From Zero to 50 Miles

By Danielle


The following is a typical conversation I have when I tell someone I have run a 50 mile race.

Person: You ran 50 miles? At one time?! IN ONE DAY?!
Me: Yeah.. it really isn’t as hard as it sounds.
Person: That’s crazy. I could NEVER do that.

It really ISN’T as hard or crazy as it seems. It definitely isn’t something that I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a little kid. In fact, I didn’t even like running in high school or college.

In middle school, I played soccer, but by high school I had quit that in favor of cheerleading. At a recent get together with some friends from high school, one of my old cheerleader teammates (whose dad was our soccer coach) told me that when she told her dad I had run a 50 mile race, he couldn’t believe it. He said I didn’t even like to run warm-up laps around the soccer field! I’m not sure if I was quite that bad, but the point is that I didn’t enjoy running.

So what caused me to start running and led me to running something as “crazy” as a 50 mile race? I think there were a few main points.

1.) The adoption of one adorable Miss T at the end of my senior year of college. Said puppy lived with me in an apartment and was in a kennel all day while I worked. The little girl needed some exercise. I’m not the most patient person, so walking was out of the question. Little T and I began running short distances, with 3 miles being the absolute MAXIMUM.

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Miss T learning how to use her leash.

 

2.) The year after graduation, Sam and I moved in together and kept running regularly with T. Then Sam’s sister suggested running a half-marathon. I figured that was a safe goal. I ran my first half-marathon in April of 2011. You could say I kind of liked that distance. I ran a total of four half-marathons in 2011.

3.) In June of 2012, I ran my first full-marathon in Minnesota. I really enjoyed the full-marathon experience. I went into the race with the sole goal of enjoying it and not hating myself during it. It helped that Sam ran with me. I think this experience showed me that running for a LONG amount of time could indeed be enjoyable.

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Two first time marathon finishers with their awesome support crew!

 

4.) In 2012, we moved to Denver, Colorado. It’s really hard not to go hiking a lot when you live in a place like Denver. I think hiking also naturally progresses into trail running if you already enjoy running. It’s like hiking, but everything moves a little bit faster, especially getting to enjoy the beautiful views at the top! The trail community in Colorado is also awesome. It’s easy to just get swept into the culture and the excitement.

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The view from the top of Green Mountain in Boulder. One of my favorite hike-turned-trail-running routes!

 

5.) A catalyst to my first ultra marathon was having a friend that peer pressures you into signing up for things like 50 mile races. I had been tossing around the idea of possibly, maybe, potentially doing the Mt. Hood 5o. My friend, Norman, had committed to it. He texted me the morning of the sign-up saying THERE WERE 5 SPOTS LEFT AND I BETTER SIGN UP NOW. I don’t like to miss out on things (FOMO!). So I signed up.

After seriously committing to doing Mt. Hood 50, there were a few things I learned about ultra running that made it a whole lot more manageable. These are things I don’t think everyone realizes (and perhaps why so many people think it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to do an ultra marathon).

  • Trail running is FUN. I will admit that I can get bored on the road. I look at my watch a lot more. But running on trails is SO much fun. It’s a constant mind puzzle of where to put your feet so you don’t fall on your race. The trails twist and turn and go up and down. It keeps you guessing. And it can be an adrenaline rush!
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Doesn’t it just look more fun than a road?

  • Trail running usually happens in beautiful places. I don’t think I have ever gone trail running in a place I didn’t consider beautiful. There is also something incredibly therapeutic about running in forests and mountains for hours. I have fond memories of all the  trail runs and races I have done, even the ones that pushed me to my very limit.
  • Very few people run the entire race. I think most of the people I talk to think I run for 50 miles straight. But there is a fair share of walking in there. I walk almost everything that resembles an up hill. I hang out at the aid stations for a few minutes. Sometimes I walk because I just can’t handle running at the moment.
  • Your pace is much slower than your road running pace. In the two 50 mile races I did, my average paces were 11:20 min/mile and 13:40 min/mile. To put that in perspective, my best marathon time was around an 8:00 min/mile pace. So you run much slower, and that’s okay!
  • The hardest part is putting in the training. Sometimes it’s hard to go out on your own and run 20-30 miles for several weekends leading up to to the race. In the training leading up to both of my 50 mile races, I had training runs that just tore me apart mentally and psychically. But I had a great time during most of both races. You make friends during the race, people you may end up chatting with for hours! You look forward to seeing your crew at the next aid station. You prove to yourself you can do something that may have seemed impossible. If you can get through the months of training, you can get through the race.
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A beautiful run on the Colorado Trail. It definitely took some mental toughness as I had to split from my trail buddies part way through the run to finish up a high mileage week.

  • Aid stations are awesome. Many of the aid stations are like little parties with awesome buffets. Potato chips, soup, candy, coke, cookies, and fruit are just some of the foods you’ll find. Many people will stay at the aid stations for a bit of time, catching up on calories and collecting themselves. This breaks up the run very nicely; running five miles to the next aid station is a lot easier to handle than running 20 miles to the finish.

Don’t get me wrong. Running for 10+ hours is HARD. You will have lows and highs and then more lows. With such a long race, you’ve got to remember that there is time for almost every low to turn back to a high. That being said, I really think almost anyone can do it. You’ve just got to keep going. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you will get to the end.

So what’s up next for this “crazy” girl? Well, I’ve thrown my name into the Leadville Trail 100 run lottery. 100 miles is exciting and terrifying for me. I may well have to take all of my own advice to a whole other level in the next few months. It’s all up to the ultra gods now..

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17 comments

  1. You are so amazing! Talk about inspiring, yes, Tom was so crazy impressed with you and the change in your love for running. Looks like the running bug caught you and you are totally rocking it!

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    1. Haha, thanks Jenna!

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  2. What breed is your pup? She’s a cutie.

    50 Miles. WOW.

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    1. Haha, it really isn’t as bad as it sounds!

      She is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Beagle mix. She is a cutie and totally knows it.. 🙂

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  3. i hear you on the running three miles MAX thing … for years, because of my bunions, i thought that five, six miles would be the most i’d ever be able to handle. clearly that wasn’t the case …

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    1. And now you are an Ironman! It is crazy how your perspective can change. Did you have to have surgery or anything to be able to run more?

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      1. nah … i just kept running. i kinda sorta started liking it over the years (although running and i clearly still have a love/hate relationship). i also decided to scrap surgery for a few reasons – 1.) even if chopped off, bunions can still grow back; and 2.) surgery would keep me off my feet for way too long.

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  4. Truly enjoyable read. Great perspective on trail vs road and the benefits of going slower and in more scenic places and softer terrain. I hope you get into Leadville!

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    1. Thanks Pat!!! I feel that I will have slightly negative feelings either way on Leadville.. either I will be disappointed or terrified. I think terrified is a better way to go though. 😉 I hope everything is going well with your injury recovery. When does Boston training start?

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  5. Well you are in good hands with the Aishes and their training. 🙂 I am running well! At around 40 miles a week now and running pain free! 16 weeks to go and feeling like I am where I need to be. Hope it continues! Keep up the good training!

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    1. Haha, Mike kind of terrifies me, but I think that’s a good thing. I need a new motivation. 40 miles a week and pain free?! That’s great to hear!!! Excited to see how your training progresses.

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  6. YES, putting in the Training Miles is the Hard Part! And I do not think you could be more correct about the Aid Stations! Marathoners would look at them and run right by probably! Now I know why you were asking about my Blog, I need to get back at it! You are tearing it up here!

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    1. Thanks Mitch! I’m excited to start following your progress again, let’s see a blog post soon, eh? =)

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  7. Great post! Makes me even happier to have signed up for my first 50 miler 🙂 Lotsa trails in our future!

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    1. Diane!!! Which one are you doing!? And when!? How exciting, I hope our timelines line up so we can get some training runs in together!!!

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  8. You make me feel like I could do it! You are an inspiration! 🙂

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