Pacing a 50 miler

I'll be attempting my first 50 mile run this weekend, and like the title says, I'm looking for some pacing advice. I've done a couple of ultras before now - 33 miles on roads and gravel paths which I got on fine with, and 40 miles offroad on a rather hilly course, which I really struggled with, probably because it was pretty much my first attempt at offroad running. The 50 miler will be all on road, and apart from a couple of minor inclines is practically pancake flat.

To give some idea of what speed I'm going at, my last (mostly road) marathon time (2 weeks ago) was 4:17. Was running at an average of 9:23 min miles, aiming for 4:05-ish and feeling very comfortable till my knee fell apart at 20 miles. Definitely didn't run out of steam or 'hit the wall' or anything like that.

Anyway, I put 4:17 into the McMillan pace calculator thingy and for 50 miles it gives me a pace of 11:26. If I put in 4:05 (which without the sudden injury I'm certain I could have achieved), it gives me a pace of 10:52.

Firstly, is it sensible to base my pace on an online calculator? Secondly which pace should I be aiming for, the slower or the faster one? Any and all advice and personal experiences will be very gratefully received. Thanks in advance!

 

Comments

  • Go out slowly. If you feel like you're going a little bit too slow, slow down.
  • Unless you are really racing to be competetive then you really do need to keep yourself under control early on. Like Lirish says, if it feels slow then slow down a touch more and you have it! you will gain far more time in the last 20 miles than you will in the first!

  • Don't expect to get your pacing right first time out at the distance, you will mess it up but by forcing yourself to go slowly for the first part you can gauge how much you have left in the tank for the second
  • Lirish wrote (see)
    Go out slowly. If you feel like you're going a little bit too slow, slow down.

    Very good advice, but this is why I'm trying to figure out a slightly more precise pacing schedule based on what I'm running for marathon distance. My first ultra, I followed all advice to go out slow, and then slow down some more. Plodded round at the rear of the field then with four miles to go realised I was still full of beans. I overtook at least half a dozen people in the last half hour as I was galloping for the finish. My mile splits for that one were rather comical!

  • Well what is the terrain like? flat or natural walking breaks for steeps climbs?

    Do you think you can run at 2 minutes off of your marathon pace if it is a reasonably flat course? If you are looking for a precise time I don't think anyone here can tell you to run at xx:xx pace. If you feel you can run at 11:30 mm then set out like that and see how it feels?

  • WiB wrote (see)

    Unless you are really racing to be competetive then you really do need to keep yourself under control early on. Like Lirish says, if it feels slow then slow down a touch more and you have it! you will gain far more time in the last 20 miles than you will in the first!

    WiB, I'm not overly competitive (apart from with myself) and I'm definitely not racing. I'll have no trouble staying slow, I'd just like some rough indication of HOW slow. I was actually thinking of 10 hours for the whole thing, which would be 2 hours for each 10.3 mile loop, which would be roughly 12 min miles, but I don't know... Seems just a bit TOO slow...

  • WiB wrote (see)

    Well what is the terrain like? flat or natural walking breaks for steeps climbs?

    Do you think you can run at 2 minutes off of your marathon pace if it is a reasonably flat course? If you are looking for a precise time I don't think anyone here can tell you to run at xx:xx pace. If you feel you can run at 11:30 mm then set out like that and see how it feels?

    Sorry, I thought I'd said... It's practically flat as a pancake - a couple of very gradual rises and one minor incline. I'm expecting to be running into a headwind for about 3 miles of each 10 mile loop, but just how windy it'll be I won't know till the day.

    I know nobody can give me an exact pace to run at, I was just looking for some anecdotal advice really. I do think I could run at 2 mins off my MP, but what would I know, as I've never tried it for 50 miles before! image

  • There's also a small but very definite chance my knee will blow up again and I'll be chucking it after 20 miles! Which won't be a problem as it's not a point to point course so I won't be stuck in the middle of nowhere. I'm aware I probably sound clueless and unprepared but I'm not as dumb as I sound, honest. It's just that this isn't a 'serious' race, it's a local charity fundraiser, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice pacing and running at a set pace rather than my usual of just setting off and making it up as I go.

  • Rwd it may be easier to work back from a time you'd be happy with and pace from there. Say if you thought a ten hr 50 would be good work out your pacing from that, if you have more left in the tank at 30 miles then pick it up a bit
  • runs-with-dogs wrote (see)
    WiB wrote (see)

    Well what is the terrain like? flat or natural walking breaks for steeps climbs?

    Do you think you can run at 2 minutes off of your marathon pace if it is a reasonably flat course? If you are looking for a precise time I don't think anyone here can tell you to run at xx:xx pace. If you feel you can run at 11:30 mm then set out like that and see how it feels?

    Sorry, I thought I'd said...

    You did say... it was me not paying attention! image

  • WiB wrote (see)
    You did say... it was me not paying attention! image

    LOL! image

  • Okay, I'd be happy with 10 hours.

    And it's actually 51.5 miles - 5 loops of 10.3 miles. So if I plan on running 11.30 min miles, that would be barely less than 2 hours for each loop, not giving me much time to stop for a nibble. Wonder if I should eat on the hoof or aim to get round each loop in 1hr55 and have a proper pit-stop each time. image

    Lirish - I like your idea of seeing if I can pick it up a bit at 30 miles, but in reality, once I've been running at whatever pace for nearly 6 hours, the chances of my speeding up (apart from in the final two or three miles) are probably very slim.

    I think I'll aim for two loops - 20.6 miles - in 3:55 and assess from there. Thanks for the input both of you.

  • Take into account stationary and walking time too. If 11.30 will get you round in 10 hours then you'll need to run a fair bit quicker because you will want to walk bits and you probably will benefit from a sit down at some point.

    If you are able to measure distance then I found breaking it down into small chunks really helped with pace. For me my goal was to cover 4k each 30 min, which on a flat section would give me 3-4 mins walking to help keep things fresh.

    Being fresh at the end of a 33 (assuming that's the one you were talking about) doesn't mean you'll feel the same towards the end of a 50. IMO you will gain more and feel like you had a better race if you keep it steady until the end rather than romping the first 40 and having to walk lots of the last 10.

    It's all pertty personal though so just take it as it comes, learn from it and try to enjoy it.

  • Rwd you'll have highs and lows in a fifty too that you'll need to deal with, first twenty concentrate on sticking to your pace plan, after that be prepared to listen to your body and adjust accordingly. Don't be afraid to exploit the times you're feeling great and don't beat yourself up if you feel crap and slow down. Whether you feel great or shit in an ultra you can be assured it will pass
  • Yeah, I kinda expect to feel pretty crap from 20-25. That seems to be my 'low point' when I know I'm not stopping at 26.2. Then after 30 I seem to perk up again.

    Thanks for the advice Shawk. And I wasn't exactly 'fresh' at the end of the 33 - just fresh enough at 30 to romp home. After that I was pretty buggered. LOL!

     

  • So you have never done a 50 miler and want to know how to pace it - slowly - you are guaranteed a PB if you finish.

    My marathon PB is 3:57 and my 50 mile PB is 12:30 ish. Simply put I run very little of a 50 although ones I have done (6) are all hilly, trail and with navigation + some darkness. Fastest 30 is 5:42 again all trail + navigation.

    As has been said you can lose a lot of time in the last 20 if you go out too fast.

    I can't run at 12mm it is just too slow. In fact I struggle to have much of an effective run slower than 10-10:30mm. Steady walk for me is 15mm and powering along on the flat I walk at 13:40mm.Anything inbetween is netiher an effective run or a comfortable walk - the run just seems to waste energy for little extra forward motion. So can you actually run this slowly?

    So my first question is - how fast is your walk. Then consider walk/run ratios to achieve goal pace. I can handle 12mm on the second half of an Ironman marathon which is basically walk 7:30 minutes, run 2:30 minute (or 4/1 ish)

    The walk breaks also give you a great opportunity to drink/eat - definitely think about eating/drinking on the move. It saves a lot of time and stops you stiffening up. Save the stopping time for sock changes and/or trainer changes if going round a loop.

    I find it quite easy to pick up pace in the last 20, I am bored with walking so run for a break. I wouldn't say I sprint for home but probably manage more jogging in the last 20 than the first 30.

    Note: Walking does not mean moving at shopping speed!

  • runs-with-dogs wrote (see)

    . And I wasn't exactly 'fresh' at the end of the 33 - just fresh enough at 30 to romp home. After that I was pretty buggered. LOL!

    Ooh Central Governor Theory?

    Brain restricts max HR and muscle output to protect you due to brain's perceived damage that you are going to do. At some point it decides you will get to the end and therefore lets the brakes off to get it over with as quickly as possible.

  • Yes, exactly! Mind plays sneaky tricks on body. I've read a bit about that and it fits well with my own experiences of thinking I'm utterly f**ked then somehow managing a ridiculously fast final mile.



    I'm not sure how fast I can walk as I've never tried a run-walk strategy. Brisk dog walking is something like 16:30 min miles and I could prob speed that up a bit if I tried. But as I've never walked fast in a race for more than a few minutes at a time, I'd be worried it might actually wear me down quicker than running would, as it would be using muscles in a way that I simply hadn't trained for. Don't know if that's a reasonable assumption or not. I may be totally wrong there.



    And I can run VERY slowly - 11:30+ min miles, which I call my granny shuffle and which probably looks more like a rolling walk than a proper 'run'. I'm happy eating on the move and have been known to knock back jam sarnies halfway round a marathon without slowing down. I'd say ultra nutrition is maybe my strongest point, as I've practiced carefully, I'm a bit of a piglet and can stomach just about anything!



    Thanks for your input - its very useful to get an idea of what sort of times other people can run. My 33 miler was 5:56, and at that point my marathon PB was 5:35. That day I got to 26.2 in about 4:40, and the next marathon I did after that I got down to 4:25. Have since got down to 4:17 and that's all in the last 6 months so am still improving yet. My 40 miler took 9:20 and like I said I really struggled with running offroad on a muddy and hilly course due to complete lack of appropriate training. Won't make the same mistake again, that's for sure!
  • Your 33 mile was 5.26 and your 40 miler 9.20? Were you carrying someone?
  • LOL! I know, I know. 33 miler was mostly flattish, mostly on road, and road running is pretty much all I do. Also a nice cold day. 40 miler was off road on a boggy muddy course, a boiling hot day, and up and down hills the whole way. I wore road shoes (d'oh, never again!) and slipped and sloshed about so much I pulled a muscle in my butt and was in some pain from about 13 miles. Nearly chucked or at the 28 mile checkpoint but decided I'd rather finish slowly and feebly than not finish at all. I have since purchased a pair of trail shoes and given myself many stern talkings to about proper preparation...
  • DazDaz ✭✭✭

    IMO macmillan is handy for 'shorter' and comparable distances eg a 10km vs Half Mara, Half Mara vs Mara.  One thing you have to take into account for ultras is the surface, terrain, profile.  You mention it is flat, but presumably softer under foot.  Road marathons are painful, muscle soreness from pouning on pavement and tarmac.  On softer surfaces you'll be able to go a lot further without suffering the same soreness and fatigue.  Of course pacing can be affected by that change in surface as well as other factors eg gates, stiles, checkpoints/gear change, etc.

    Personally Id say run it on feel.  Build through the first few miles so you dont set off with faster runners, then settle into a 'comfortable' pace.  You could add 30-60secs on your mara pace which you said was comfortable ie 10:30/M and see how that goes.  another thing you can do is take the HRM and just ensure you are at least 5bpm below your LT once up to speed.  That would ensure you dont get carried away.

    I'd just go out and enjoy it, keep steady and take experience forward to the next race.  I think Ive done about 6 ultras now and still keep increasing effort and pace for each.  I wouldnt want to break early in an ultra.  

     

     

    Endurance Coach @ DazCarterFitness.com
    Elite Ironman, Ultra Trail Runner
  • Daz - thanks for your input. I usually run with HRM and on LSRs try to keep my HR round about 145-150. During marathons I try to keep it round about 155 and slow down if I catch myself going above 160 in the first 20 miles. I have no idea what my lactate threshold is though, and not sure how to find out apart from undergoing lab testing. IS there a simple way to figure it out other than just experimenting with what HR wrecks you before you finish?

    Anyhoo, event over and I can now report miserable failure in that I didn't make it anywhere near 50 miles. Knee felt good as I'd rested it well and had it attended to by my physio so I was optimistic it might hold up. Unfortunately it started niggling after less than 10 miles and by 17 miles it was just bloody murder so I felt it would just be stupid to keep thrashing on just to prove a point to myself. Bah!

    So while I didn't actually get on very well I still found what little distance I did manage to complete very useful. I had the target of 50 miles in my head right from the start so was thinking carefully about pacing and how long I could sustain a steady trot. Set off at 12+ min miles but that just felt ridiculous so I speeded up a bit. Just under 11 min miles felt like I might have been pushing it a bit and after a few miles I'd settled into a fairly steady 11:20-11:40 pace, which was what the McMillan calculator had suggested in the first place. Not sure what my HR was as I stupidly forgot the chest strap for my Garmin, but going by feel I'd say it was about 130ish.

    Thanks everyone for the input and information. I'm looking forward to my next attempt at 50 miles. Got my eye on the Glasgow to Edinburgh next March/April. Just need to figure out what's up with my knee and get it sorted... image

  • Ah- I'm thinking of GE too- my times are: Mara- pb 3:56, ave about 4:10, 31 miles 6hr 5 mins, 41 miles 9hr 15 mins.

    I have no idea what sort of time the double will take, I do know I set off to fast for the 41 miler- I was at marathon pace for most of 1st 10 miles, but came nearly last- resisting the temptation to go off too quick is a problem!

    I think the cut off for GE is 13 hours, I think I might get a little too close for comfort, we'll see.

  • Tricia, I marshalled at the G2E this year - the cutoff for the finish was actually 12 hours but wasn't too strictly enforced, with a few people finishing between 12 and 13 hours. No-one was removed from the race for being slow. Seemed like the cutoffs were more for safety after dark than anything else, and if people were still going steadily they'd be allowed to finish even if they were outside the cutoff times.



    Hence the reason I've got my eye on it! image
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