50K Training Plan + ULTRA RACE GUIDE

I'm Sharing My 50K Ultra Marathon Training Plans And Racing Secrets


All opinions are our own and never influenced by brands. If you buy through links, we may earn a commission.

Hello, I’m Alastair from Trail and Kale and welcome to my ULTIMATE guide on how to train for a 50k ultra marathon. This 50k training plan and race guide covers EVERYTHING you need to know about ultra marathon training and racing tactics.

This free training and racing guide is packed full of trail running advice, including how to choose your target 50km race for your first ultra running race, how to create a personalized 50k training plan based on your chosen race, and I also provide downloadable PDF 50k Training Plans that you can follow.

I will be sharing a range of downloadable 50K Training Plans based on the length of the training plans (in weeks), and also different ones based on the elevation gain that your 50k race may have. Being a trail race, these factors matter and this is why I provide specific training plans for your particular race scenario.

Sometimes within this guide I may also refer to the trail marathon distance too because I use a very similar training schedule and race tactics for both race distances, and let’s face it there’s “only” 8km difference between the two. ;).

This post has been sponsored by Salomon, your one-stop shop for high performance trail running gear and one of our favorite trail running brands.

I’ll also share how to train for your chosen race, the best trail running gear based on our reviews over the years, how to fuel while ultra marathon training and racing, how to avoid overtraining injuries, secret race tactics, and more!

This isn’t your average 50k training plan, this truly is my ULTIMATE guide to smashing your first 50k trail race with all the experience I have learned over the years – and I’m sharing some secrets you definitely won’t have read before!

So, get comfortable, and BOOKMARK THIS PAGE by clicking the heart icon in the bottom right of your screen ready for when you need to dive back into it, during the relevant times in your 50k training plan detailed in this post. Oh and if you enjoy this post then subscribe to our Newsletter to be notified of new running gear reviews and training tips.

I have also done my best to make the advice in this guide just as helpful for those of you who are looking to run your first ultra marathon, as for those more experienced trail runners who are looking to run their next trail ultra marathon but faster, or with less time spent in the pain cave.

If you prefer your 50k training plan advice in video form, then click here to visit the full ‘trail marathon / 50k training plan & racing guide’ playlist on our YouTube Channel, or watch the videos embedded below.

PLEASE NOTE that although I may be referring to trail marathon training specifically in this video series, all the advice and information is highly relevant to 50k ultra marathon training too as I employ the exact same training and racing methods.

The Ultimate 50k Training Plan: Table of Contents

Before getting into how to choose your race, I’d like to quickly let you know that we have a whole section on running advice in our ‘Running 101‘ series which shares running tips and techniques on topics like how to improve running form, how to run faster, how and why to improve cadence, the importance of interval training, the best stretches for runners, and many more! Check it out after reading this 50k training plan.

How to Choose A 50k Race And How Your Choice Will Dictate Your Training Plan

If you want to fully understand how to best choose a 50k training plan and execute it like an absolute boss, performing to the best of your ability when race day arrives, it’s important to know the specifics of the trail race you’re training for.

Race metrics like elevation gain, elevation loss, altitude, terrain, climate/weather, and even the amount of people who will be in the race are all key performance indicators that can have a significant bearing on how you should be training for your first, or next 50k ultra marathon.

This information will therefore dictate what your 50k training plan should look like in terms of priorities and focus areas.

This phase of your 50k planning should be seen as a fun moment where you have the opportunity to commit yourself to something truly epic, fun, beautiful, unique, or all of the above rolled into one.

Choosing a Trail Marathon vs. 50k Ultramarathon

Most ultra runners, if asked, ‘What is an ultra marathon’ may give the response that ‘an ultra marathon is any distance longer than a marathon distance – so anything longer than 26.2 miles (42k)’. This is the technical definition of an ‘ultra marathon’.

However, once you get into long-distance trail and ultra running and you learn the secrets of how to run longer without getting tired, you realize that shorter ultra marathons, and even trail marathons, can be more ‘ultra’ than longer ultra-marathon distances.

Running a 50k distance is not significantly longer than running a marathon distance (roughly 8km or 5 miles), but earns a prize for being the shortest ultra marathon you can run and is, therefore, a very popular race distance for people wanting to run their first ultramarathon, because the distance is so often the most obvious metric to focus on when you’re setting your goals as a runner.

However, consider whether you want to run the longer race distance, or face a bigger challenge. I have run trail marathons and even 30k races in the mountains that are technically SIGNIFICANTLY more challenging than some 50k ultramarathons I have run.

That has been due to the other elements mentioned above, including being raced at altitude, having more significant elevation gain and loss to overcome, and being on more technical terrain that takes longer or requires more effort to run on. It’s worth thinking about!

Here are some helpful resources for choosing a trail marathon or 50k trail race

On trailandkale.com we have created a database of some of our favorite trail marathons and 50k’s around the world (this is by no means all of them and our database is constantly growing.

These lists of our favorite trail marathons and 50k ultra marathons is a great place to start if you’re thinking about doing one of the big International trail marathons, and our events database homepage shares all our favorite trail races including shorter distance races and ultramarathons too.

Trail Marathon & 50K Training Plan [+ ULTRA RACE GUIDE!]

Here are some excellent external resources that make it easy to find local trail running races:

50k Training Plan: How to Train for a 50km race

The techniques and types of training runs in this 50k training plan should, in some ways, also apply to shorter 10km, 21km (half marathons), 30km races too – the main differences will be the distances and ‘time-on-feet’ for each ultramarathon training run.

Ok, so as I mentioned above, your chosen 50k ultra marathon is going to determine your specific 50k training plan but there are some key ultra marathon training runs and goals that you need to think about hitting.

There is a way to make your training a little bit easier, and that’s by having a running partner, this could be one of your friends or even your spouse.

And before you say it, there are 4 clever training processes that we have developed that you can use in order to be able to run with your running partner, even though they may be slower (or faster) than you.

Before I go on, allow me to quickly answer a burning question for many runners taking on their first 50k ultra marathon.

How Far is 50k in Miles?

Yes, a surprisingly popular question we get is “how far is 50k in miles?”. If you’re used to training in miles then it’s helpful to know how long a 50k distance is in miles: Converting 50k to miles is around 31 miles. If you’re used to converting 5k race distances to miles (which is 3.1 miles) then this is ‘just’ ten times that!

It’s important to note that some 50k race distances will not be exactly the distance listed in the race title, and it’s fairly common that the distance can be longer.

Trail and ultra marathon races are not like road races where you can be more precise in measuring distances, and this adds to the overall ‘charm’ and mental challenge of running a trail race.

I’ve had ultra marathon races that have been nearly 3 miles longer than the stated race distance; not what you want when you see your GPS watch reach the last few meters of your race yet there’s no finish line in sight (And not even the sound of finish line cheers in the distance), haha – unless you’ve done some research beforehand and know what to expect.

Be prepared for these scenarios by researching “actual” race lengths for your 50k race – you can get ahold of the previous year’s race GPX files from participants on Strava to check the distance for yourself.

Sometimes these GPS routes are also shared on the race organizer’s website – this way you can learn in advance whether your 50k race is actually 56k, or nearly 35 miles long.

As many races (and pretty much all races in Europe) will be measured in km rather than miles, it helps to not only know what 50k is in miles, but also to be able to roughly convert kilometers to miles in your head so you know what those distance markers mean when you pass them, or when you consult the race profile and maps.

You could even take things a step further, and learn to train using kilometers as your primary distance measurement, instead of miles. There are actually some great benefits of using KM VS Miles. I personally use KM as I did much of my early racing years across Europe.

Although I have always trained and prepared for trail races using kilometers, but also have learned how to convert common distances such as 50k to miles in my head. If you’re new to this, you can always write the conversions down on your arm for quick reference while racing!

Distance & Elevation Gain – How to overcome them on race day

I like to simplify my ultra marathon training wherever possible and approach it from a logical standpoint.

There are 2 hard facts that we know about your chosen 50k race based on the race profile:


Here’s how to ensure you are prepared to overcome them both:

1. DISTANCE – You know how far you need to run, 31 miles (50k)

Make sure you can physically run close to 31 miles on the day of your race. You don’t need to do a training run of 31 miles (50k) before your race but I’d strongly advise running at least 26 miles in a training run to help train your body to withstand that amount of mileage and time on feet. Our downloadable training plans give you specific mileage and elevation gain to run each day so you won’t need to worry about that.

Knowing what it feels like to run for this long will give your body & mind the essential muscle memory and mental fortitude you need to make it easier the next time you reach the same milestone.

You can ALWAYS find an extra 4 or so miles on race day because you are going to be pumped up on adrenaline and super determined to finish and let’s be honest, probably willing to hit the pain cave more than you would during a training run.

Remember that making it to the start line is half the battle of finishing a race, meaning you don’t want to overdo it in ultra marathon training and risk an overuse injury.

My gloriously oversimplified golden rule for knowing I can easily run the distance on race day is to make sure that my weekly mileage is roughly 1.5x to 2x the distance of my upcoming race.

So, if you can be running 50 miles (80km) a week of similar terrain and elevation gain as your chosen race (injury-free and comfortably), then you’ve got your 50k race in the bag already. Apply this same method to your 50k training plan.

2. ELEVATION GAIN (AND LOSS) – You can get this information from your race profile

Similar to my wonderfully oversimplified rule above regarding distance, make sure you can handle 1-2x race elevation gain in training each week.

Do not underestimate the additional strength and energy required to run up and down hills during a 50k ultramarathon. This is why it’s essential to build strength training and hill repeats into your 50k training plan.

So, once a week do hill repeats, and that includes downhill-repeats. I’m assuming your other ultra marathon training runs will include a little bit of elevation gain so don’t feel like you need to get all your weekly elevation in one hill rep session each week.

Note: If you don’t live near hills, consider running on a treadmill with an incline function for your hill repeats, or finding some long flights of stairs.

The number of hill repeats is really dependent on the elevation and grade of the hills you have available to you – what you don’t want is a hill with a small incline that forces you to run in excess of your required distance before you hit your elevation gain target.

When it comes to running downhill-repeats – you want to be running up slowly and running back down at 90% of your capacity. You’ll be amazed at how much your flat running speed increases after a few of these sessions.

Uphill and downhill repeats are an awesome form of interval training for trail runners because they will prepare you for hills that show up throughout your race, whether it’s at mile 5 or mile 25. Nothing prepares your quads and calves better than hill repeats!

If you need more convincing about the benefits of hill training, read my guide to uphill running, which is packed full of tips to help you run hills more efficiently (and quickly).

To summarize the training process of uphill and downhill repeats:

  1. Run uphill at 80-90% capacity
  2. Jog down the same hill at 20-40% capacity to catch your breath
  3. Jog back uphill at 20-40% capacity being careful not to go anaerobic and take yourself out of the game
  4. Sprint back down the hill at 80-90% capacity
  5. Take a break for a couple of minutes to catch your breath

Doing hill repeats is also very mentally challenging because you’re literally going back and forth over and over which some people may find boring (I personally see a challenge in the struggle, which is what motivates me to keep going).

On race day you’re going to be running for hours so it’s imperative to make sure you’re mentally comfortable in your own head during this time because you’ll likely be entering the pain cave at some point.

Knowing what the pain cave feels like, and knowing that you can always get out of it will give you extra confidence on race day – this is something that hill repeats trains you to manage. Train hard, race easy!

Another type of interval training that is perfect for trail runners is fartlek training, which is essentially a more playful form of interval training where you can choose interval distances based on landmarks in the distance such as a funny-looking tree or a bench, for example.

It’s something I love to do because it prepares you for times when you may need to speed up in order to put distance between you and a competitor that you passed out on the trails.

You can learn more about that and more in my sneaky race tactics section later in this post.

Additional ultra marathon training advice and required weekly runs

This advice is merely to help you understand why you need to do specific types of runs each week, I provide specifics as to when to do each of these runs along with distance and elevation gain for each in my downloadable Training Plans later on.

Double long runs on the weekend

Consider doing double long runs on the weekend if you can, for example, 15 miles (25km) on Saturday and 12 miles (20km) on Sunday. You’ll recover faster than just bashing out 22 miles (35k) on one of those days.

Plus you’ll be less likely to injure yourself due to running ‘too much too soon’. That being said you should try to do at least one long run of around 22 miles, or 26 miles when training for a 50km ultra marathon.

Do 1x tempo run each week

Tempo runs will help you get comfortable running at a fast pace for sustained periods of time and is one of the best ways to become a faster runner. If you’re unfamiliar with tempo runs – they are run at a relatively fast pace you can keep running at for around 60 mins before feeling like you may want to collapse.

Learn more about tempo runs here, where we also share two tempo workouts that you can incorporate into your training plan.

You shouldn’t ever get to that point of exhaustion during tempo training though, so make sure you run at this pace for around 45-50 minutes. This is likely to be around 6 miles (10km) for many people.

Do 1x easy recovery run each week

Don’t forget to do 1 easy run each week, this is literally a run of around 6-9 miles (10-15km) that is done at 30-40% your maximum intensity, it needs to feel REALLY easy and it’s important as it helps with your recovery phase.

Easy runs on the road are a great opportunity to properly measure your VO2 Max each week, and see how it’s improving throughout your training program.

Seeing your VO2 max increase over time is a great motivator because you’ll unequivocally know that your endurance is improving, thanks to your training plan and consistency of exercise – and there’s no better motivator than seeing hard results like this!

Compliment your running with cross training sessions

Try to do at least 2 cross training gym sessions a week to work on your core strength and other important running muscle groups like your glutes, quads, and shoulders.

If you have a bicycle or static trainer (like a Peloton, for example) and enjoy cycling then throwing in some cycling sessions will really benefit your running. Learn more about effective cross-training for runners.

If you’re not sure where to start with a strength-focused cross training exercise routine for runners, I put together this YouTube video which has my favorite exercises for improving trail running strength.

No equipment is required and the whole workout can be done from the comfort of your own home.

Take a day off to rest your legs and body if you need to (or do some Yoga)

Resting is just as important a part of any 50k training plan as running itself. If your body is feeling drained then it’s possible you have been overtraining. Take a day off and continue with your training the next day.

For more information on how to fuel your body while running, avoiding muscle cramping and overtraining injuries, plus my tried & tested recovery routine, keep on reading.

If you’re not sure where to start or have never done yoga before, don’t worry! Simply watch our Yoga for trail runners video on YouTube and follow along for the perfect 10-minute yoga routine for runners.

Summarizing all these training sessions, your 50k training plan should look like this

Many of you may have unusual work hours, or may even work on the weekends so feel free to shift this 50k training plan to best fit your current schedule.

As a general rule, if this is your first 50k ultramarathon, give yourself at least 2-4 months to get your weekly mileage in the right place ready for race day – bearing in mind that you want to be running 1.5-2x of your race distance each week, comfortably; the same goes for weekly elevation.

Please have a read of our “How To Improve Your Running Form and Prevent Overuse Injuries” post before getting stuck into ultra marathon training, it shares excellent advice on running in an efficient way.

50k Training Plans (🖨️ Downloadable PDFs)

16-Week 50k Training Plans


7 Essential items of gear for your first trail 50k ultramarathon

You’ve put in so much hard work training for your 50k ultra marathon, so don’t let inadequate gear fall short of all that effort.

I review outdoor gear for a living, so believe me when I tell you that not all running gear is made equal. In fact, it’s quite remarkable how bad some gear actually is underneath all the marketing fluff that you may have read in an advertisement or from an “influencer”.

There are some essential items of gear that you should definitely have for running an ultra marathon, some items which will help but not entirely necessary gear, and then there’s mandatory gear that some big mountain races require you to take with you for your own safety.

This list of gear doesn’t include nutrition, electrolytes, or water – I talk about that later in this 50k training plan. I’m going to start this list with the gear I believe you absolutely should have to help you smash your ultra marathon race.

1. Trail Running Shoes (Comfortable, Durable, and High-Performance)

If you’re not 100% sure what type of trails you’re going to be spending most of your time on during your race, then it’s worth having all-mountain trail running shoes suited to ultramarathon running that can perform in most situations.

For example, you may have to run on roads for a couple of miles in the middle of your 50k, it happens! Here is a list of our favorite trail running shoes for different types of racing, which is worth reading if you have a specific race terrain that you want the best trail shoes for.

salomon ultra glide 2

If this is your first 50K, you can’t go wrong with the Salomon Ultra Glide 2, it’s a true workhorse that performs majestically over varying terrain, and also road sections. To learn more about them, read my Salomon Ultra Glide 2 review next.

If you don’t have running shoes that will allow you to run across varying terrain, comfortably, then you may lack confidence during certain technical sections of the race, where other runners may glide past you due to their better choice of shoes with a superior outsole and support.

To learn more, visit our trail running shoes buyer’s guide, it will teach you everything you need to know about different types of trail running shoes and ultimately help you choose the best shoes for your 50k race.

2. Hydration Pack (A means to carry water, food, and personal belongings)

Most trail runners will own a hydration pack (also known as a hydration vest, race vest, or running vest).

They are the best, and most efficient way to carry essentials including water, energy food, spare clothing (including your running hat when not being worn), mobile phone, keys, and even running poles… the list goes on and is only limited to your requirements or creativity :).

If you’re good at running long distances minimally then a running belt may be a great option for you – although I wouldn’t recommend it for a 50k that may last 6 hours or more.

The alternative to a hydration vest is bleak, and that involves stuffing your pockets full of necessities that will bounce up and down during your run, turning what should be a fun experience into a punishing one.

Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set hydration

Mid-capacity hydration packs are the most popular choices for most trail runners running 50kms, and the one we always recommend to runners is the Salomon Adv Skin 5 Set.

It also ranks number 1 on our Best Hydration Packs For Runners Buyer’s Guide.

It’s important to remember that comfortstorage capacity, and durability are the three top features to be most concerned about when choosing a running hydration pack.

Some hydration packs have the capability to use a water bladder, while others allow you to store collapsible water bottles; I usually use the latter setup.

3. A Technical Running Hat (Protect your head and face)

It’s worth wearing a hat while running because they wick sweat away from your face/eyes and they keep your head/face/neck shaded from sun damage (and also rain).

I’ve done all the research and tested many technical running hats, so if you need a hat, have a read of my Best Running Hats Buyer’s Guide next.

4. Breathable Running Socks

You’re likely to be running for longer than 5 hours during a 50k, depending on the amount of climbing, the difficulty of terrain, and also your speed – so you need to make sure your feet are comfortable and as dry as possible throughout the experience.

A breathable sock with cushioning and compression support in all the right places will keep your feet energized and raring to go during your race. Read our running socks buyer’s guide to get the right pair for you.

5. GPS Running Watch

A good GPS watch can be such a great trail running training tool for so many reasons. If you have a wrist-based heart-rate monitor you can train and race while paying close attention to your heart rate zones – this is the best way to train specifically to your individual fitness level at any given point in time.

Think of your heart as your engine and the GPS watch with HR sensor as your fuel and efficiency gauge. A GPS running watch needs to have certain features for it to be your perfect ultra marathon training and racing companion. These features include:

Garmin Forerunner 965
Forerunner 965
  1. a very long battery life to be able to track your running data over many hours, sometimes even days if you’re an ultrarunner.
  2. actionable features that help you know when to adjust your effort levels, like a heart rate monitor, for example. Having a barometer allows you to know exactly how much climbing/elevation gain you have accumulated, with an estimate of how much still remains – this data is invaluable for trail and mountain runners.
  3. navigation features in case you get lost in the mountains and need to find your way back on course or back to safety. Also very important if you want to explore new trail routes, without having to carry a map; this is one of my favorite features of my Garmin Forerunner 965.
  4. good durability to withstand hours in the mountains during varying weather conditions, from rainstorms to extreme cold but also environmental changes like river crossings, for example.
  5. comfortable fit for usage over many hours, especially important if you have small wrists and don’t want to be carrying a heavyweight around with you for hours on end.
  6. barometer to help us know our current elevation and when a potential lightning storm may be on its way so that we can take cover if necessary.
  7. good software platform for analyzing activity data and tracking our ultra marathon training performance over time.
  8. the ability to play music, ready for when you need that pain-cave pick-me-up!

To learn about other great GPS watches that are available, check out our Best GPS watches for trail running Buyer’s Guide.

6. Windproof/Waterproof Running Jacket

Salomon Bonatti WP

If your trail race is in the mountains you should learn to expect the unexpected when it comes to the weather conditions.

This is why you should always take a waterproof jacket with you when mountain running or you could find yourself in serious risk of hypothermia from being soaked and exposed to cold winds for extended periods of time.

I always carry mine stuffed in the back of my hydration vest when I’m in the mountains, a good waterproof running jacket weighs hardly anything and packs down small.

Read our recently updated Waterproof Running Jackets Guide for advice on choosing one that’s right for you, or go with our top pick which is the Salomon Bonatti WP.

7. A Case to Protect Your Phone

Phone protectors are so important when you consider that your mobile phone:

We recognize the importance of taking your cellphone with you running, and as such the need to protect it. Here are some good phone protective cases to consider.

5 items of gear that will help improve performance but are not 100% essential

1. Running Poles

Trail Marathon & 50K Training Plan [+ ULTRA RACE GUIDE!] - Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trail Running Poles

Running with poles can really help you through a challenging mountain marathon or ultra marathon, and if you decide you would like to take some collapsible poles with you in your hydration vest on race day, read our Trail Running Poles Buyer’s Guide next to find the best ones for you.

2. Wireless Headphones

Nothing motivates me quite like music when running but please be sure to check your race website before taking your headphones as some events don’t allow them for safety reasons, as they prefer you to be fully aware of your surroundings.

Read our Best Running Earbuds Buyer’s Guide to learn about the available options.

3. Sunglasses

Running sunglasses offer UV protection for your eyes, keep flies out your eyes, and can help prevent your eyes from watering when running fast in colder conditions. I have reviewed lots of different brands over the years but here are my favorites: The Best Running Sunglasses.

4. A Lightweight Running Headlamp

When you’re training for a 50k ultra marathon, the chances are you may have to run early in the morning, or late at night to fit your runs in around work hours.

Depending on the time of year and the time that your race starts (some big races start before sunrise), you may be required to wear a headlamp.

Headlamps can be expensive, so it’s important to invest in a high-quality one that will stand the test of time and of course, perform as expected without failing on you.

A headlamp failure could be drastic if you’re out on the trails alone at night so make sure you read our running headlamp buyer’s guide to learn about the best ones!

5. Gloves

Gloves are obviously useful for keeping your hands warm during cold-weather training and racing but can sometimes be useful if your race has a section where you’re required to scramble rocks with your hands.

They are also useful for trail races in cold mountain conditions or the winter months; here are the best performing running gloves from our reviews over the years.

Mandatory gear for big international mountain trail races

Check your race website for information on mandatory equipment for your race.

Depending on the difficulty of a race, and weather conditions at the time, you may be required to take additional items like crampons, a headlamp, a waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers, your phone, a whistle, and even extra water so be sure to check your race website during the lead up to race day.

How To Fuel For A 50k Ultra Marathon

What to eat when running a 50k on trails

The next important thing is to practice eating during long training runs because on race-day you’ll be out running longer than you would be for say a road marathon because of the extra challenges that trail running throws at you.

Nutrition can be a very difficult thing to get right, especially for ultra runners who run for hours (sometimes days) at a time, where nausea, gut bombs, and code browns can manifest at any moment (yes those are all real words in the ultra running world, haha).

If you’re having trouble finding a solution that works for you then I feel your pain. I have made my way through so many different running nutrition products because most just didn’t work for me, or were too sweet and tasted artificial, even though they seemingly work for others.

I’m not a fan of nutrition that’s too sugary as those drinks will cause energy spikes, which is not good for endurance running.

Nausea or gut bombs are a big reason why some people will DNF a race, don’t be one of them. Try something like Tailwind Nutrition as a starting point which is a fuel powder that mixes with water. You’ll be able to take extra sachets to mix with water at aid stations so you don’t run out.

Don’t overlook natural foods when searching for long distance / ultra running fuel, just because they’re not branded or marketed to runners, does not mean they don’t work just as well!

For example, I’ll always have a banana 1-hour before a race starts because it will fuel me nearly all the way to the first aid station (race dependant), where I can usually find some more bananas.

Other natural foods that really work for me while running trail marathons/ultra marathons, and are portable and stomachable are dried apricots and hazelnuts.

Take care while eating nuts during a run, they can be dry and easy to choke on! Always make sure you have plenty of water with you during a run.

Natural foods are great but they don’t last very long in your pantry which can make them a little bit impractical for training with.

Our Best Running Gels & Chews Buyer’s Guide shares the best performing energy food for long runs.

Susceptible to muscle cramping during long runs?

I used to get leg cramping ALL THE TIME when I first started ultra running training, actually when I first started running altogether – which happened to be much faster 5K racing. especially in the summer months. My nutrition routine was out of whack and I sweat a lot while running at high intensity.

So, of course, I would always cramp up toward the last 30% of my trail races. I hated having to death march the last part of my race back to the finish line with other runners overtaking me.

IF YOU SUFFER FROM MUSCLE CRAMPS WHILE RUNNING then have a read of this post: How Can I Prevent Muscle Cramps While Running? I hope it helps put a stop to the dreaded muscle cramping.

SaltStick salt capsules are now my way of preventing muscle cramping while running, and I’ll always have some in my hydration vest during long runs and races. If you suffer from muscle cramping while running then you probably know that feeling roughly 5 minutes before it hits.

As soon as I get that feeling I will always take a SaltStick capsule which prevents the cramping. The capsules are very fast-acting, so if you miss that 5-minute window and you’re suffering, no worries, just take one capsule and the cramping should pass within 5 or so minutes. FULL REVIEW: SaltStick Caps Review.

Another option to look into is whether pickle juice could be your cramp remedy of choice. Learn more about drinking pickle juice for muscle cramps and why it’s so popular among members of the ultra running community.

Plant-Based Diet For Runners During Ultra Marathon Training

I’m by no means saying you must start living a plant-based diet right now, I’ve learned not to push anything on anyone because it’s important for people to try new things for themselves and form their own opinion on whether it works for them or not.

So, this is me saying, “Why don’t you try a plant-based diet, and see how it affects your general everyday mood and running performance” and by the way I’m not talking about the vegan diet or lifestyle, I eat fish and chicken too, its just most of my food is plant based.

If you’re not very familiar with what the plant-based diet is all about, here are some awesome Netflix and Amazon Plant-Based Diet Documentaries for you, they’re so inspiring to watch and I’m confident they’ll motivate you to try the plant-based lifestyle!

To be clear, we are not vegan – we do eat fish and chicken, and occasionally some beef but for the most part, our meals consist of mostly plant based whole foods including the following:

  • Fruit: bananas, blueberries, oranges, strawberries, etc.
  • Vegetables: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, brussels sprouts, etc.
  • Tubers & Starchy Vegetables: potatoes, corn, green peas, winter squash, sweet potatoes, etc.
  • Whole Grains: barley, millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, etc.
  • Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, etc.
  • Seeds & Nuts: almonds, pine nuts, sesame seeds, etc.
  • Mushrooms.

I’ve written a whole article about the benefits of living a plant-based lifestyle as an athlete which is well worth the read, if you’re interested in trying it out – A summary of the benefits is below. A plant-based diet can:

  1. make you feel more alert and energized. We found that eating processed foods, too much meat, and dairy can affect our energy levels.
  2. promote weight loss and the ability to maintain your goal weight.
  3. save you money, buying plant-based food is generally less expensive than buying meat, even when buying organic produce.
  4. improve sustainability for our environment.
  5. improve animal welfare.

We have also put together a really easy to follow plant-based diet plan for runners, CLICK HERE to read it.

How to Avoid Overtraining Injuries

Bad running form is one of the major contributing factors to picking up running injuries, the other one is not knowing when your mind and body are telling you to take a break.

Understanding the latter comes with experience – the longer you’ve been running, the easier it becomes to recognize twinges, sensations, and niggles in your body that could potentially turn into an injury if you don’t listen to your body and take a break for a few days.

Improving my running form has significantly helped to reduce the likelihood and frequency of me getting running overuse injuries, including ITB pain, low back pain, shin splints, and blisters on the bottom of my feet from a poor running gait, and even helped me run faster.

Improving my running form has made me a much more efficient runner, which is a great benefit, especially when running long distances such as marathons and 50k ultra marathons, it should also help you run faster.

11 Race Tactics to Help You Outsmart Your Competition

Everyone has their sneaky tactics during a race, whether they care to share, or like to admit it or not. Some do it as a bit of fun to help occupy their mind during a long race, while some runners are just super competitive (you know who you are! :))

Whatever your motivations are, it’s worth knowing some of these tactics in case you ever find yourself needing to jump up through the race rankings.

1. Start Smart – Don’t rush out the gates!

Don’t start too fast when the gun fires, you should be maintaining your predicted race pace and trying to avoid unnecessary spikes in your pace and heart rate.

If you go anaerobic too early in a race it’s nearly impossible to properly recover your optimal heart rate without stopping and losing valuable time later on when running your 50k race.

For example, don’t sprint down the hills only to feel exhausted while running on flat and uphill sections. It’s the downhill and flat sections that you’ll make up the most time in a race – not the uphill.

The goal during your race is to never stop unless at aid stations to refuel your food and water supplies. If you can’t run, then make sure you try your best to walk, just don’t stop because all kinds of bad things happen when you stop.

When you stop, your mind has breathing room to start doubting your abilities, and your body will begin to seize up. The uphills are my time to refuel because I’m speed hiking them.

Hiking gives me the flexibility to eat my food without scrambling or losing my breath because of the steady low heart-rate. As you’re not moving fast, doing things like taking off your windproof jacket and stowing it in your hydration pack, for example, will be much easier to manage on the uphills.

If you practice proper breathing techniques while running and maintaining the optimal cadence, you’ll be able to endure a faster pace for much longer while maintaining a really strong mental focus.

“If you can’t run, make sure you try your best to walk – just don’t stop because all kinds of bad things happen when you stop.

2. Monitor your heart-rate.

Monitor your heart-rate, and make sure it stays within optimal zones – You’re heart knows your capability more than any other organ in your body, and it’s your engine after all.

Make sure you have a good GPS running watch with an on-wrist HR monitor – and one that can tell you when you drop out of optimal heart rate zones like a Garmin or Coros.

3. Wear a technical running hat

Take a technical running hat with you to help fight sunburn and dehydration. A hat can also keep the rain out of your eyes and face, and also hold the hood of a waterproof jacket in place during high winds.

I use the Janji AFO Hyperlight cap mostly as they are both super packable, lightweight, breathable, and both have a flip-up peak which allows me to see uphill on the steep climbs when up, and when the brim is flipped down it keeps the sun out of my eyes when it’s low on the horizon.

4. Don’t run up hills, speed hike instead

One of my biggest mistakes, when I started trail running and racing, was running uphill! I used to think I was Kilian Jornet when it came to hills, but that always came back to bite me in the butt near the end of the race when I found myself depleted of all my quad and calf power.

Now I speed-hike up any hills that are so steep that I think hiking would be just as quick as running.

You’ll be going just as fast, if not faster than the person running up those hills but you’ll be the one who will maintain consistent, stable breathing when you reach the top of the climb due to not sending over your anaerobic threshold.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be doing hill repeats during your training, because you should, and you’ll notice they feature in our downloadable 50k Training Plans.

This means you’ll be the one running faster after the climb ends, while the hill runner may need to catch their breath and walk a little.

Remember what I said earlier, it’s the flat and downhill sections where time is made up – so focus on maintaining a consistent pace in those sections.

If you have trail running poles with you, steep hills are the perfect time to use them – they provide rhythm and also take some of the strain away from your legs to your arms – they’re a true hack for ascending trails fast and efficiently.

5. Salt tablets and electrolytes to stop cramping

Salt/electrolyte tablets prevent or fix dehydration and muscle cramps. As mentioned above, carrying some SaltStick Caps with you in a watertight plastic bag can be a total lifesaver, literally!

I have seen people collapse numerous times during trail races and others hobbling like wounded soldiers due to muscle cramping or dehydration. It’s nice being able to offer some salt tablets to runners in need to help them reach the finish line with a smile on their faces.

If cramping is a big issue for you, this post on how to stop running cramps includes the reasons why you may be susceptible to leg cramps and other tips for how to reduce the chance of it happening during a training run or race.

6. Overtake while looking strong (even if you don’t feel it!)

When you see someone ahead that you’re gaining on, pass them fast and without showing weakness, or heavy breathing. Once you have passed them, make sure you keep running until you are out of their line of sight.

When the runner you are passing is tired themselves they won’t bother trying to keep up with you if you appear the stronger opponent. I know I know, I’m mean… but it works!!

7. Avoid overly sugary foods during your long training runs and 50k races

Try to avoid foods that spike energy levels like high sugar gels. Stick to natural slow-release energy foods like banana, nuts, olive oil, dried fruits or running gels and chews that don’t spike your sugar levels too much.

Tailwind Nutrition is also great to have throughout the race, but remember to have another bottle with just plain water, in case you can’t stomach any more nutrition drink but still need water to stay hydrated.

8. Be efficient when passing through aid stations

It can be tempting to spend time relaxing at aid stations, chatting to the friendly volunteers who are managing them and getting to know other runners but it’s important to stay focused if you’re goal is to finish in your best time possible.

Sometimes, when I’m not chasing PRs and podiums, I just like to enjoy the journey and meet people along the way, and that’s totally fine if your goal is just to go out there and finish your 50k feeling good and having met new friends.

If you want to move fast through food and drink stations, then grab your food, fill up your water bottles or bladder, and eat the food while walking out of there. I’m getting all excited about my next race just writing these tactics, haha!! 🙂

9. Wear a hydration pack that conforms and stretches with your body and is easily accessible while running

Trail Marathon & 50K Training Plan [+ ULTRA RACE GUIDE!] - Wearing a Buff on my wrist for wiping sweat and snot - Spoken like a true ultra runner
Navigating technical terrain and distracting views in the Spanish Pyrenees

A lightweight hydration pack that stretches as you move and can carry things like running poles is essential while trail running. But for it to be awesome for racing, it needs to be able to stretch with your torso as you breathe heavily, and it needs to have pockets that are easily accessible while you’re running.

You can’t race with a pack that requires you to stop whenever you need something from it or to stow something away.

10. Take collapsible trail running poles in your hydration pack

Running with poles has many benefits, and if you get a super lightweight collapsible pair, then you really won’t be taking on much extra weight with you, making them a worthwhile addition to your race.

Some benefits of running with poles include:

  • They make light work of uphill climbs on steep (eg mountainous) trails.
  • They save your legs on long, hilly trail races.
  • They allow you to get into a rhythm!
  • They help with balance on steep descents by allowing you to probe for stable ground.
  • They allow for space (and self) preservation during busy races.

11. Find another runner who runs at your speed

Another tactic is actually just to find someone who runs your speed. You’ll naturally have a few other ultra runners who appear to be running with you throughout most of the race as their ability level is similar to yours.

Running and chatting with a new friend is one of the best ways to take your mind off the struggle and it’s also a fun way of helping each other run a personal best. Plus you may just earn a friend for life! 🙂

My 6 Stage Recovery Routine

Having a consistent ultra marathon recovery routine after tough runs will help you feel strong and ready for your next session much sooner than if you were to ignore it. Your muscles take a real beating after a long run or a speed workout, so don’t neglect them, instead help them repair quicker.

It’s not easy to get faster and run longer if your muscles don’t get stronger, FACT. Like nutrition, running recovery routines are something that will be very personal to you and your body – what works for some, may not work for others.

To give you a starting point, or even if you just want to try something new, give these tips a go. This routine is what I use during heavy ultra marathon training blocks for races like trail marathons when I absolutely must feel strong and ready to run frequently without injuries.

This recovery routine also helps fast track my running performance in time for race day.

1. Stretch before AND after a run

Before your run, do some dynamic stretching to warm up your muscles and reduce the risk of straining them.

Recovery starts with prevention. After your run, make sure you do some static stretching as a way to relax and loosen any tight muscles.

Visit our guide to the best running stretches for a list and video demonstration of all my favorite pre and post-run stretches.

2. Drink a protein shake after running to repair/rebuild muscles

Repairing muscles after an intense workout is something that many runners overlook. If you can recover faster then you’ll be able to get back out there putting in smart miles that actually count, rather than running on tired ‘always recovering’ legs.

I don’t drink one after every run, that would get crazy expensive, just the really intense ones like ‘races’, ‘interval training’, ‘hill repeats’, ‘long runs’.

Learn more about these two proteins, and other plant-based protein alternatives in our plant-based protein buyer’s guide and reviews below.

3. Use a massage gun to work out localized muscle knots

I like to use a massage gun for really hammering out stubborn muscle knots, and tension. It’s a relatively new addition to my running recovery routine but already invaluable!

With a massage gun, it’s much easier for me to massage out localized tense muscles. This particular massage gun has three speeds that you can use to help relieve different levels of soreness and you can also change the tips and rotate the gun head to reach areas that may be awkward otherwise.

4. Use a muscle stimulator with TENS on sore areas like my achilles

A muscle stimulator like this can be used as a way to build muscle via electric pulses but it’s just as effective for giving you a recovery massage after a run too.

I mostly use the TENS setting on my Achilles if I ever get a flare-up of Achilles tendonitis – after a couple of days of easing off running and using this TENS machine, I’m good to go again.

The Compex Mini Wireless Muscle Stimulator with TENS is the obvious choice for a TENS massager because of its size. It’s so tiny that you can easily take it with you for use after an event, or on a run-cation holiday.

To learn about the more powerful wired version, read my Compex Sport Elite 3.0 review.

5. Foam rolling and stretching my back

The Chirp Wheel is our favorite roller for stretching our backs and relieving back pain.

Back pain can be caused by poor posture when sitting at a desk and can be exacerbated by a heavy ultra marathon training load and long runs.

We’re always excited to find new ways to stretch and relieve tension in our backs, especially if they don’t involve going to a Chiropractor, which can get expensive. Enter the Chirp Wheel – To read our review of this great piece of gear CLICK HERE.

foam roller is another effective way to roll out muscle knots. It’s a lot more low-fi than products like the Compex but they serve a purpose.

Then there are massage balls The great thing about the massage ball is its tiny size, which means you can take it with you on those longer hiking and running adventures. Massage balls can target all sorts of isolated muscle areas due to their small size.

6. Recovery Balm applied to sore muscles

I have been having so much success with Venga CBD’s Recovery Balm product. I first noticed its power when I was in Europe for Matterhorn Ultraks 30k and the UTMB OCC 56km 5 days later.

I wouldn’t normally stack races so close to one another, but when I was offered the opportunity to run both, I couldn’t refuse. I used the Recovery Balm on my leg muscles after Matterhorn Ultraks and felt repaired and ready to run UTMB OCC 5 days later.

That impressed me but what really blew me away was just how good my legs felt the day after UTMB OCC which saw me running 57km, with 3200 meters of positive gain for 10.5 hours.

That’s a long time for me to be running on such steep mountain terrain. I can only attribute it to the Venga CBD Recovery Balm I smothered over my legs the night of the race.

So when you feel like your muscles have been worked to the max, like after one of your hill-rep sessions, think about using a CBD recovery balm on your muscles. It’s impressive, to say the least.

Recovery Balm is available for purchase only at vengaendurance.com below. GET 20% OFF YOUR VENGA CBD ORDER WITH CODE: TRAILKALE20

While not a personal preference, you could also consider taking an ice bath after running. Ice baths have been known to help reduce recovery time, inflammation and muscle soreness, so could be worth a try, too!

Preparing For Race Day And Ensuring Nerves Don’t Get The Better Of You

If you train consistently, as per my 50k training plan advice and schedule above, and you get used to the gear and nutrition that you plan to wear and eat on race day, then there’s really nothing else to prepare for – you’ve got this race in the bag!

The day before race day though, it’s very important to lay out all your race-day gear on the floor as a way of checking you have all the necessary gear (including nutrition) ready for your race the next morning.

Don’t forget to charge your GPS watch too! Ultra marathons often have an early start, so doing this will really give you peace of mind and will help you get a good night’s sleep without worrying that you may have forgotten to pack something.

“you’re running aN ULTRA marathon, not a sprint.”

Also, get your breakfast ready the night before too if you can – if you’re traveling for a race and staying in a hotel the night before it’s a good idea to take your favorite pre-run breakfast with you – just in case the hotel’s catering doesn’t open early enough or they don’t provide enough of the right food to fuel the start of your run.

My favorite pre-race breakfast includes:

  • A banana (roughly 1.5-2 hours before the race starts)
  • toast with peanut butter
  • porridge/muesli
  • coffee with my favorite beans

Read this post for a more detailed look at what we recommend eating before a run or race.

Finishing Your 50k Race Feeling Strong

Trail Marathon & 50K Training Plan [+ ULTRA RACE GUIDE!] - Zermatt Trail Running - Matterhorn

Remember to pace yourself on race day – you’re running an ultra marathon, not a sprint, and it’s the last 20% of a race where true running warriors emerge. Plus when you finish feeling strong, you remember to smile for the finish line photographer, haha!

Have an amazing race, and thank you for reading this epic guide on how to plan, train, and race a 50k ultra marathon.

I hope you enjoyed reading this 50k training plan and the advice included here, and it answered many questions that you may have had but if not, please feel free to message me via the comments below, I check them regularly and will usually reply within a day.

Don’t forget to share this guide with a friend or group if you think they’ll also find it helpful!


As the founder of Trail & Kale, and seasoned marathoner & ultrarunner, Alastair loves bringing our readers independent running shoe reviews and gear insights to help you run your best. Learn more about Trail & Kale here.


  1. Such a cool read and well done on covering every single topic around training/trails/everything. I so enjoyed your article. I have a question around stage racing. Can I follow your program if I’m doing a stage race; day 1 – 24km, day 2 – 32km and day 3 – 18km. I am an experienced runner and have completed Comrades marathon and several ultra marathons too but this will be my first trail stage race. The max I’ve run on trails is 21km. Thank you again for your advice and information. Regards Heike

    • Hey Heike,

      Sure, I would just advise doing a few more consecutive long-runs. It’s amazing how quickly you can recover after stacking long runs, you’ll find day three much easier in my experience 🙂

  2. Hi, love the article and found lots of really useful tips! For Hills training is it more beneficial to find a slightly less steep hill that you are able to run up or a really steep hill that you are only able to hike up or a mixture of both? I have done several flat road marathons but am focussing on hills before my first trail marathon which has 1200m elevation gain!

    • Really glad you enjoyed the read and videos! Regarding the hills, ideally you want to find the steepest hill thats on the border of being runnable. Even better one that become not runnable as you will want to practice your power hiking technique for when the hill is too steep to run. Good luck in your first trail marathon – you’re going to love it!

    • Glad you enjoyed the read! 🙂 For a 26k race I would recommend halving the distance of your long runs on the weekend. The rest you can stick keep the same.


  3. Thanks for all of this excellent info! I just signed up for my first trail marathon, have done a half in past, but a full marathon is a lot more elevation gain! I’m having trouble accessing your actual plan, I see the small jpeg of the plan but I’m not able to actually click into the training plan itself — could you check your link or redirect me if I’m being silly and it’s obvious!?

  4. Dear Allister,
    Thank you for the superb article.
    I am about to choose my first real trail event.
    I ran a moderately hilly marathon and a technically easy trail run (22 km 1200 m up only 200 m down) last autumn. As I will focus on flat HMs in the spring I can not dedicate myself to a climbing specific training for the early June event.
    I am contemplating with the idea of a 32 km technically easy event in the Swiss Jura. The main challenge can be the 1300 m downhill as it is a loop.
    I only used polls for glacier climbs but never for running. Any advice how to prepare for safe, and not too muscle-consuming descents? (I have no time target). I am not worried about the ascents.


    • Hi Robert,

      So glad you’re enjoying the article, and finding it useful! We have a great article about trail running poles here: https://www.trailandkale.com/tips/trail-running-poles/

      …and also a buyer’s guide if you need some super lightweight poles for trail running (as they are a bit different to traditional hiking poles): https://www.trailandkale.com/gear/best-trail-running-poles/

      On descents, it’s really important to know when to use them, and you’ll only know that when you’re running the course. For example, there will come a point where poles on a descent may be a hinderance – in which case it will make sense to fold them up and put them in your race vest. its also important to plant poles correctly on descents – always be scanning for areas where your poles wont get caught, or trapped between rocks, as this could cause you to fall (or a pole to snap).


  5. Thanks a lot for sharing such a great piece of article! I found it a good helpful write-up with a good sound and explanation. Here I have seen some valuable ideas that are definitely helpful for every marathon running enthusiast. Please keep sharing more updates!

  6. Alastair thanks for such an awesome Article !! Soooo informative ! I have recently entered my first 50k trail race so this was so cool to read, Do you perhaps have any 50k trail plans that you offer ?

      • I was going to ask the same question (as a result of being in the same situation) as Bryan! The example schedule included in the post is a useful start, but seeing it mapped out to include progression over a period of weeks/ months would be really helpful…


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