December 4, 2014

How To Run Far – My 50k Running Experience

By Marek

How To Run Far!

I started off with a half marathon. That was the first event I trained for when I began my running adventure at the age of 35. Running came about by chance. How To Run FarIt was a means to gain more energy in everyday life. As I got going, I realised that in order to keep this activity alive, some goals more relevant to running will need to be set. That is why within 4 months of starting running, I ran a half marathon. The challenge was more to do with tackling the distance, not necessarily the time. Hence, that is why with every new distance barrier I look to conquer, I stick to the same approach. How to run far? First, reach the distance. If I will enjoy it, I will keep going. Time can be improved in the future.
Enough of the lead in, let’s get down to business. What does running 50k look and feel like?

How To Run Far – Phase 1

Forget training and preparation, that I will cover in another article. This is just about the run. As with all my runs, I began with a warmup, which consisted of a 1km (2/3 of a mile) fast paced walk. During this, I got a chance to adjust my backpack and started my audiobook. I have learned from my previous experience earlier in the year, that having only music for such a long run is not good. Listening to music, your mind begins to wander and then you start thinking about the run.
With an interesting audiobook, you can concentrate on the book, and the time passes much easier. Hence, I chose to listen to “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami.
Alright, 1km warmup done, I set off running. Nice and easy pace, enough to reach 10k (6 miles) mark in an hour. Again, from previous experience, during which I believe I consumed too much liquids, I refrained from drinking every 10-15 minutes. Instead, I reached for my water bottle after 45 minutes and then every 30 minutes. I kept going at the similar pace (5:40/km or 9:00/mile) until I completed a third of my goal distance. At that time, I reached for a snack, so I started walking as I ate. As soon as I finished eating, I resumed my run. About 45 minutes later, I did the same. I was at the midway point and feeling good.

Choose Your Route Wisely

The route I had chosen runs mainly along a canal. This accomplishes two key factors. Number one, it is a flat run. Taking on a distance of 50 km for the first time, I did not want to use up too much energy going up and down hills. Factor number two, it is a nice and scenic route, away from cars and pollutants. The problem was, I knew only a small section of this route. Ahead of time, it was easy to calculate the distance and pick the turnaround point on the map. Nike Dual Fusion LiteI did not, however, know the quality of the path. When I was reaching near the 15 km (9 miles) mark, I noticed the path turn ugly. It was not a disaster but a challenge nonetheless. Muddy puddles, which I had to slow down for were one thing, yet the worst were hard, uneven rocks sticking out from underneath. Needless to say, my shoes were not designed for this sort of terrain. Hence, nearly half of my run was on a surface, which required thick and hard soles. My Nike Dual Fusion Light barely held their own on tarmac. On this surface, I would have felt less pain running barefoot.

How To Run Far – Phase 2

I consider Phase 1 to have taken me to the half way mark. I was keeping steady pace, grabbed some snacks along the way and kept hydrated. My legs were feeling fine, my breathing was nice and easy. Only the soles of my feet hurt from the rocks sticking out on the nasty path and I could feel blistering around the toes as my shoes were wet. At this point, I was thinking of reaching my turn around mark (which was about 1 mile ahead – a part of my route was different in the end stage to give it a bit of variety). I was considering taking an alternative route when I turned around, but where would I go? Problem was, it looked like my phone battery would not last the distance, so the use of the map would be limited. Also, the roads were quite narrow near the area and it did not look like there were sidewalks for pedestrians. That was not a very appealing alternative. At least here, I knew what I was up against. All I could think of, was reaching the point, where the path gets better. Leaving home in the morning, I had a vague target of 5 hours in mind for this distance. At this point, I knew it was out of my reach. Injinji toe socksI wasted too much time going around puddles, trying not to slip on the mud and could not crank up the speed on the rocky path.
My feet were the part of my body that was most effected by the run. They were paying the price. The rocks were painful, but mainly, frustrating. And when something frustrates you, it’s difficult to get it off your mind. I did not have much choice but to continue running. By about the two thirds mark, I knew that I would complete the distance. Mentally I felt strong. Frustrated that I had not planned things out a bit better and had more favourable conditions, but strong in the belief that I will accomplish the feat. If you want to know how to run far, the first thing you will need to establish is a strong will. I decided to make a quick stop and change socks. I had about 5 km (3 miles) until I reached the nicer part of the path, and my feet were uncomfortable in the wet shoes and socks. I had already formed a few nice and big blisters. I’ll deal with them later, I thought. I grabbed another Nakd bar as I changed my socks and had a drink of water. All I could think about was that nice stretch of surface which was 30 minutes away.

During this phase, I had a few walking segments. They were mainly due to poor running surface and I figured rather than be frustrated and possibly slip and injure myself, I would rather walk and relax, storing energy for the latter stage. These walking bits would only be 2 – 3 minutes but helped to keep the spirits up and the energy flowing.

Long Distance – It’s a Mental Challenge

I’ve read about it, I’ve heard about it. Until I experienced it myself, I did not give much thought to it. The mental aspect of a long distance run. For each runner, the definition of long distance varies. For a person who has never run, half a mile is a long distance. Just the thought of it makes it difficult to even make the first step out the door. As you run more, those mental perceptions of distance change. I eased myself into running and even my first half marathon was not a mental struggle. I prepared very well and had the run planned out by the book. It was only when I took on the marathon that I found out how big a role the mind plays in all this. I believe, it is called ‘the wall’. I first, I thought the wall was a physical barrier, but it is the mind playing its cards. It prompts symptoms to appear, making you feel there is something physically not right, placing doubt. I struggled with this mental challenge when running my marathon and learned many things from the experience. That is why, this time, I would not let it be a factor. The audiobook was one element, which helped keep the mind occupied. Interesting narrative proved to be a great companion. The other factor which I changed from the previous experience, was the weather. I ran my marathon at the hight of summer in July. This time, the temperature was not far from freezing, so no fear of overheating or quick water loss. The mind had less weapons to play with.

How To Run Far – Phase 3 – The Home Stretch

I consider the last 10 km (6 miles) to be the last phase. Nearing the marathon distance mark, I finally arrived at the smooth bit of the path along the canal and had no nasty surfaces to worry about for the rest of the run. I even picked up my tempo and ran at 9 minute mile speed. I was tired but happy. For the last hour, I was setting my second highest distance mark and I was soon to complete my second marathon distance in 4 months. how to run farEven if I had to walk home now, I would still complete the distance in under 6 hours. I turned off the audiobook just as I entered this phase. My battery was dying and I felt that listening to the surrounding sounds would make for a nice change. The phone eventually died 30 mins before I reached the finish line. I finished the last of my water with about 7 km to go (4 miles) and had a few short walking stints along the way. Victory was mine. It was all just a matter of wrapping things up. My feet, although blistered, were feeling much better due to the smoother surface. Legs hurt but still had power left in them. I did not feel much hunger. Lack of energy, yes. I could run slow, but felt that I could not pickup the tempo. Not now. As I was literally yards away from the point from which I decided to walk (do my warm down), I felt something in my right ankle. I decided to walk. It was a weird feeling. Two identical steps, yet all of a sudden, one felt odd. Reflecting back, I believe I may have pulled something when my foot slid on mud about 3 hours earlier. It only came out in the open now. So, the last mile of my 50 km run was completed walking. I had expected this and was happy to give my body a nice warm down to end things.
5 hours 20 minutes. how to run far 50kThat is the time it took me to complete my first ultra marathon (alright, a mini ultra – although anything about the marathon distance is considered and ultra). I was sore, but very happy. I was fit both mentally and physically. Running 50 km is not the same as running a marathon. That barrier / limit which the marathon represents is not as present with the 50k. I think, that once that barrier has been broken, the runner grows in greater belief in his abilities to go farther.
Running long distance is not for everyone. However, if you enjoy running, such a challenge may interest you one day. I highly recommend going where you’ve never gone before, stretching perceived limits. Not only do you grow as a runner but as a whole person. Braking barriers that you perceived to be impossible at one point is very satisfying and builds confidence. Just remember, set yourself up for success. In the case of running a 50 km distance, number one, believe in yourself. Number two, keep your mind occupied with something other than running – in my case, it was an audio book. And number 3, when the going gets tough, revert back to basics. Walk for a short distance, focus on the next milestone (the next turning point, or the next mile, or even push yourself to run for one minute). Dean Karnazes calls these baby steps – the more baby steps you take, the closer you will be to your goal.
I hope to hear of your experiences with breaking those barriers and setting off where you’ve never been before. Welcome to ultra running!