continued to go to the gym 6/7x a week all the way up until race day, not to do cardio of course but to go lift weights. I continued to lift until the day before the run. In addition to that, on the day before the run, I did not increase my caloric intake at all. I think by this point most people would say I made 3 mistakes: 1. I never ran at distance before, 2. I never did any kind of cardiovascular training for this, and 3. I ended up having a regular sized dinner.I had gotten into a bicycle accident a couple months before and ended up in bed for a couple weeksI would also like to note that I have never ran a 5K, or 10K, or a half-marathon, or even a marathon. I don’t know I think you should do stuff that inspires you, and none of those sound inspiring to me (not at this moment in my life anyway).Note: I did not do any research about “what you’re supposed to do.”Weight 220lbs, Height 6’1, approximately 12% Body fat, 6 to 7 days of high intense weightlifting a week, no cardio.
Disclaimer: I’m fairly certain that I have the exact mile wrong, I did my best to remember at what mile things happened, but this was definitely the order in which they did happen.
The Morning of:
I didn’t sleep exactly the best, but from my understanding no one really does before a run, the excited and nerves keep our subconscious stimulated as we sleep. I was up by 3:35 a.m. because I had to be in the car by 4:00a.m. to ensure that I get to packet pick up and bag check in time. The drive would take about an hour and a half because I decided to not stay anywhere local. I’m not sure what happened I might have just been too excited, but I completely forgot to eat breakfast, the thought of “hey I’m about to do this 50 miles on my feet thing, maybe I should eat” never once entered my mind. And to be honest, I didn’t even realize this until I was already running. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so I get dropped off at the starting location and it must have poured the night before because the entire ground was just mud. I already knew that I had the “wrong” shoes on, but what made it worse that the shoes had a mesh design, so that mud worked its way through the mesh and ended up hardening around the mesh, I’d say I had 1/2 a pound of mud on my shoes by the time I started. Which might not seem like much, but it adds up over distance. I can’t find the calculation right now, but I think I came across it when I was reading up on Bill Bowerman. 1/2 a pound becomes an exponential amount of weight lifted at distance. For example, let’s say I lift my 1 leg, 1000 times over the course of a mile (Note: I have no idea if this is remotely close) that means I’m lifting .5 extra pounds 1000 times, or put simply 1 pound 500 times. That’s for 1 mile! Now multiply that by 50, that means you’re lifting 1 extra pound 25,000 times over the course of the run, no matter who you are, that will affect you in some manner.
The gun goes off and were up and running. And we begin to run through these two rows of trees which end up stopping and it opens up into this giant farming field. It was really amazing to see, it was overcast and foggy, but it was still beautiful nevertheless. And more than anything we were running which I was thankful for because I had been standing around for 25/30 minutes just by myself waiting for the run to start. I was trying to focus and get in the right zone. But almost everyone I saw around me was having a good time with people they seemed to know, a lot of people seemed like they were doing this with their friends, teammates, family members, but I was doing it alone.
Anyway, so were running through this field and then we get to the other side of the field and which point we are welcomed by a giant uphill climb. I remember looking at the Participant Guide and remember saying to myself that the first 30 miles are more or less uphill. That said, here we were, greeted by this hill and all of a sudden a majority of people stopped running/jogging, and they began to walk up the hill. Now I know I’m not an expert, but one thing that was ironed into my mind was once you start running, do not stop running/jogging, maybe it was watching Forrest Gump to many times growing up. But that is the mentality I had at this moment in time. Once I started running the game plan was to not stop running, eventually inevitably turning into a jog followed by a really* slow jog. So here I am trudging my slow self-up the hill with the intention of not stopping. I felt good, the air was crisp, nothing hurt, I was starting to feel confident about this endeavor, feeling “oh yeah… I got this.” …. We were less than a mile in.
Mile 5 – Mile 8.
The first aid station (which only had Fluids) has been passed, the fog is starting to break, and I… am in dire need of food! The whole not eating breakfast thing has finally caught up to me. The uphill climb is still ongoing but that hunger has set in BIG TIME. Not only was dinner average size the night before, it was early (I wanted to spend the evening meditating) around 6:00pm. So by now, I have been fasting for about 13+hours while going uphill, and I could feel it. There were actually moments when I got light headed, angry, and you know that moment when you’ve had just a little too much to drink and the world begins to spin, that was happening as well. It was at this moment I began to call myself every version of “idiot” I could think of. Nevertheless, I knew that I had passed the first station and I knew the second one was on its way, as long as I remained focused. It was by this point that I decided to take my headphones out, there were giving me more of a headache than motivation. That and I decided that if going to be spending the next couple hours in nature, I should spend the next couple hours IN nature entirely.Luckily by this point, the pack of people began to spread out a little and you had some breathing room, otherwise I can only imagine what people would have been saying. Here’s this guy, whose obviously not a runner (body size has way too much muscle), wearing almost all black (while almost everyone else is wearing some form of bright colors), talking to himself under his breathe before we are even 10 miles in.
Oh thank the sweet saints! I made it to the next pit stop! You know what that means, time to fuel up! Simple thought, difficult execution. You see, there are these things called carbs, and when you’re in Ketosis you really don’t want to eat carbs because they will pull you out of Ketosis and can even make you feel sick. Well no one gives a hoot about my Ketogenic Butt, so here I am at the fueling station with almost any kind of candy a kid can crave! (I know you runners reading this right now are saying: “yeah what else would there be”, remember I really had no idea, I have never done something of this magnitude before). Skittles and Pepsi are the two things that stand out the most in my mind, but I remember also seeing mixed nuts. I would like to say that I took a moment to think about it, but I didn’t, I made the decision to just consume a little of everything. I wanted the calories and the sugar with the fat and salt. My gut told me that I would probably pull myself out of Ketosis but a part of me remembered reading something by Dr.Peter Attia (I think it was him: https://peterattiamd.com/), that he could actually consume an appropriate amount of carbs in such a way that he could remain in Ketosis during endurance races. I had a hope that I would actually get lucky and have that happen to me. That said, I ate what felt right and then got right back on my way. Cue the music: On my way Rusted Root – Send Me On My Way
(Notice the change in the scale on the compared to the last one)
…It didn’t work, I could feel the carbs interacting with my body and I began to feel a little sick. But the good news is that the sun was up and out and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day to run, not to hot, not too cold, slight breeze here and there, and scattered clothes. I was making my way when I came upon this gentleman and we struck up a quick conversation. I ended up telling him that this was my first time doing it, and I wasn’t part of a relay team. His response… “oh wow, you’re making great time!” You know… I’m sure a lot of people when they hear that would be ecstatic about that fact. But the first thought that entered my mind was “oh shite, if I’m making great time that must mean I’m going fast and probably expelling my energy too quickly. I contemplated slowing up a little bit but I decided to just keep going and let it play out. After a couple more laughs and statements of encouragement, we began to gap apart.
Not feeling good from the carbs, not feeling energized in the slightest, I decided to double down (cause that’s the right thing to do)! I doubled down with ClifBlox, I have never had ClifBlox before, I tried one and I could immediately hear angels singing, in the moment it felt exactly like what I needed. I immediately popped another 3 in my mouth and was ready to go. But this time, I decided to outsmart the system, this whole food only at the Pit Stops thing, what if I needed some stuff on the run. After the first set of carbs I felt like I could use some more 5 miles later, but I didn’t have any. That said, I stuck 5 packs of Blox in my pocket (probably the best decision of the day: I wore shorts with pockets, and more importantly pockets that had zippers). Before I was about to take off, something else caught my eye “ClifShot Gel”, “Ohhoho what is this” I thought, and proceeded to rip open a mocha one and try it. Again I heard the angels, looking at the packaging I read this incredible word, 2 syllables, 4 vowels, 3 consonants, …. Caffeine. “Oh baby here we go”, I ended up ripping open another one and downing it, while shoving another 3 in my pocket before I took off…slowly.
One of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Running along that ridgeline made every single moment of that climb worth it. And as I was running the ridge I actually wasn’t feeling too bad pain wise, I’m not too sure if that is because I went completely numb or if that was because I was so focused on making sure that I didn’t get dizzy or that I didn’t trip, or anything else where the potential result could be me falling off the mountain. I can admire a view, especially this view 10 feet back from the edge. One day I hope I will be able to put into words just how stunning it really was, the beauty just went on, seemingly forever. Maybe it was the 30 miles it took to get up there, but running on top of that truly felt spiritual.
The ridgeline came to an end and back into the woods we went. I thought, “Oh yeah, were headed downhill now!” …. well that was short lived, I quickly learned that going down 20 miles after going up 30 is going to lead to all sorts of fun -_- . My feet really started to hurt, especially around the top lace, my feet were beginning to swell and I tied the laces just tight enough that the circulation would eventually get cut off. I hadn’t realized that I was cutting the blood circulation from my feet, but I feel like that should be addressed. I stopped untied my shoes and retied them looser, and began to make my way back down the hill. Not before long was my foot swelling up even greater now, the blood that was restricted before now entered completely and both my feet felt completely swollen.
I just came out of the greatest pit stop on the race, and I came out with my greatest loot of the race! It was at this pit stop that I was able to pick up my pack, and knowing good and well that there was a chance that I wasn’t going to be done before dark I wanted to make sure that I had it. This stop had so many offerings, I’m pretty sure I saw oreos, gummy wormds, baked potatoes, coke, orange soda, and atleast 10 other options to pick from. I already knew what I was staking out, I felt like trash already, so I didn’t want to feel like greater trash by adding more products/ingredients to the list. I loaded up and packed Blox and Gel Shots before headed out. I would say by this point in the race I ate at least 10 packages of Blox and the angels were no longer singing when I ate them. Regardless, down the hatch caffiene and sugar!By this time the sun is getting lower in the sky and you can tell that darkness is coming, and it will be here sooner than you think because the trees will block out the light. On top of that, it started to rain.
What was a beautiful day is turning into one adventure of an evening. The rain began to pick up. Now this was not one of those “oh, it’s raining, ah it’s so refreshing, it actually even feels a little warm”. No, this was cold, freezing cold rain, made your muscles tighten up after completing 40+ miles type of rain. Needless my pace slowed…significantly. That enjoyable breeze that would come every once in a while, now turned into a form of pain that would shoot right through you. It’s a good thing that I had my pack because inside it I had…. No rain jacket or spare clothes. I had… Vodka, a headlamp, and my glorious Blox. Yes, I had Vodka in my pack. To be exact, I filled one of those 8oz water bottles with Tito’s. I did this for… emergencies. Now before I say anything else I want to be clear: this is not necessary, I do not condone this, and I do not recommend anyone do this, ever. That said, I figured that in case of an emergency I could use it to start a fire if need be, or I could use it to disinfect something if I fell, or… I could use it to help me finish the race. And that’s just what I did. The rain was making me cold, my pack felt heavier than it needed to be, and there was no place to throw the bottle. I knew a couple sips would warm me up from the inside out. It was just an experiment to see if this could prove useful. A couple sips down, I was already feeling warmer, and my pace actually began to pick up a little because I began to feel like I was floating and it felt fun to just run. Back in the pack it went. Looking at the headlamp I could feel I would be using it sooner rather than later, if I didn’t get out of the woods in time. It was around this time that delirium and sugar ended up creating a story in my mind that I needed to be out of the woods before dark… or else (insert dramatic music DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!). It might sound cliché, but creating incentives like that really do play a huge role in making things happen. After a couple more minutes, which seemed like hours because now the wind was going consistently I made it out of the woods.
Out of the woods, I truly feel like “I’m almost there”. But now that I was out of the woods, I didn’t have the trees to block some of the rain and or wind. And it got really cold, I would be curious to see what the temperature change was on that date. Out in the open the rain was hitting me from every direction, and with it, the wind was there, making sure you would get cold through to you core. The sun had set and we had that last bit of light before it became pitch black because there was no moon, the rain clouds were too thick, there was no lights, you’re in seemingly the middle of nowhere. There was a man in front of me by about 300 feet.
I caught up to this guy and we traded some words of motivation, but it just came down to the fact of we’ve come this far were going to get it done. It was around this time I realized something: one thing I really enjoyed/motivated me about this run is that it loops back and you actually end at the start. Think about it like this: if you took the infinity symbol and just connected a line at the center. You start by running the line, you go right complete 1 loop come back around and go out the other loop and come back around to eventually come running back down the line.
What never crossed my mind (until it happened) was that the exceptional runners are going to be coming back on the loop when I’m just starting it. It’s actually almost comical, you’re starting this run and you’re super focused on it, but what you can’t help but notice is that there are these groups of people that are already running the other direction, meaning they got to the top and already are on their way back. I couldn’t realize just how far these guys were in front of me, until I got to the top and it hit me, “Wow those guys are fast”. That said, once you get to the top of the first loop you proceed to make your way back down to the other loop. And what ends up happening is you see these guys coming off the other loop before you even start it, which means that they are on the last leg of the race already. It was remarkable and just pure inspiration and motivation.
So this guy and I are more or less on the home stretch, we are just about to get to the open field that was at the beginning of the race and by this time it was dark. The rain picked up out of nowhere, and it was POURING! It was one of the hardest rains I ever felt in my life, the rain drops were the size of small marbles. And out of nowhere I heard thunder, almost instantaneously I’m thinking back to elementary school; where’s the last place you want to be when you hear thunder, in the middle of an open field. I know statistically you probably won’t get struck by lightning unless you’re Walter Summerford. (http://www.thiswillblowmymind.com/did-you-know-that-a-man-named-walter-summerford-was-struck-by-lightning-3-times-in/). But let’s face it after 45+ miles, terrible food, I wasn’t really in the mood for statistics. I found something positive to focus on, ” you know, with all this rain, the mud in my shoes was finally washed away”. It continued to pour and I was about half way through this field, right next to the only tree in the field and out of nowhere lighting struck about 5 miles away. I TOOK OFF, I was gone, I don’t know what happened, I just said see you later and I booked it. The rain was coming down so hard that the trail that was easy running this morning was filled with puddles past your ankles, you would be running and every step would splash water up to your chest. Finally, I got back to the 2 rows of trees, which means that I was on the legitimate homestretch ( I had been saying I was on the homestretch since Mile 30). And lightning strikes just kept going off, lighting up the night sky each time, here I am soaked from head to toe, running through these trees, with moments of night flashing before my eyes, I swear it was the most cinematic thing I had ever experienced, I felt like I was in The Patriot and was about to go sneak up behind some Redcoats in the darkness of night using the storm as cover to ambush them. Jokes aside, one day I will find a way to recreate it, because I truly believe that it was too amazing for only me too experience. I wish there was a way to see that last mile. I ran that last mile faster than I ran the previous 49.
Pictured: The tree amongst the open field.
I see the light at the end of the rows of trees, the starting gate/finish line. Call me crazy, but with this amazing experience of the rain and lighting I actually didn’t want to stop running yet. It was just pure excitement, pure energy, and when you have that, you should do everything in your power to make it last. However, I was moving too quick and not before long, I made it, the finish line. I was handed my metal and a given a great handshake, competitors and volunteers were still there supporting people who finished and just enjoying each other’s company. It was such an amazing sight to see, and I couldn’t think of a better way to end the run. To me, that is one of the top reasons to do this challenge, the amazing people you get to meet when you do it. The other top two reasons are: 1. the views you get to see, not only off the ridgeline, but there were so many beautiful things going on in the woods that you wouldn’t even think to appreciate it. 2. The spiritual aspect of the adventure itself. It is inevitable that your spirit wouldn’t be called to life in some way on this adventure.
We have to get back to the car, which means… back out into the rain and lightning, there was no parking at the finish line so that means we had to make our way all the way back to the car. Leaving the sanctuary of the Starting Gate and back into the elements we went. Finally after arriving at the car, and changing into some dry clothes I began to think. I thought about all the people I passed on the mountains, the ones that saw me as I was coming around the loop just as I saw the others coming around the loop ahead of me. I was hoping and praying that everyone would be safe, even if they did not finish the race this year, I was just hoping that they wouldn’t get lost in the woods and that they would all be okay. With that final thought in my mind we drove off.
I’m in the car on my way home, the rain and sugar finally got to me. My body is shivering and my stomach feels like it’s rotting considering I have not had real food in over 26+ hours now, by this point I’m fairly certain I ate my way out of Ketosis (after consuming at least 12Blox packs and 7Gels). The shivering is so bad that we need to pull over before my stomach decides it needs to puke. We pull over, recoup, and ride on home. After getting home and taking my shower, I fixed myself up a nice plate of amazing pasta, beef, and eggs. As I sat, nibbling slowly, I began to think about what just happened, and in that moment I began to appreciate every single thing in my life.
Closing 2 Days later, I was back in the gym, having perhaps one of the worst workouts of my life. I hadn’t had much time to think about the run except for the night I got home from it. I following day I spent with family, and I was so grateful that I just wanted to be present with them and not thinking about the run. That said, I’ve thought about it since then: Will I ever do it again, absolutely! Will I train for it next time, to be determined. Would I recommend it, absolutely! Right now I’m actually looking into 100 mile challenges, if you have any suggestions please leave a comment down below.
Also, if you have any questions please let me know in the comments . Thanks for reading and if you can, thank you for sharing it! Anthony