My 50-mile training plan for South Downs Way 50

Unable to find the perfect 50-mile training plan, I rejigged Hal Koerner's to suit my needs

Here I go then. Another 16 weeks of training for a 50-mile race, albeit this time following my own plan. I took inspiration from the one in Hal Koerner’s Field Guide to Ultrarunning, which is a solid plan, but I felt I needed to add and remove a few things.

Gone are the tempos from some of the weekend runs, which I have moved to weekdays instead. I have added more hill repeat sessions as well, plus altered the distances of the back-to-back long runs so that the weekly mileage doesn’t exceed my limits (about 110k).

I have also inserted a 50k race onto the schedule, which is six weeks before race day.

Fingers and toes crossed that I get to the start of the South Downs Way 50 with few issues. I think the inclusions mentioned below will play an important role in whether that’s the case or not. Either way, I’m looking forward to finding out over the next few months.

Back-to-back long runs

I don’t think back-to-back long runs are necessary when training for a 50-mile race. So why have I added them? Because I want to see what it’s like to run on properly tired legs.

A single long run is tiring enough, but finding the physical and mental strength to do another long run the following day takes some doing. This feeling of fatigue should, in theory, mimic the later stages of the race and get me through those last tough miles and to the finish. Successfully completing back-to-back long runs will also create a confidence boost, thus improving my mental strength come race day.

The negatives, of course, are that they can take a major toll on the body and being fatigued increases the risk of injury. They will also impact my normal life by sacrificing most of the weekend for training.

My approach to both these issues is that I won’t be going for Strava glory on my long runs – they’ll be fairly sedate affairs, with no hesitation in power hiking if necessary. I will also try to stop procrastinating post-run and start stretching and foam rolling straightaway, to aid the recovery process.

Setting aside the bulk of the weekly mileage to the weekend also means I don’t need to do so many miles during the week, so more time at home in the evenings.

Double run days

Running twice a day is something I have moved away from recently. I don’t think they necessarily help with endurance – running 16k in one go promotes aerobic improvement more than two shorter runs at 8k each.

However, I think I have reached the stage where my aerobic capacity is decent enough, so doing double run days may not be so detrimental. They’re easier to schedule, easier to manage, and ultimately they should allow me to run without sacrificing a rest day.

That said, I will have no hesitation in binning them and doing a single run of similar distance if I find them draining. I think the one thing I might miss is the sense of accomplishment from finishing the day’s run, knowing I have a second run in a few hours. If the mental benefits from doing doubles are lost, then away they go.

Additional days & recovery weeks

I like the idea of additional days. It sounds daft, but us runners are fairly stupid when it comes to listening to our bodies. Got a niggle or ache? Go for a run and see what happens. Feeling fatigued and grumpy? Go for a run and see what happens. Oh, you got injured? Idiot.

To have days on the schedule when it’s spelt out that it’s OK to take the day off, could make the difference between whether I make it through training or not. I will, however, have no reluctance in skipping a run if I don’t feel up to it. I like to think that as I’m getting older, I’m getting wiser and more confident to rest if I feel it necessary.

In a change from Koerner’s original plan, I have incorporated at least a couple of recovery weeks into the schedule. There’s a gentle build-up in the first three weeks, followed by a recovery week. Then a month of decent mileage – hitting approximately 100k per week – before another week of fewer miles during week nine.

I’m wincing at the thought of weeks 11 and 12, which feature a 50k race one weekend and then a total of 70k of running the next, but bookending them in lower mileage weeks should help. I can then look forward to the three week taper that begins shortly after.

Training begins on 20th December. Follow me on Strava if you want to see how I progress.

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