How I Did 50 Miles on Strength and No Running - For Science

Headlands 50 Miler Race Start
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
Despite now knowing what it's like to run 50 miles on a trail of hot pokers, I also know what it's like to run 50 miles on pure strength alone forgoing any run training whatsoever. I did that. For science. Cuz that's what I do.

Somehow my life has turned into a grand experiment in many ways. I've been a training guinea pig for The Ranch Athletics' coaches long before the inception of their gym located in Loomis CA where they are known mostly for training various athletes most of which are runners and powerlifters. These young fitness geniuses began testing their theories on training with me long before I ever ran my first ultra. They are the only ones who can really speak on the effectiveness of their training style, but in a nutshell, their training philosophy is cemented in strength training as a fundamental building block to running. They are firm believers in quality training over quantity training and how it translates into a stronger and faster runner.

Smashing my quads at The Ranch Athletics
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
Sadly, I'm not the perfect specimen for a guinea pig. My baseline includes a fucked up right foot due to a bunion and Morton's Neuroma which can flare up at any given time unexpectedly. Not to mention a plethora of previous running injuries. Oh... and I'm no spring chicken, so there's that.

And then there's the fact that I also never take running seriously. Running, for me, usually involves a bottle of high quality whiskey, some "strolling" along beautiful trails, a few post recovery cookies, good music and a party.

Wall slams(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
So when I texted my coach that I wanted to try running a 50 miler with no running training I can only imagine him shaking his head. He already knows I'm half crazy. I'm sure this didn't surprise him.

But life for me in general is a fucking time suck. I work full time for my own graphic and web design business, I'm a mom to two active boys, a caregiver for my own mother, and wife to a mountain biking husband. I barely have uninterrupted moments in the bathroom let alone 3 days out of the week to run - even with as low mileage as I'm used to with my running program from The Ranch. 

But regardless of my inability to get out of the house for running, I rarely, if ever, miss my gym time. That's ME time, and because it involves a little bit of the social (I need to connect with people on a regular basis - something that never happens working from home) I end up with a 4 day/week consistent training routine that often puts me teetering on the edge of being just ready enough to jump into whatever race I feel like throwing myself at.

Gym Pullups
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
And I did just that.

When I found out my coach was going to be running The Headlands 50 Miler on September 12, I decided to register as well. I had 6 weeks before I was to tow the line and I had yet to try a 50 miler, which I felt could be my "sweet spot" distance. 100 miles was hard, but I felt I had a good shot to finish a 50 miler comfortably, even if I hadn't been running for the last several months.

I dropped most of my runs around March or April of this year when life got busy. To paint a picture what those "runs" look like as part of my training they were 3 per week in total - 1 being a short, high intensity sprint (like a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off tabata that I repeated 8 times), a medium interval run (ie: 800 meter repeats or similar), and then a "longer" run which might be around an hour and a half of running the local trails. So I rarely averaged more than 5 miles per week of running.

Testing 50 Miles On Strength
(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
So I was left with my gym training alone for this 50 miler. A four day per week training that involves movements like heavy deadlifts and squats, lots of glute/ham raises, pushing prowlers, jumping rope, pullups, pushups, thrusters, kettlebell carries/swings, maybe some rowing and an occasional short sprint. In other words, lots of whole body strength movements but heavily concentrated on the muscles I use for running. I've always felt like my 4 day a week strength training was enough to keep me fit and ready for anything. I had confidence I could finish a 50 miler with this type of training, but I wanted to find out for sure. For science.

I was ready for my test. 

Too bad my right foot decided to tell me to fuck off starting a couple weeks before the race.
Getting crew help from friends -
50 Miles On Strength

(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)

My neuroma, a ball of nerves embedded between the bones between my second and third toes on my right foot, had started flaring up. This has been a problem I've had since college and it happens only on occasion. I've only experienced it during one other race (a 50k at The Born To Run Ultras a few years back) and I was really lucky it didn't give me any trouble during my 100 miler, although I had other issues to deal with during that event.

So the first step of my 50 miler sent a stinging, slicing pain vibrating through my right foot.

"Awwwww shit." I knew that despite the fucked up timing of this stupid nerve flare-up I was still gonna have to test my fitness. It was gonna be a long ass 50 miles. Whatever. I can always hack my right foot off in order to finish, right? 

Did I bring the hack-saw?

Still smiling(Photo courtesy Seth Kotelnicki)
Despite the pain in my right foot, which would come and go for the most part, I felt good physically at miles 8, 12, and 18 and was on track and even ahead of my time to finish within a conservative 12.5 hours.

The course which was designed in a reverse looped style provided a little mental struggle for me. I hate leftovers, repeats, seeing the same movie twice, running the same trails over and over. I couldn't help but think how much I loved the point-to-point course at Pine To Palm 100. I was craving that course even with its sadistic uphills by the time I reached mile 30. I was also starting to deal with overcompensation in my left knee due to not being able to put full weight on my stupid right foot.

By mile 35 I had cut my running pace back and was stopping every quarter mile to do hip hinges and squats to release the tightness in my left IT band and hamstring which was taking a lot of the load off my right foot. At this point I felt like I had a permanent live jellyfish suctioned to the bottom of my right forefoot, and every uphill step was pure torture.

But as we say in ultrarunning - its all relentless forward movement. And so it was.

I was frustrated as hell by mile 40, not so much for the pain, but for the fact that I still hadn't tapped into even a fraction of my fitness due to my needing to back off of my stupid foot/knee failure. It felt like my experiment "for science" was being thwarted due to "technical difficulties beyond my control". Like the lab caught on fucking fire, and I had to spend time finding the extinguisher to put the fire out instead of being able to concentrate on the lab experiment itself.

Finish line of the Headlands 50 miler with
my coach Seth Kotelnicki
My experiment got burned a bit, so I decided to enjoy the last 4 miles walking and chatting with another woman I had met on the trail. 

I crossed the finish line in 14:39:27 and despite all the stupid pain I was in, I finished. I finished that shit with strictly gym only training. And for those who thought I was stupid to try, or didn't think I could do it, I proved to them, once again, that it can be done.

What kind of knowledge did I glean from this experiment?

I believe there's a LOT to be said for quality strength training over running in general. By eliminating running from the equation I realize that the gym gives me a solid base to jump from should I choose to. I know my coaches and I know they would never recommend NOT running while training for an ultra, but at least I now understand why they train heavily with strength as a foundation for running. I feel like as long as I can maintain or improve muscle strength while training it can get me more than three-quarters of the way there. The extra conditioning the running gives me helps to develop and maintain my form and make me faster, but it's the strength that really counts and can make a huge impact on my endurance. This has been a huge revelation for me.

The shitty part is that no amount of fitness, strength or conditioning can eliminate random, stupid technical difficulties, like a neuroma, that can flare up on it's own will during a race.

Next time I'll carry a hack-saw.

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


  1. Hey, well done Krista! I've had a neuroma in each foot and managed to have them resolved with "frequency specific Microcurrent" therapy. Essentially they pass electricity through the scar tissue. Worth a shot!
    Keep it up!

    1. Thank you Eoin! My neuroma is a completely unacceptable inconvenience. And it HURTS! I will totally look into that.

  2. Aloha Krista! MN be dammed I had that may still have that, I customized a met pad shaving it down with scirros and duck tape into my shoe, way to prove ethe haters wrong love it! Alohas

  3. I just got around to reading you race recap. You looked great out there. I know you were hurting, but damn, you looked good and strong even if you wanted to hack off your leg (ps, I have the same neuroma and pain that flares up occasionally and that course made my flare up at the end too). Job we done girl!

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