The North Face 50M: My Plan

Subtitle: The Method to My Madness 

Although this is not my first 50 miler, this race is an entirely different race than my first one was.  AR50 was half on flat road and the rest very runnable trails (besides the last 3 miles).  My training plan for that race was very specific for that race.  Lots of road running, lots of runs switching from road to pavement and just generally figuring out this whole ultra training thing.

This time I have a better idea of what to expect when it comes to training, but I have an entirely different beast to train for.  TNF50 is all on trails, and not easy trails whatsoever.  It has over 10,000 feet of elevation gain compared to the 3,000 that AR50 had.  Like I said, a very different race from what I did in April. 

I felt really prepared for AR50 when race day came around, so I figure that training plan worked pretty well for me, why not use it again.  I took the basics of that plan, changed some long runs around a little bit, worked in races, maneuvered my cutback weeks around life events, added in some specific training for this race, and ta-da I had a plan! 

Onto the details! 

NFEC50 Plan


For my runs during the week, rather than have set days listing out exactly what I want to do each day, I have general goals for the week and let the days fall as they may.  This has really helped me be able to have a life and also not get behind in household/life responsibilities.  I try to make sure that the days balance out and I don’t get overloaded with too many hard days in a row.  For example, I typically won’t do a double day the day before a long run.     

Double Day

I am bringing this back from my last training cycle.  I have a goal of one day of double runs per week, just to get used to running on tired legs and at different times of the day.  I don’t force these runs and they don’t always happen, but I am glad when they do.  I don’t do many evening runs anymore, so it’s nice to have a reason to get outside one night a week. 

Mid Week Medium Long

My medium long runs (double digit) were always some of my favorite during marathon training, so of course I will incorporate them into my 50 miler training!  I think they are a great way to help boost mileage and increase endurance. 

I can’t have a post without a pretty trail picture now can I? 
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Trails, Trails, Trails!

I think starting my ultra-marathon running with AR50 was a great thing for me to do.  I wasn’t quite ready to dive into full fledged trail running like I am now.  I was able to build up my mileage, figure out the back to back long runs, and work on understanding ultra-training in general.  Now that I feel so much more confident on the trails, I don’t have a problem or hesitation adding them into my plan like I have been. 

Pretty much my goal every week is to run as many miles on trails as possible.  With only a couple exceptions, both of my long runs will be trail runs.  My favorite runs of the week are always the ones on the dirt, in the hills and I am so glad I decided to tackle this race.    

Back to Back Long Runs

These are what I think are the most important part of 50 miler training, at least for me.  I have really grown to love these runs and really look forward to them and seeing how my body continues to respond and recover. 

I plan my back to back long runs by first figuring out the total miles I want to run over the 2 days.  I take that number and increase it 2-4 miles each week so I have a little increase each week.  Some weeks I have races to factor in, some weeks I just have a certain distance run I want to do one day and let the other day be the remaining miles.

The blue boxes on the right show the total long run mileage for the week.  The purple are cutback weeks.

First 6 weeks building up 

Middle 5 weeks continuing to build

Final 4 big peak weeks.

I do put some strategy into planning my back to back long runs by switching which day the longer long run is.  I think it’s important to do the longer run both on day 1 and day 2.  Having day 1 be the harder day really makes you learn how to adapt on day 2 and get through when your body and legs are tired.  It’s also good to do the opposite and have the longer day on day 2, so it’s something I like to alternate as much as my schedule allows.

Cutback Weeks

Around every 4th week I will cutback my mileage.  Mostly my long runs, but sometimes cutting out a double day or taking an extra day off of running.  I usually will bring my total overall mileage down at least 10% but usually more depending on how I am feeling.

I have worked in my cutback weeks during weeks where I have important things going on (baby shower! graduation!) and I don’t want to spend all weekend running or recovering from running.


This is completely new for me!  I have been doing yoga once a week (and no longer on my “rest” day) and really plan to continue to incorporate it once a week.  I know the stretching is great for me and I can tell the little bit of strength and balance work I am getting is helping.

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Speed Work

Hah!  While you can certainly include speed work and/or tempo runs in ultra training plans (and I am sure it would help with the whole feeling slower part), it’s just not my thing for now.  No part of me misses that part of marathon training, and it’s not what I was looking for when I started this ultra-training business.  I actually was looking for the exact opposite.  I did think about including it sometime throughout this cycle, but now that I am in it, I just don’t want to.   

Plus, like a friend told me once, trail running is one big interval workout.  Work hard on hills, recover, work hard on hills, recover.  I will take my intervals on hills over running in circles any day. 

More than anything, this training cycle is different mentally for me so far.  While I was pretty relaxed and go with the flow for AR50, I was still very regimented and followed my plan pretty closely.  This time, I feel much more relaxed and adaptable to what each day and week brings.  Maybe it’s the change in my schedule and responsibilities this time around, or maybe it’s just having a little bit of experience.  Either way I have extremely enjoyed the first 6 weeks of training.  Nothing feels forced, I feel a little bit stronger each week and I am not afraid to change things as I need to. 

So that’s pretty much it!  It’s not that far off from my first 50 miler training, but with the increase in trail running, I will be spending more time on my feet.  As with any training plan, this is not set in stone and I can (and will) adapt as necessary.  This is just a guide to help me plan ahead and get me as ready as I can be for December 1st!  The final 4 weeks are going to be tough, but as I saw with AR50 training, I will cut back/taper early if I need to.  I am so excited to get into the real fun parts in the next few weeks.

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9 Responses to The North Face 50M: My Plan

  1. Anna September 14, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    Quite an impressive plan but it sounds very thought through. I wish you all the best for the following weeks with this!

  2. Marlene September 17, 2012 at 8:02 am #

    I love that you have a rough guide for the week and fill in the pieces based on what works on a daily basis. That is basically how I approached tri training this summer and I think I had a good balance. Although, I am looking forward to having a coach and a more carved out plan… I think I need it for what I have in store.

    No doubt you will be totally ready for this race and all of the challenges that lie ahead!

  3. courtney September 17, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    I found myself looking at the profile for AR50 last week … && OH MY GOSH. I saw the last three miles and went — WOW! that came out of nowhere! Wasn’t really expecting that one! Wow! NF50 sounds like on heck of a race! Very different from AR50. That’s what I love about trail races.. is they really are SO special from one another.

    Thank you for sharing your training plan. I know a lot of ultra runners that just run for time. I would find it hard to stray from actual mileage plans and flipping over for time. Or, my brain would. Especially since as you just pointed out, trails are SO different. What might be an hour long run one day could be 6-7 miles. The next could be 3-4!

    It sounds like you have put a lot of thought and HEART into this training plan! To be honest, IT LOOKS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT! I know I’m not an ultra runner but you seem to have everything covered! I’m really so excited for you!

  4. Joanne September 17, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    I looked at those back to back 20′s and 22′s and thought…UGG! How does she do it?! Good luck with the plan but make sure to stay injury free. Can’t wait to read more as you get closer to race day. Your last 50 miler was exciting. I kept checking to see your progress and, believe it or not, cheered you over the finish line from here in NY :)

  5. Page September 18, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    I’m tired just reading this – but you’ve got this. You are going to be SO strong and you’re a very wise girl to incorporate that yoga!

  6. Nicole September 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Those back to back long run weekends look incredible! Like Page said you are going to be so strong. I agree that hill running is like an interval workout! The last two weeks I’ve replaced my interval workouts with hills and I can tell that it is making me stronger. Plus hill running is also equivalent to strength training so that will make you even stronger too.

    Can’t wait to follow along!

  7. The Blonde September 20, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    Yay! Excited to watch this ultra unfold. I’ve been enjoying yoga this year too. It’s been a nice way to stretch and hold those positions for longer than I normally would.

  8. fitflops October 23, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Like Page said you are going to be so strong. I agree that hill running is like an interval workout! The last two weeks I’ve replaced my interval workouts with hills and I can tell that it is making me stronger.


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