A different 50k experience

Not least because it was actually 54km. Excuse my artistic licence for a catchier title.

For various scheduling reasons, not two weeks since I’d popped in a 59km run, was I lacing up for another 50km+ run. Bad idea? Perfect training? We were about to find out.

Obviously, since I had learned so much from my previous ultra, so much so that I’d summoned my inner geek to report it (see previous post), this would be a walk in the park. Not literally though. In fact not at all.

My main learning here can be summed up very succinctly. Not all runs are the same. Well that seems most uninsightful. Whereas much of what I learned previously was still totally valid and, as you’ll read, I did learn from my experience, what I failed to do was to alter my plans for the conditions I faced.

I ran this one with Jamie, who will be my partner in crime for the Thames Path 100k in September. The plan was to run 50km as a sighter for September. The company was a really welcome change. We also ran the majority of the run along canal toepaths, quite the change from the road running of my ultra two weeks prior. This was a masterstroke for two reasons: it mimicked the conditions we’re likely to be faced with in September along the Thames and, secondly, arguably most encouragingly it was a beautiful setting for a run (mostly):

7am the Gloucester end of the Gloucester Sharpness canal path

What a glorious start. 7am, 5C and a chill in the air. I was feeling smug because I’d written about needing to carry more water a couple of weeks ago so I’d loaded up with copious snacks and an extra 500ml water bottle. 1.5l in total, ideally to take me to halfway (25k, half of 50km, you’re welcome). It did feel more comfortable knowing I had more water this time, a bit less like I was rationing. The trouble was, it didn’t stay 5C for long.

My previous ultra remained at about 8C for the duration and, at my leisurely pace, I didn’t sweat too much. This time, the temperature quite quickly rose to the low 20Cs. I can see any non-Brits rolling their eyes at my intolerance of anything other than frigid conditions but this was the warmest run I’d had for nearly 8 months so you get out the habit of needing to drink so much.

Anyway, having set out a solid set of excuses, you can see it coming, I still didn’t have enough water. It never became a problem but I hadn’t finished the three bottles by halfway and I should have done. We turned round at a shop where we’d topped up and headed back. The extra water I needed to account for being that much warmer meant that we really needed a canalside cafe at about 45k to refill again. This was a perfect stopping point anyway before the end and with the weather coming on nicely, it was nice not to have any food or drink worries hanging over us to the end:

Hardwick, Gloucestershire. 5k or so from the end. Difficult to emphasise any more how nice a day it was

I suspect had I finished all of my water by the halfway point and refilled it all then, I may have been OK. Either way, I still need to get through more water and will make a concerted effort to have regular water breaks next time, especially if I’m aware I’m sweating more. Nice thought, and apologies if you’re eating.

The other aspect that I need to be aware of was literally giving myself a break. It became particularly apparent this time since, by their nature, canal runs are flat. Previously, in my 80km Thames Trot last year or the 59km a couple of weeks ago, the terrain was either so muddy I had to walk for sections or hilly enough to encourage walking and a good break. The canal path was dry, flat and a great surface to run on. And this is what we did. Run on it. Nearly all the time. As it is, by 45k, Jamie had some IT band concerns so we did slow to a walk for some kms but were it not for this, I think my legs would have been struggling by the end, at the 52k mark. I certainly couldn’t have managed another 48km.

This is worth remembering for the Thames Path 100k un September. If the going is good, there may be fewer obvious sections to walk through, being mainly flat. Definitely something to bear in mind that some earlier walking breaks, perhaps combining water and a bit of food will probably be a welcome gift for future Tom at km90.

In summary then, I was actually really happy how it panned out and my legs held up fine, particularly given their hammering two weeks’ prior. Food intake remained similar to the previous run, relying heavily again on the Aldi coconut squares, see previous post! Overall:

6 to 12km: handful of jelly babies

15km: cocoa and vanilla flapjack, Aldi special

24km: more jelly babies

27km: turn round point, coffee, 1l water, coconut square, banana, Lucozade sport. FULL tummy

35km: jelly babies

40km: cocoa and hazelnut square

45km: can of coke

46km to 54km: jelly baby top up

Run overall:

Distance: 54.39km

Time: 5h37m53s

Calories: 2957

Steps for the day: 60200

As my previous post, there are likely to be some fairly obvious points here but I’d be keen to know if any of my experience rings true with any of yours?

Thanks for getting this far down. Happy running!

Look how happy and fresh we looked at the end. I’m kidding obviously, this was 4km in. Fantastic day though


  1. Love the pics. Did you not have horrendous steep bridges with what I term “horse bricks” (the sticky up bricks that the horses used to grip but can trip up unsuspecting runners)? We have loads of those along the Birmingham canals, as well as long inclines going up and over places with bridges and tunnels with no towpath. These serve to stretch out the calves and give you a walk break, too.

    And I did a 13 mile canal run on the hot Sunday the other week and was equally horrified at the boiling temperatures and myself for being so wussy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Liz! The Gloucester canal path wasn’t too bad for those bridges actually but I do some running in Milton Keynes which is full of those energy-zapping little bridges. Good work with the hot 13-miler, it certainly was warm. At least there hasn’t been the problem with warmth recently (alas!). When is your 50k?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The 50k is 14 July and I have the Liverpool Rock n Roll marathon at the end of this month: fortunately it was quite warm yesterday when I was doing my last 20-miler towards the mara so I should be OK. Maybe.


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