Over the last few years I’ve fallen back into a pretty deep and savage affair with trail running. I used to run and race a lot as a kid, fell away from it as a teenager, lost time for it in college, rediscovered it in my twenties, and had on again/off again goes with it through my thirties. I’m not running as fast as I used to, but I’m more disciplined about it now, logging more monthly and yearly miles than before. I make up for this by eating a lot of Mexican food, barbecue, and drinking gallons of beer. I’ve found some helpful training plans here and there, and have drawn from them. I’ve also found some that I don’t believe a working, family person could have time for. You’ll see a lot of Off Days in mine, where more serious, proper runners would be training. I may get to the finer elements of a training plan one day, but probably not. I don’t do timed sprint drills or track work. I have not experimented with the Fraioli circuit or worked with a personal trainer. I looked up the definition of “fartlek”, but did not work it into my routine. Instead I played the audio sample a few times and giggled like a clove-buzzed fifteen-year old. Do that. I don’t do time on a stationary bike, and I don’t cross train. I’m also not winning trophies, but that’s not why I run.
Getting back to some sort of routine, I fast found that the therapy of trail running was both physical and mental. The simple act of running in the woods came to feel as needed as oxygen or music to me, particularly during the time of my mother’s illness and her eventual passing. Our band had also broken up around that time, and I found myself filling the void that was once the physical release of a rock show with trail running. It’s church in its way; a welcome break from anything with a screen, steering wheel or volume knob, and it’s become a way that’s helped me cope with phases of depression.
I spent most of 2012 through 2014 running three to five times a week with no specific goals in mind. I ran when I wanted to, and didn’t run when I didn’t want to. I still live by that rule, but at the start of 2015 I figured I’d aim for my first race in about twenty years. I’d piled up a lot of miles and wanted to see how I measured up against other folks in a formal setting. I wanted to see if I could at least finish respectably, and I needed something new to get nervous about. At the end of February I signed up a 25K trail race just outside of Smithville, TX. I had about five weeks more to train. I was logging 8-10 mile long runs, and was on schedule to be ready for the 15.5 miles of trails the race offered.
I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, but still placed 16th overall out of 79. The whole experience was enough to seduce me into thinking about more. I liked the camaraderie out there. I liked the simple, primitive movement of running loose through the woods for hours with a bunch of likeminded folks I’d never met. Like a living room show, there was a quiet sense of community amongst strangers. The communication and support amongst the runners was something positive to me.
I took a break, went on tour, fell out of my routine, then got back to it once summer came around. I wasn’t logging huge miles, but was getting somewhere between 85-120 per month. I put a record out, went on tour, and pretty well lost my grip again come Fall. Once all the holidays had cleared, I set my sights on logging my first 50K. I figured I’d document the lead up to it.
To some folks I know, running a 50K is about as tough as making a pot of coffee. Others of us have gotta work at it. I admire anyone that’s getting after it, whether they’re running their 7th 100-miler or their first 5K. We’ve all got our life shit to deal with, and respect is key. People do this at very different rates and paces, at all different ages, for many different reasons. I remember learning that quickly during the time of my first races.
I looked over a few training plans. I didn’t stick to them religiously, but used the distances and times and dates as a rough guideline. I took the weekly long run mileages the most seriously.
Touring, work, and life’s general inertia can naturally derail holding to a training plan. There’s gonna be times when you have to shuffle the routine or miss a long run. You can’t hold yourself to the fire about it. Touring is about 90% of my social life, and I like to hang out and throw down every once in a while. I like to eat a bunch of eggs in the morning with old friends I haven’t seen in years. “Yeah.. sorry to interrupt this great hang. Can you excuse me so I can go get a two-hour run in in white out blizzard conditions?”.
So, more power to the one that can wake up in the middle of a tour and get psyched about a long run day in Milwaukee when it’s 8 degrees out.
There will also be inevitable aches and pains, particularly in the beginning weeks. Trust your body and know that not all aches and pains are serious.
A good foundation to start with here would be at least being able to run a 10K comfortably. I started this plan after almost two months off, a lot of comfort food freak outs, and traditional Bowl Season laziness. I did a couple runs in early January just to get back in the motion of things, then got down to the ramp up.
Here’s the way it unfurled. It may not be the thing, but it’s something. If it helps just one person out toward a first-time 50K goal, then that’s cool with me.
1/11 – Long Run Day. 10 miles trail, meditative/slow pace.
1/12 – Off.
1/13 – 6.2 miles trail, moderate pace.
1/14 – Off.
1/15 – 8.0 miles trail, moderate pace.
1/16 – 6.2 miles road, moderate pace.
1/17 – 7.0 miles road, meditative/slow pace.
1/18 – Off.
1/19 – Long Run Day. 13.1 miles trail, moderate pace.
1/20 – Off.
1/21 – 10.0 miles trail, moderate pace.
1/22 – 6.2 miles trail, meditative/slow pace.
1/23 – Off/Cross Train (Short hike)
1/24 – Off.
1/25 – Long Run Day. 15.5 miles trail w/ hills, moderate pace.
1/26 – Off.
1/27 – 8.0 miles road, moderate pace.
1/28 – 10.0 miles trail, moderate pace.
1/29 – 2/4: Off/Studio.
2/5 – 10.0 miles trail, moderate pace.
2/6 – Off.
2/7 – Hike 3 miles.
2/8 – Long Run Day. 20.0 miles trail, moderate pace.
2/9 – Off.
2/10 – 6.2 miles treadmill.
2/11 – 14: Off/Tour
2/15 – 10 miles trail moderate pace.
2/16 – 21: Off/Tour.
2/22 – 14 miles trail/road moderate pace.
2/23 – Off.
2/24 – Off.
2/25 – Off.
2/26 – 10 miles trail meditative/slow pace.
2/27 – Off. (This is about the time I find out the 50K race I’ve been
training for and have made time for, will not be held this year. I
fail to find another Spring time 50K nearby that I can participate in,
mostly due to calendar conflicts. Bummed out, but I’m six weeks in
and decide to stick with the plan anyway.)
2/28 – Off.
2/29 – Long run day. 22 miles trail meditative/slow pace.
3/1 – Off.
3/2 – Off.
3/3 – 6.0 miles road moderate pace.
3/4 – 10.0 miles trail meditative/slow pace.
3/5 – Off.
3/6 – Off.
3/7 – Long run day. 20 miles trail, slow and painful. Easily the most uninspiring of the ramp-up. Right foot swollen, in pain.
Limp to car.
3/8 – 14: Off/Stretches every day to try and rehab feet and legs.
3/15 – Long Run Day. 13.75 miles trail slow/cautious pace.
3/16 – Off.
3/17 – Off.
3/18 – 10 miles trail race pace.
3/19 – Off.
3/20 – Off.
3/21 – Off.
3/22 – Long Run Day. 16 miles trail race pace (PR 13.1).
3/23 – Off.
3/24 – Off.
3/25 – 6.2 miles trail moderate pace.
3/26 – Off.
3/27 – 10.5 miles road moderate pace.
3/28 – 30: Off/Studio.
3/31 – Off.
4/1 – Off.
4/2 – 10.0 miles trail moderate pace.
4/3 – Off.
4/4 – 4/8: Off/Studio.
4/9 – Off.
4/10 – Off.
4/11 – 10.0 miles trail meditative/slow pace.
4/12 – Off.
4/13 – 8.0 miles trail meditative/slow pace.
4/14 – Off.
4/15 – Long Run Day. 18.0 miles. The wall is real. I hit it,
particularly from mile 14 onward.
4/16 – Off.
4/17 – Off.
4/18 – Off.
4/19 – Off.
4/20 – Long Run Day. Run 50K/31 miles trail. 5:04:34.
I didn’t plan to do this distance on this day, especially after such a shitty and uninspiring outing a few days ago. But the weather was right, I had time, and I felt good. Around mile 22 I reasoned that there’d never be a better time or situation in which to see this 50K goal through. The first 25 miles of this run were for the most part joyous. The last 6 miles were not joyous. I used the car as an aid station, and my routing allowed me to stop there at the end of every ten miles, refuel on food and hydration, then tack on an extra mile at the end.
I still can’t accurately figure out what to expect from long run to long run. With this experience there have been shorter runs that feel like work, then longer runs that feel pretty effortless. I think it’s more about having the furniture in one’s head arranged in a good way. I tend to believe this type of endeavor is mostly a mental thing, and that’s part of the mystery that keeps me coming back. Just grateful for some time on the trails, ultimately.
Happy running (before the heat swallows us all..).
-Will Johnson, May 2016