The Marathon is 26.2 miles. A distance once thought impossible to some and a distance that has humbled even the best runners in the world. Yet, the marathon doesn’t quite have the same daunting reputation it once did. There is a new distance in town and I believe it is the 50k.
I was out on one of my usual long runs and thinking about the progression of running distances. The 50k and 50 mile races you see these days were harder to find back in the 1990’s, but today ultra distance races are growing and sprouting up all over the place. If you wanted a real challenge, people dreamed and then trained for marathons. In today’s world there are so many people that have run marathons and done many of them that they are now looking for a harder challenge. Sometimes in running circles it feels like everyone has run a marathon or multiple marathons. However, a 50k is still fairly rare for most runners. I found something that said 143,000 people finished a marathon back in 1980 (the year I was born). In 2016 that number was 507,600!
In a recent Runners World Article by Andrew Dawson entitled More People Are Running Ultras Than Ever Before, stated that a 345% increase in ultra race participation has occurred from 1996 to 2018. More and more amateurs are taking on longer distances. I believe the 50k is quickly becoming the new marathon. A distance that more and more people will be drawn to and race over the next decade. Many marathon runners are looking for the next challenge. In fact, I think the 50 mile race will also draw more and more runners. Can you imagine someday seeing over half a million 50 mile race finishers here in the States? I believe that day is coming. Meanwhile, the 50k is a natural and safe place for runners to experiment in because it is only 5 miles more than the 26.2 that thousands have proven is possible time and time again.
What about the 100 mile race? Well, I think we have some time before major popularity really springs up for 100 mile races and beyond. Yes, there are many out there who do like to race the 100 mile, 200 mile, 24 hour, 48 hour, and all weekend races but most people do not have the confidence or time to train for such daunting events yet. I have done a 100 mile race and will soon be attempting another. I can attest that these type of distances are VERY hard. Imagine how hard 50 miles is and then doubling that! The jump from 50 mile to 100 mile races is a bit wide for most people to take. I train well over 100 mile weeks for these ultra distances but I also run much faster than most amateurs. If you don’t mind walking a lot of your race then you can probably get away with less mileage and training but you are still going to have to get a good amount of running in to tackle any ultra race distance.
Should you try a 50k? If you can do a marathon, I do believe you can do a 50k. You can gradually increase your mileage a little and probably be just fine. I personally think there is a bit of a jump to run a 50 mile run. It is 19 miles farther than a 50k so some additional time on feet and training will be needed. Does your schedule permit this and do you have a good pain tolerance? If not, marathon’s and 50k’s are still great races that are incredible challenges and achievements worth celebrating. Hey, don’t be surprised that your friend or neighbor is signing up for a 50k, it’s time for you to try one too!