Looking back on training for my second 50-miler

A brief summary on how my training went for the SDW50 (spoiler: not very well)

Earlier this month, I finished the South Downs Way 50. This was my second attempt at a 50-mile race after the first one ended in injury.

Keen to avoid the mistakes I made then – overtraining and poor recovery – I took inspiration from Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning and made my own training plan. Here’s how it went.

Weeks 1-8

Everything was fine for the first month or so, but a few days into 2022 I experienced pain in the top of my foot. In a rare display of self-discipline, I stopped running to let it heal, before continuing with some easy efforts in week four.

With my foot back to normal, I was ready for some much-needed structure and speed work. That would have to wait, however, as I was then on antibiotics for a fortnight, which tired me out.

Then my back spasmed and I struggled to move for a week. When I did return to running, I was reluctant to push it, so just did low intensity runs for a while.

The first half of my training was frustrating, inconsistent and lacked any productive workouts. Obviously I turned it around and salvaged it with some killer sessions and epic long runs?

Weeks 9-16

No, of course I didn’t.

The trend for missed workouts continued as I lacked confidence in my back, so harder runs were frequently swapped with easier efforts. I did manage to do a 50k race as a fitness test, but most of the second half of training was just aerobic base building.

Still, at least the final weeks were incident-free and I got to the start of the SDW50 in one piece. A miracle akin to the parting of the Red Sea.

Summary

In total, I ran 1,202km over 16 weeks. That averages out at about 75km per week (46 miles), which is towards the lower end of the scale.

My training miles for the 2022 South Downs Way 50
SDW50 weekly training distance

In my opinion, most people can finish any race on 80km weeks (50 miles). The question is, do you want to do it to your potential or are you happy just to finish?

For me, the sweet spot seems to be around 95-110km – good things seem to happen when I’m in that range. If I go beyond it, however, then I’m walking a fine line between what is beneficial and what is harmful.

The biggest positive during this training cycle was was my ability to remain calm when the niggles appeared. My anxiety levels never really escalated and I was at ease throughout.

What was frustrating, however, was the lack of any speed work. Some might ask what’s the point for an ultra marathon, but harder interval sessions are useful for more than just pace on race day.

Intervals, fartleks, whatever you call them, help build running efficiency and leg turnover, plus they make you fitter and stronger. They also prepare you for moments in a race when you will need to push harder.

Those missed session were noticeable during the SDW50 – I struggled on the climbs and my pace was slow elsewhere – so this is one area I am desperate to work on.

But, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that I completed 16 weeks of training and a 50-mile race. Neither went to plan, but they were a good learning experiences and will no doubt stand me in good stead for next time.