50K Training Plan

tl;dr version: go straight to the plan.

I started off 2014 with no real running direction. I was seriously considering the Tahoe 200, but the $800+ price tag turned me off. I put in for the Tahoe Rim Trail Lottery (for the 50 mile race), and wasn't selected. I have aspirations of running the Wonderland Trail in Washington, but that's still a blurry image in my mind that time and desire hasn't quite put into focus. My plan for the year was just to run, to enjoy running, to not run for time or distance. No need for a coach or a training plan; I just wanted to get out and run 3 or 4 days a week and then see what happened, to see where my feet would take me. Well, what happened was that I learned that I'm not wired like that.

I realized that I needed a plan. I needed something in the future, something clear and sharp in my mind to train for. Maybe someday I'll be one of those purists that can just run for miles and miles with no destination in sight, no plan, no watch, and no purpose except for running itself, but right now I need direction.

My last race...about 8 months ago.

That direction wasn't chosen by me. It was dropped into my lap by Chris (who actually is one of those aforementioned purists). Chris gave me an entry to Leona Divide 50K. He won the entry at a silent auction (thanks to Keira Henninger for the donation), and for some reason, maybe realizing that I was a lost running soul who just needed a swift kick to the ass, Chris gave me the entry. I tried to give it back to him, but he wouldn't take it. I think Chris only runs 100 milers with 30,000+ feet of gain.

I put off creating a training plan for a couple of months, because I just wasn't that motivated to train, and I figured that I could handle a 50K pretty easily.

I actually slapped myself right after I wrote that last part. Seriously. My right cheek is red, because that's such a dumb and lazy thing to say. If I'm planning to go to a race, I might as well train hard for it, and even though I could probably be lazy about the training, and show up to Leona and hike, prancercise, jog and lollygag the 31 miles, that's not really the point of a race for me. I want to train and see how fast I can cover the distance.

I didn't want to get stuck in that "it's only a 50K" attitude. I'm kind of tired of the distance trumping everything, and the fetishization of the 100 mile distance. One of the hardest things I did last year was train for and race a 10K. I thought I was going to black out near the finish. I had tunnel vision, and tasted the iron in my blood. The same taste that I had before I passed out in 4th grade after running the mile. It's what you put into a race that counts, and whether it be a 10K or a 100 miler, there comes a point in the race where you are uncomfortable, and I measure my personal success in any race by the decision to push past that point, or to back off and stay in a comfortable place. My goal for the Leona Divide is to train hard enough in the next 3 months to be able to run as close to the 5 hour mark as I can. It will hurt, and it's not going to be a lot of fun, but just having that goal, and creating a plan to help me accomplish it has given me motivation, drive, and a level of enjoyment of running that has been missing since I got off the John Muir Trail last year.

There aren't a lot of 50K training plans out there, so I decided to share mine in hopes that it will help others develop their own.

In creating this plan, I was heavily influenced by The Dream Season article by Ian Torrence. There is a lot of good advice on setting up a plan in that article, and for this 14-week training cycle I am going to be focusing on strength and mobility, hillwork, and increasing my endurance.

Strength and Mobility

I have found that while running is a big part of any training plan, as I get older, the other stuff gets more and more important, especially strength and mobility work and good nutrition. I like to keep it very simple and rely mostly on bodyweight core exercises. For this plan, I have incorporated the MYRTL routine 3-4 times per week. I am also mixing in a strength circuit from Mario Fraioli once a week, and adding in my own kettle bell swing progression, and single-legged jump rope. I'm religiously using the stick and the Trigger Point  roller every night before bed on my calves, IT bands, quads, and hamstrings. When I take the time to roll out all the tightness at night, it's much easier to get out of bed the next morning and I don't look like I'm method acting for Bad Grandpa 2 (I prefer method acting for Bad Santa 2).

Long, and recovery runs

About 90% of the running I do is on trails in the hills around my house, so even the easy runs incorporate hills; I just try to hold back on the pace during easy, long runs and recovery runs.


I'm going heavy on the hills for this training cycle because the Leona Divide course is pretty hilly with 4,900 feet of elevation gain and some extended 1,000+ foot climbs. I have a few favorite hills that I use for hill repeats. I think everyone needs to develop a special relationship with their hills. Mine are like psycho girlfriends. I have names for them, and I get excited thinking about them, but also kind of sick in a bad way. These are the kind of hills that are real good for a short amount of time, but I don't want to hang out for too long afterwards (I guess I'm still talking about hills). One is super steep, short hill, the kind of hill that is staring you in the face as you climb it. The climb lasts a couple minutes and if I'm doing repeats, there is no way that I'm running all of them, so it also helps me practice some powerhiking. Another is about a mile up with about 600 feet of gain. It's a long, uninterrupted climb that, if I'm in good shape and keep a steady pace, I can run up 2 or 3 times without stopping. Another one of my favorite hill workouts is from Lucho and is a hill fartlek run. It's basically one of my regular 6-ish mile hilly routes, but I push the pace on the uphills harder than normal and take the downhills and flats easier than normal to recover.

The Plan

If you're looking to copy this plan, you should know that I'm starting from a solid base of about 3-4 1-hour runs per week with the occasional 1 1/2- to 2-hour run thrown in on the weekends. These are all hilly trail runs, and while I feel out of shape, that is relative, as I'm not starting from the couch. I weigh 177 pounds right now, and I feel best and fastest when I'm in the 165-170 range, so I'm looking to gradually drop about 10 pounds.

This is my 50K plan. If you're semi out of shape, 40, bearded, not too fast, but not too slow, and running a hilly, but not very technical 50K, this is for you. If not, you may want to make some changes. The plan is in Google doc format, so you can download it and change it to suit your needs.

Let me know if you used the plan and how it worked for you. Thanks for reading.

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